All I want for Xmas is a stocking full of really arousing feminist porn

// 15 December 2011

Feminism is for lovers.jpg

Wrongheadedly, I visited Anne Summers the other day. Hidden at the back of the store next to the ‘Dominatrix’ range (exclusively advertised with pictures of submissive women – I don’t think they get it) was the section marked ‘Porn for Women’.

A less interesting porn section could scarcely be conceived of. Whoever is designing this porn seems to think that women will descend in droves to purchase any porn which replaces the ‘for men’ signifiers ‘slutty/anal/hungry/cock/bitch/fest’ with the more delicate, pleasant, feminine word ‘couples’. As if ‘couples’ is any draw in a film that conforms in every other respect to the male subject/female object binary.

I’m sorry for women if that’s what porn ‘for women’ amounts to. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect revolutionary female-driven narratives about sexualities and the female gaze in the Anne Summers porn section, but I would at least like to be slightly titillated. The barest hint of a sensation in the knicker department would be enough.

Still, it’s only the most commercially successful sex shop ‘for women’, after all. In a more fringe way, women, or rather, feminists, have been conceiving of, directing and distributing feminist porn – or porn which tries to subvert the misogynist narrative – for ages. The downside is that the lack of mainstream market support results in small, independent distributors who seem to spring up and then go under (and not in the fun way, either). Last month, notably, saw the sad departure of Filament Magazine, billed wonderfully as the ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’.

It’s a small relief that the Feminist Porn Awards are out there, attempting to give voice to the desires of those mind-numbingly bored by the restrictive fare conventionally on offer to women (let’s not even get started on the soft/hardcore misogyny that passes for general/men’s porn). The Feminist Porn Awards reckon that porn is feminist if it is hot and:

“1) A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work.

2) It depicts genuine female pleasure

3) It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.”

Or, as Caitlin Moran succinctly put it, “I JUST WANT A MULTI-BILLION-DOLLAR INTERNATIONAL PORN INDUSTRY WHERE I CAN SEE A WOMAN COME.”

That all sounds great, so why is it rare to find hardcore porn which fits these quite minimal criteria? There are, of course, commercial successes. There are the Anna Spans of the straight world (though her failure to look critically at mainstream porn is rather damning), and there are the Courtney Troubles and Shine Louise Houstons on the other end of the spectrum. But it isn’t enough, it isn’t available enough, and what there is doesn’t do enough to undermine the free tube sites of the industry.

Isn’t it strange that an activity which – much of the time – is something men and women do together, should be so invariably so distorted when put on camera? I don’t think there is anything about the presence of a camera, or indeed a mass market, that necessarily turns sex into misogyny, but it is depressing when this is so often the case.

Lisa Saunders’ interesting and well-argued anti-porn/pro-sex article on this website yesterday suggests that ‘it’s about as easy to get hold of ‘ethical’ pornography as it is to score ‘ethical’ cocaine.’ My suspicion is that feminists will lose out if we completely write pornography off, forever, the end. The continued presence of feminist voices in other unethical industries hasn’t created any feminist industries, but it has changed some things for the better.

The sustained critique of the industry and its wider cultural normalisation that anti-pornography feminisms provide are extremely persuasive, but I am reluctant to condemn all porn that exists or could exist on the basis of the industry as it stands. Women watch, and get off, on porn which doesn’t cater to them, which is misogynist, racist, and unethical in every other respect. If this is the case with such rubbish porn, how much better could it be if feminist porn were to flourish?

Can feminist porn can break away from mainstream misogynist narratives? Are the criteria given by the Feminist Porn Awards enough to make porn feminist? Is there feminist porn which genuinely represents women’s sexualities? Have you seen any that really stood out? What are your recommendations for feminist porn?

Image from Flickr user the justified sinner shared under a creative commons license. It shows a graffiti stencil reading “Feminism is for lovers” (the ‘o’ in lovers is replaced by a red heart).

Comments From You

abolitionist // Posted 15 December 2011 at 10:20 pm

“Feminist” objectification! Awesome!! What’s next? “Feminist” religion? “Feminist” rape?

Shadow // Posted 15 December 2011 at 11:29 pm

Well if we really had ‘feminist pornography’ then pornography would not exist because there is no such thing as ‘feminist porn.’ Pornography’s sole criteria is to promote the lie that men are sexually dominant and women are sexually compliant to whatever the male/males demand.

So-called ‘female pornography’ is not transgressive or going against the trend rather it is imitating and copying malestream pornography. One can’t be a feminist and be a pro-porn apologist – feminism is not about catering to male supremacist lies that women are men’s disposable sexual service stations and no woman was placed on this earth to be a man’s disposable sexual service station. Feminism is the political idea that women are human and that male domination in all its forms must be eradicated. This includes the porn industry which earns huge profits by filming male sexual violence being committed against women and just because some women consider it their right to view filmed images of men and/or women committing sexual violence against women this does not mean it is remotely feminist. It is not – it is supporting and maintaining the male supremacist system. Porn would not be porn if women were not portrayed as men’s dehumanised sexualised commodities and yes it is really that simple.

Oh and by the way Caitlan Moran is not a feminist she is a pseudo feminist and that is why her weakly written book has been promoted by malestream publishers as ‘feminist.’

MsNaughty // Posted 16 December 2011 at 1:06 pm

I’ve been making and documenting porn aimed at straight women for 11 years. While the criticism of “couples” porn is fairly justified, there are producers working to create adult material that is less cliched and less rigid in its depictions of sex. I have a site called “Porn Movies For Women” that features over 300 titles. There’s a fair bit of diversity in that and thus I do believe that at least some aspects of women’s sexual experience has been captured in erotic filmmaking. Not all, of course, and every woman is different, but the effort is being made.

You are essentially asking if the Feminist Porn Awards are feminist enough. It seems like a tricky question because it all depends on your individual definition of feminism. To anti-porn feminists, every depiction of sexuality is evil and degrading to women. To some, porn that features heterosexual sex is always going to be stereotypical.

I aim to create porn that gives priority to the female experience of sex, that acknowledges that the audience is female and that seeks to depict genuine sexuality and pleasure. Is that “feminist” enough? Or is there some other arbitrary rule?

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 16 December 2011 at 4:41 pm

Thanks a lot for this post!

Several points:

1. Ann [not ‘Anne’ btw] Summers does not offer a good shopping experience for *anything*, not only ‘porn for women’. Just as there are good shops and bad shops, there are better and worse sex-shops.

2. A commercially successful, amazing sex shop “for women and their lovers” is Sh! at Hoxton Square (London). They have very interesting (although of course small compared to mainstream Soho sex-shops) porn (of course it’s ‘porn for women’) section. Last time I checked, lady customers (a man can only get there if accompanied by a woman) could watch Anna Span’s films in the shop while sitting on a pink sofa and sipping tea (well yeah, Sh! is pretty pink I must admit). BTW I am not their marketing person, in case you were wondering….

3. Alleged Anna Span’s lack of criticism towards mainstream porn notwithstanding, most of so-called ‘pro-sex’ feminists do recognise all the problems within mainstream porn industry, from the treatment of performers to misogynist representations. The biggest problem with anti-porn stance is one of definition: if one defines porns as “depiction of sexually explicit acts, including genital close-ups” then it’s not UNETHICAL or BAD by definition. But if porn is defined as “objectification and humiliation of women, making violence sexy” then the room for discussion is nil. Besides, with this definition, the huge male gay porn industry disappears in thin air…

4. Of course there is still not enough of ethical, feminist, ‘for women’ porn. Women directors and producers are fighting both against misogyny of the industry AND consumer awareness. Think of all campaigns encouraging people to consider how food, clothes and other everyday use items were manufactured and teach people to make responsible consumer choices. It’s not easy. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: if you’re buying dirt-cheap trainers not asking where they’re from and at the same time castigate mainstream porn industry for its treatment of actors, look up “double standard”.

5. Good porn for women? Apparently latest Candida Royalle’s film (‘Afrodite Superstar’) is very progressive in terms of race (I haven’t seen it though). Jennifer Lyon Bell’s Blue Artichoke Films produce “erotic films for people who like film” (they prefer label “erotic” and not “porn”), quite hot. It seems to be easier for women willing to venture beyond heterosexual domain, admittedly.

6. LADIES, do seek out hot, funny, ethically made porn!!!!! It is sometimes just two clicks away. It’s great and can be rewarding, both for you and your partner(s).

Crystal // Posted 17 December 2011 at 4:33 pm

I don’t believe all pornography has to be problematic. I get all mine from novels (Story of O, anyone?) and Kink.com. I don’t think I’ve ever watched mainstream porn.

Kink.com directors’ rules: http://www.kink.com/k/shooting_rules.jsp

And models’ rights: http://www.kink.com/k/model_rights.jsp

Ray Filar // Posted 17 December 2011 at 6:27 pm

@msnaughty

Thanks for your comment, it’s good to hear from someone making porn. My intention is very definitely not to claim that anybody is ‘not feminist enough’ (I have no illusions that I get to decide who is or isn’t feminist enough). I’m sorry if it came across like that. What I was trying to get at was rather what it means to characterize some porn as feminist porn, or porn aimed at women. Or perhaps the question is how porn directed at women as consumers looks different to other porn, and whether that is what we mean when we talk of feminist porn. The Feminist Porn Awards have given some criteria, I think they’re quite good, and I’m interested in what others think!

@ania ostrowska

I also really like Shh!

Toilagain // Posted 17 December 2011 at 7:53 pm

“To anti-porn feminists, every depiction of sexuality is evil and degrading to women.”

No, It’s the misogynist, passive/submissive, objectifying and often violent images and storylines that dominate maintstream porn which are evil and degrading. Unless you are trying to argue that what they portray is what all sexuality is “really” like, in which case all I can say is I’m sorry if that’s your personal experience, but it ain’t mine as a straight woman.

The tired old idea that anti-porn feminists are anti-sex uptight prudes doesn’t wash.

MsNaughty // Posted 18 December 2011 at 10:16 pm

@ Ray Filar

Thank you. Perhaps that comment was anticipating the comment by Shadow that appears above. Shadow engages in the usual arguments that include painting all porn as monolithic and then declaring some women to not be proper feminists, as if there’s an official definition written somewhere. I’ve seen Gail Dines declare that those of us who make our own porn are actually just shills of the mainstream industry. False consciousness, FTW.

@ Toilagain. You are right. I should have said “To SOME anti-porn feminists…” Nonetheless, given that I keep seeing the same habitual generalisations from anti-porn feminists about what porn is, what men are like and what sex *should* look like, it’s easy to fall into generalisations as well. Let me say, if more anti porn feminists would be far more specific about what they don’t like – in the way that you have in your comment – we’d all get along much better. Because you’ll find a lot of feminist porn makers and lovers also have issues with misogyny in porn.

Again, though, definitions kick in. “Objectification” does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, nor does being submissive. That’s a whole other discussion.

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