I do want to resume content coming at a more frequent pace, but I’m going to put up some work in the stead that I’m proud of from past school work. I feel it is solid enough to be worth reading, and Kathleen Hanna always has relevance in discussions of the third wave. I also will post the song above.
“We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution girl style now!” opens the work of the Bikini Kill song “Double Dare Ya.” With this proclamation, the punk band led by Kathleen Hanna immediately sought to grab the attention of any person that listened through taking the punk process of provocation and filtering it through a new radical form of feminist politics, later referred to as third-wave feminism.
Hanna and crew did this by adopting a new punk rock ethos known as “riot grrrl.” Riot grrrl was more than about punk rock or the DIY methods made popular by DC punk bands like Minor Threat. It sought to be a full-on movement, with zine publishing seeking to appeal to young women with anything from personal stories to semi-ironic containments of what is referred to as “bedroom culture.” As described by Ryan Moore in his piece “Young, Gifted, and Slack,” “Riot grrrl brought a sense of urgency to zine publishing, as young women used zines to write about their own experiences and communicate with a network of others regarding the social and personal problems they faced.”
If this sounds familiar or like a natural evolution of past thought, then zine culture reads a lot like how Susan Douglas felt women related to the Shirelles and girl groups. Bikini Kill is even literally a “girl group” as all four of the band’s members are women. Yet feminism in that time went from Steinem’s highly public sentiments to an underground movement by the early 1990s. Feminism, like punk rock, was forcefully marginalized and needed to regroup for modern times.
With this in mind, the blunt immediacy of Hanna’s demands for “revolution girl style now” reigns through the run of “Double Dare Ya.” Hanna can either coo a line like “Hey girlfriend / I got an idea” or she can ferociously shout, like in the chorus where she demands the listener to join in, “I double dare ya, girl.” Like the use of the term “riot grrrl,” the ‘ir’ being replaced with a three-r bark, Hanna’s yelling about girls is a form of negation. She uses “girl” with a slight irony to comment on the marginalization of women but also as a term of affection.
This can be a takeoff of what Poly Styrene did with X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage, Up Yours.” Hanna opens “Double Dare Ya” with cries of revolution like Styrene talks about the corporate tyranny of “little girls.” This is all a nebulous form of punk. Yet in taking from punk, Hanna’s group escalated their provocations in the world of 1990s alternative rock culture. As Moore notes, Hanna would perform with purposefully loaded terms strewn on her belly, such as “whore” or “slut.”
Hanna herself is full of contradictions, as Moore points out that the first few seconds of “Double Dare Ya” are ripe with uncomfortable feedback noises and Hanna sort of confusingly asking, “Is that supposed to do that?” And almost in a millisecond, Hanna’s tone changes from confused and awkward to complete brimming confidence. Moore says of Hanna that she “could shriek to the heavens, but she did it with a mall-rat accent.”
These contradictions and comments on Hanna’s potential irony can bleed into a discussion on a friend of Hanna’s in Nirvana vocalist Kurt Cobain and in the motives of alternative rock in general. “Double Dare Ya” shows snippets of Hanna’s behavior as a rock vocalist with a sort of schizophrenic change in behavior mid-song while Cobain’s work in the era’s defining track “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a nascent mix of fiery nihilism and tender vulnerability. Cobain saw people his age had this tone and similarly Hanna felt that women had this same sort of feeling.
Yet unlike Cobain, Hanna is entirely willing to undoubtedly piss off the listener. The first ten seconds of the song, the aforementioned “is this supposed to do that” sequence, has a painful feedback loop. Presumably, it is unintentional since Hanna doesn’t know how to respond, but it is not only kept in the finished recording, but because “Double Dare Ya” is the first track on Bikini Kill’s first label release, it is the first noise the audience hears.
If Gloria Steinem wanted to piss people off and place second-wave feminist discussion points to the national forefront by proxy, Hanna takes this model and uses layers and layers of rudimentary punk rock sounds to prove her point. After all, if something pisses a person off, that person cannot help but discuss it. It is human nature. Hanna doesn’t mind using her stage presence as a provocation of a culture of privilege as well as commenting on a rock world that, while shifted, needs the work of a blasting female provocateur. “Double Dare Ya” sought and claimed this goal and Hanna confidently delivered her messages with the conviction only the riot grrrl movement could make.
So to begin, we offer a broad definition of feminist porn, which will be fleshed out, debated, and examined in the pieces that follow. As both an established and emerging genre of pornography, feminist porn uses sexually explicit imagery to contest and complicate dominant representations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers. It explores concepts of desire, agency, power, beauty, and pleasure at their most confounding and difficult, including pleasure within and across inequality, in the face of injustice, and against the limits of gender hierarchy and both heteronormativity and homonormativity. It seeks to unsettle conventional definitions of sex, and expand the language of sex as an erotic activity, an expression of identity, a power exchange, a cultural commodity, and even a new politics.
Taken from The Feminist Porn Book (pp. 9-10).
Next month is a ceremony that tends to go unheralded in even feminist circles. The Feminist Porn Awards are run every April to define the delicate balance between films that are erotic and pleasurable vs. fair and honest depictions of multiple types of sexuality. I support discussing this and not solely because my site is named after erections. And while the introductory quote above suffices for an explanation as to what feminist porn is, there has to be more explanation about why feminist porn is important.
But first, we have to start from the emergence.
Almost as an echo for the Sexual Revolution, pornography began to receive mainstream attention in the 1970s, buoyed by the success of Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas among other features. These films, designed with a male audience in mind, gained this attention as a curiosity. While nudity and pornography had always been around, the 1970s was the first major period where pornography was more than a passing fad. Business saw an enterprise in people having sex and the similar emergence of the grindhouse scene gave low-budget pornography a home.
At this point, radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Gail Dines began protesting pornography on the platform that these films were about violent acts committed towards women. These arguments are expanded through more general feminist lenses on objectification of women, since women are portrayed in pornography through their abilities to have sex rather than to be a three-dimensional person. In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, Gail Dines says of porn, “‘[p]ornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear.'”
With all of this in mind (and please look at the Wikipedia for feminist views of pornography, there is a lot of denseness to unpack), the question gets murkier when third-wave feminism rises in the 1990s. I think Kathleen Hanna puts it best in a Bikini Kill song I posted last week, the amazing “I Like Fucking.” In it, Hanna says, “Just ’cause my world, sweet sister, is so fucking // Goddamn full of rape–Does that mean // My body must always be a source of pain? // No. No. No.” The question is complex now, muddled even further by antiporn feminists often finding themselves as strange bedfellows with rote conservative politics.
And that question ultimately is, “Can porn be feminist?”
The answer, obviously, is yes. And here’s why. The third-wave’s effects and the internet’s realization of just how many “turn ons” there really are in the world may have made the realization that porn is a multi-faceted field. Yes, I just wrote that sentence. There’s some gross porn out there. The recent revenge porn craze is fucking horrifying and I can’t exactly shed a tear upon hearing that Joe Francis’s “here’s a t-shirt in exchange for your body to be on DVDs” enterprise Girls Gone Wild is going bankrupt. But that is something sites like GoodForHer.com opt to change.
The most annoying term for porn is the tagged “porn for women.” While it makes completely clear that these tales are about a different sort of arousal (female orgasms), it sort of casts aside the idea that men can appreciate this. This is why I prefer “feminist porn” and why that label has been co-opted by wonderful filmmakers like Madison Young and Tristan Taormino. I will talk about the worth of their films at a later time.
Instead, I’m going to bring up the diversity of the types of porn films nominated for the Feminist Porn Awards. There are movies about straight, lesbian, trans, and complex romance in the nominations. Madison Young has a 50 Shades of Grey porn takeoff on the list. Even mainstream porn companies have films among the nominations, showing everything the mainstream companies put out isn’t just BangBus level creepiness. Body types are similarly numerous here. And even if the argument is that sex immediately equates the women into objects, who is to say that sex doesn’t have its own complexities? These films are actually about the complexities of sex. And that is why they deserve discussion that I hope will bring to attention some cool stuff.
Porn is complex, more than you can even imagine. As Kathleen Hanna says, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe.
I do. I do. I do.”