How to be a feminist porn director

Laura Elias Casas interviews two women porn industry figures about where, how and why feminism fits in

, 30 July 2017

When thinking about porn, one of the most prevalent ideas that comes to mind is sexism combined with power, where men are alpha and women are merely instruments for male pleasure. This is sadly the impression that many people have about porn, and probably one of the reasons why the subject is so taboo. Gender roles are often represented stereotypically in porn, and although there are a wide range of practices, many do follow these misogynistic standards.

This is why feminism may seem to be at odds with the world of porn, which has traditionally been an industry produced by men, for the consumption of men. In a lot of porn, the camera simulates a male eye so, for women, it can be quite difficult to relate with what we are watching and we can end up feeling uneasy about how women are treated. Although it is true that there are women who are comfortable playing a submissive role in sex according to their own preferences, this should not translate to women represented as submissive by default. In my view, it is this continually male-advantaged perspective that often prevents us from enjoying such films, and therefore makes it harder for us to experience our sexuality with the same freedom.

In sharing my experience with other women, we have all agreed on one issue: feeling ashamed of admitting to watching porn. Why is it so widely accepted that porn is consumed by men, but not by women? Don’t we have the same right as they do to enjoy our sexualities? Such negative social prejudices often lead to people unquestioningly accepting that adult films are not meant to be for all adults. This combination of discomfort and guilt puts pressure on women not to consume porn as naturally as men apparently do. Referring to such guilt, religion has played an important role in the creation of our cultural imagery, particularly with regard to sin. This is a collective inheritance, often invoking feelings of shame. Religion is one explanation among many as to why porn remains taboo, as well as why many women reject it. If your religious background stigmatises sex in all its varieties, you will have to work hard to get rid of such prejudices.

Are women supposed to be “romantic” every time we refer to sex, while men are “just being men”?

Independent women directors like Anna Span, Erika Lust and Petra Joy have started to change the dynamics of adult cinema by giving porn another perspective: made by women, for the pleasure of all. The rise of this independent cinema in part comes from incentives such as the Toronto International Porn Festival or the ‘romance’ category of the Adult Video News awards (AVNs). This have been launched to reward work that encourages feminist approaches to adult cinema, but nevertheless, the name of this last category seems to be a contradiction of their own feminist intention. Are we supposed to be “romantic” every time we refer to sex, while men are “just being men”? An answer to that could be the idea traditionally sold about how women are more likely to be emotional, while few men are. Hollywood, marketing campaigns and the heteropatriarchal society in which we live have settled these standards that accept men being “dirty”, while women are supposed to be “romantic”.

Nomenclatures aside, the idea of these initiatives is to promote gender-equal porn, which is more ethical and female-friendly than the commercial options, with the idea that it can filter through to a wider audience. Apart from discarding the usual gender clichés of mainstream porn, I believe feminist porn also aims to be LGBTQI inclusive. Many consumers in the western world with the required means are increasingly interested in healthy eating, exercise and meditation, Fairtrade and other activities that minimise harm and contribute to physical and mental wellbeing; there must, therefore, be an equivalent in the area of sexuality.

From this starting point, I decided to delve into a world that was totally unknown to me: is there porn out there that women can enjoy? Is it just big business? Does anyone care about the conditions of those involved on set? I needed someone to enlighten me so I interviewed experienced professionals in this field, Amarna Miller and Anna Span, via Skype, both of whom have a very clear idea of what their careers mean and what still has to be done to improve this industry.

Amarna Miller is a recognised porn star on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. At 26-years-old, she has been awarded three Ninfa Awards and has been nominated twice for the AVN. Apart from writing for several magazines, Miller published her first book, Manual de Psiconáutica, in 2015 and lives between the United States and Spain (her country of origin), giving speeches on feminism, sex and politics. Graduating in the arts, she started her own production company, Omnia-X, when she was only 19-years-old, running it for five years.

Although Miller acknowledges that she is working in an industry that is largely sexist, she also makes it clear that she aims to change it from the inside

Miller believes that feminism and porn can be compatible. She says it is a task for us, as women, to re-empower ourselves with a work that has been denied to us for years:

We have been labelled as victims forever, and although we are all victims of the patriarchy, because we all live in it, it is time for us to change some things. It is [a] time [for] re-empowering ourselves, to take the role we want and make it our own.

Miller also outlines how she feels free and empowered by doing what she wants with her body: “We have always been told how to love, how to establish ties with other people and how to represent our sexuality. Choosing how to live it [life] involves freeing ourselves of all these impositions.”

Although Miller acknowledges that she is working in an industry that is largely sexist, she also makes it clear that she aims to change it from the inside. One of the first things she would like to change is the lack of legal protection and regulation for workers in pornography. But, as long as porn performers are not taken seriously, this will not be an easy task. Miller takes the view that when people criticise the adult industry without having enough information, they are doing a disservice to all the people who are involved in it and those who fight for their rights: “It’s very easy to get into the internet and find 10 testimonies of people who have suffered. But it’s a mistake to think that the whole industry is like this. Pornography is a business like the others, full of nuances”. If people keep stigmatising the industry, people working in the adult industry will continue being cast aside, making the creation of regulations or a union that could offer protection more difficult.

Anna Arrowsmith, working under the pseudonym Anna Span, is a fine art graduate and has a PhD in gender. Her career started in 1998 when she wrote her dissertation, ‘Towards a New Pornography’, which focused on a female-friendly adult material and set the basis for a more ethical way of making and producing it. Her first work Eat Me/Keep Me, earned her notoriety and launched her to success. Since then, she has been awarded in the category of ‘Best Director’ in the UK Adult Film & TV Awards twice, reached the silver category in the International Festival of Erotic Cinema of Barcelona and won two Feminist Porn Awards: for ‘Indie Porn Pioneer’ (2007) and ‘Best Bi-movie’ (2011). Along with this, she was awarded ‘Best Politician’ in the Erotic Awards for running for parliament as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Gravesham in 2010.

In producing porn films, Anna Span includes themes that aim to make women feel more comfortable in watching them: giving women more control by showing them engaged in oral sex, having fun and being pleasured as well as pleasuring

Span campaigns for an inclusive way of making adult cinema, and has given speeches and participated in debates on pornography at several festivals and universities. She also defines herself as a post-structuralist. Curiously, she used to be anti-porn as a teenager, until she decided it was much more feminist to focus on men’s freedoms to develop women’s freedoms. “I realised that my anger for the sex industry was actually envy: that I was envious of men’s freedom to explore their sexuality in lots of different ways”. As a consequence, she decided to do something about it.

Span has arguably helped the adult industry to be more inclusive and tolerant with a range of genders and sexualities that appeal to more than just the straight male gaze: “There aren’t that many female film directors, but we are changing the industry,” she claims. “…The fact that sex shops are changing their products for a female public is a massive influence. This is a changing culture: women using sex toys and having more orgasms makes it something big.”

When we talk about her origins in the industry, she breaks down the myth about women who work in pornography by explaining how hard she had to work to get to where she is:

It’s been a really fun and interesting life, very meaningful. People look down on the porn industry as something that you fall into, but it was actually extremely difficult to get into it and to be taken seriously; but the fact that I could film was extremely fulfilling, so I don’t regret any of it.

In producing porn films, Anna Span includes themes that aim to make women feel more comfortable in watching them: giving women more control by showing them engaged in oral sex, having fun and being pleasured as well as pleasuring. If women are shown in a submissive role, it is without losing this empowered position and shows that it is those women’s choice to do so. Realism plays an important part in Span’s work, both in the castings and with the sets and outfits.

Span sees sexual freedom as the opportunity for women to break the monogamous, procreative, heterosexual role that has been imposed upon them

Another feature Span uses to make her films more accessible to a wider audience is casting stereotypically ‘good-looking’ male actors. She says that, in mainstream porn, the attention is often not fixed on men’s faces, but their genitals, something she wanted to change to break down the traditional “male gaze”.

Regarding those who campaign against pornography, Span shares the same view as Amarna, stating that the main problem is poor research and a lack of information about the industry: “We know for a fact that there is no link between violence and porn… but we have to look further than the heterosexual couple [and] the sex that is normative.” She sees sexual freedom as the opportunity for women to break the monogamous, procreative, heterosexual role that has been imposed upon them. Span believes that, instead of taking a more regressive approach to the adult film industry, we should aim for more ethical content.

Things are improving in the adult film industry by virtue of the women who are working to make porn more balanced, realistic and ethical. Far from being oppressed victims, these women are strong and full of ideas to change the industry. I believe it is possible to have feminist ideals and work in pornography. The similarities between Miller and Span’s views are plentiful. They also both put the spotlight on some important issues in the effort to improve porn: inclusiveness, personal freedom and the need for regulations that would help protect adult workers.

After talking to Amarna Miller and Anna Span, I think we are all responsible for helping create change. Let us take control and decide what we want to be, what we want to do and what we want to watch. I can say I have learnt plenty from their testimonies, but one of the most valuable lessons is not to judge and that, while it is good to point out what is wrong, it is even better to do something to try and impact real change.

The image at the top of the page is a watercolour drawing by Frl. Schrödinger. It shows a naked woman, with one hand between her legs, masturbating. Her mouth is slightly open in an expression of pleasure. She has long black hair and the background behind her is a mixture of purple, pink and brown. Image shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Laura Elias Casas is a Catalan nostalgic of her city, Tarragona, and is currently living out her adventures all over the UK. As she is about to finish her English Studies degree, you will probably find her reading realist novels or writing, next to a huge cup of coffee

Comments From You

Bippyone // Posted 1 August 2017 at 3:03 am

A well researched and well informed article. I often watch lesbian porn on a free site and thoroughly enjoy it.

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