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Feminist Porn Depicts Sexuality's Unruly Side Too

Sunday, August 18, 2013

As this type of porn gains visibility, it reflects a greater demand for explicit sexual representations among women, where sex isn't always a "ribbon-tied box of happiness and joy," say editors in this excerpt from "The Feminist Porn Book."

As this type of porn gains visibility, it reflects a greater demand for explicit sexual representations among women, where sex isn't always a "ribbon-tied box of happiness and joy," say editors in this excerpt from "The Feminist Porn Book."

Feminist Porn

Credit: Photo by Stacie Joy, CineKink on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


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(WOMENSENEWS)--The overwhelming popularity of women's erotic literature, illustrated by the recent worldwide best seller "Fifty Shades of Grey" by EL James and the flourishing women's fan fiction community from which it emerged, proves that there is great demand among women for explicit sexual representations.

Millions of female readers embraced the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy--which follows a young woman who becomes the submissive sexual partner to a dominant man--not for its depiction of oppression, but for its exploration of erotic freedom. Female-authored erotica and pornography speaks to fantasies women actually have, fantasies that are located in a world where women must negotiate power constantly, including in their imaginations and desires. As with the criteria for winning a Feminist Porn Award, these books and the feminist porn movement show that "women are taking control of their own fantasies (even when that fantasy is to hand over control)."

With the emergence of new technologies that allow more people than ever to both create and consume pornography, the moral panic-driven fears of porn are ratcheted up once again. Society's dread of women who own their desire, and use it in ways that confound expectations of proper female sexuality, persists. As Gayle Rubin shows, "Modern Western societies appraise sex acts according to a hierarchical system of sexual value." Rubin maps this system as one where "the charmed circle" is perpetually threatened by the "outer limits," or those who fall out of the bounds of the acceptable.

On the bottom of this hierarchy are sexual acts and identities outside heterosexuality, marriage, monogamy and reproduction. She argues that this hierarchy exists so as to justify the privileging of normative and constricted sexualities and the denigration and punishment of the "sexual rabble."

Lowercase Pornographies

One of the unfortunate results of the porn wars was the fixing of an anti-porn camp versus a sex-positive/pro-porn camp. On one side, a capital P "Pornography" was a visual embodiment of the patriarchy and violence against women. On the other, Porn was defended as "speech," or as a form that should not be foreclosed because it might some day be transformed into a vehicle for women's erotic expression. The nuances and complexities of actual lowercase "pornographies" were lost in the middle.

For example, sex-positive thinking does not always accommodate the ways in which women are constrained by sexuality. But the problem with anti-pornography's assumption that sex is inherently oppressive to women--that women are debased when they have sex on camera--ignores and represses the sexuality of women. Hence, for us, sex-positive feminist porn does not mean that sex is always a ribbon-tied box of happiness and joy. Instead, feminist porn captures the struggle to define, understand and locate one's sexuality. It recognizes the importance of deferring judgment about the significance of sex in intimate and social relations, and of not presuming what sex means for specific people.

Feminist porn explores sexual ideas and acts that may be fraught, confounding and deeply disturbing to some, and liberating and empowering to others. What we see at work here are competing definitions of sexuality that expose the power of sexuality in all of its unruliness.

Because feminist porn acknowledges that identities are socially situated and that sexuality has the power to discipline, punish and subjugate, that unruliness may involve producing images that seem oppressive, degrading or violent. Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women's fantasies. It creates a space for realizing the contradictory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are. As Tom Waugh argues, participation in pornography, in his case as spectator, can be a "process of social identity formation." Indeed, social identities and ideas are formed in the act of viewing porn, but also in making and writing about it.

Social Movements' Influence

Strongly influenced by other social movements in the realm of sexuality, like the sex-positive, LGBT rights and sex workers' rights movements, feminist porn aims to build community, to expand liberal views on gender and sexuality and to educate and empower performers and audiences. It favors fair, ethical working conditions for sex workers and the inclusion of underrepresented identities and practices.

Feminist porn vigorously challenges the hegemonic depictions of gender, sex roles and the pleasure and power of mainstream porn. It also challenges the anti-porn feminist interpretive framework for pornography as bankrupt of progressive sexual politics. As a budding movement, it promotes aesthetic and ethical practices that intervene in dominant sexual representation and mobilize a collective vision for change. This erotic activism, while in no way homogeneous or consistent, works within and against the marketplace to imagine new ways to envision gender and sexuality in our culture.

But feminist porn is not only an emergent social movement and an alternative cultural production; it is a genre of media made for profit. Part of a multibillion dollar business in adult entertainment media, feminist porn is an industry within an industry. Some feminist porn is produced independently, often created and marketed by and for underrepresented minorities like lesbians, transgender folks and people of color. But feminist porn is also produced within the mainstream adult industry by feminists whose work is funded and distributed by large companies such as Vivid Entertainment, Adam and Eve and Evil Angel Productions.

As outliers or insiders (or both) to the mainstream industry, feminists have adapted different strategies for subverting dominant pornographic norms and tropes. Some reject nearly all elements of a typical adult film, from structure to aesthetics, while others tweak the standard formula (from "foreplay" to "cum shot") to reposition and prioritize female sexual agency. Although feminist porn makers define their work as distinct from mainstream porn, it is nonetheless viewed by a range of people, including people who identify as feminist and specifically seek it out, as well as other viewers who don't.

Feminist porn is gaining momentum and visibility as a market and a movement. This movement is made up of performers turned directors, independent queer producers, politicized sex workers, porn geeks and bloggers and radical sex educators. These are the voices found here. This is the perfect time for "The Feminist Porn Book."

. . Her books are "Straitjacket Sexualities" and "The Hypersexuality of Race." . Tristan Taormino is a sex educator, feminist pornographer and the award-winning author of seven books. As head of Smart Ass Productions, she has directed and produced 24 adult films.

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