Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vegan, Menstruating, and Hairy: Feminist Pornography as a Response to the Sexual Status Quo

a real iPhone game in which players furtively
lift a woman's skirt to discover the color
of her underwear:

Most of you reading would agree that pornography, for the most part, degrades, objectifies, disrespects, abuses, and generally harms women. You may be right. But a subversive, pro-woman underbelly is slowly brooding to erupt into a refreshing alternative to mainstream man-made sexuality. I present to you a mind-expanding collection of such pro-woman internet pornography, courtesy of feministing.com

thankfully, NOT the type of "porn for women" I subscribe to
  • Erotic Red (feminist menstruation porn by women of all sizes and shapes who are authentically and naturally on their period). The site creator posits that "In an industry where photos of women being throat-fucked and pissed on are commonplace portrayals of human sexuality, women enjoying themselves on their periods are viewed by most pornographers as horrifyingly obscene.” Erotic Red is out to change that.
  • VegPorn (a woman-owned enterprise featuring only vegetarian and vegan models, and seeking to include all gender and sexual diversity - such as hiring queer and transgender models)
  • No Fauxxx (fascinating site with self-proclaimed "radical porn" with a politicized sexual message, and is inclusive of all natural body types - especially queer and transgender people): "Porn that doesn't fake it!"
  • Good Dyke Porn (somewhat self-explanatory site with an all-lesbian/bisexual/queer women/transpeople performers): also remarkable because of the site's deep commitment to eroticizing safer sex. Videos and images often depict gloves, dental dams, condoms, lube, and consensual kink. 
  • Furry Girl: founded by an all-natural, hairy feminist, this site really underscores the differences between the mainstream male-operated sex industry and the budding sex-positive world of feminist pornography.
Feminist pornography refers to a "genre of sex films designed to appeal to people who feel put off by mainstream porn." In the world of feminist porn, women come in all shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations - these actresses “don’t necessarily conform to the typical big-boobed, tiny-waisted ideal; some sport armpit hair.” Alas, women in feminist porn look more like the average woman walking down the street or standing in line at Whole Foods than adult film stars. Feminist porn first surfaced in the 1980s with pioneers such a Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley - women who had both worked in the sex industry before becoming stars in the adult film industry. As Sprinkle puts it, “I was tired of simply exploring other people’s fantasies, or performing other people’s fantasies, and wanted to explore my own.”

These films also tend to be more plot-driven and are designed to appeal to straight women and couples. Specifically, films that qualify for the Annual Feminist Porn Awards (seven years running as of 2011) must have: 1) a woman in a significant production/writing/directing role, and must 2) challenge stereotypes about beauty and sex appeal in mainstream pornography, and must 3) depict women or transgender/transsexual/intersex individuals experiencing genuine sexual pleasure. 
Interestingly, while the internet has hindered the profit margins of the mainstream porn industry because there is so much free porn everywhere, the internet has helped feminist pornographers. Because feminist porn is the work of small, specialized companies that focus on quality, casting, and storytelling, they use the internet to reach viewers through personal computers than having to distribute large quantities of their films to compete with major mainstream producers.
a still-shot of  "Anal Agony," a movie made by porn director and
distributor Max Hardcore, aka Paul F. Little, who was recently sentenced
to four years in prison over obscenity charges
Decades after the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, the dichotomous battle at the core of the conflict survives to the current day. Anti-pornography feminists continue to denounce pornography, including feminist pornography, which includes scenes depicting "women hog-tied while having sex that looks painful, or women suspended from the ceiling while men penetrate them.” Indeed, some feminists feel that “anyone willing to feed off women’s bodies and use them as raw materials to make a profit has no right to call themselves feminists.” (Gail Dines, an anti-porn activist and the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality). “Even porn without overt violence is a form of exploitation since it reduces women to a series of body parts.”
On the other hand, sex-positive feminists today rely on the assertion that feminist pornography liberates female sexuality by showing the diversity of kinks and sexual scenarios that appeal to female viewers. Proponents laud these films for featuring performers who are more diverse in shape, size, sexual orientation, age, and race than in mainstream pornographic movies. One pornographer explains that "some women are turned on by being submissive, [and]  we need to respect that their choice for themselves is not degrading or sexist.” This sentiment echoes the main message of sex-positive feminism,  that shaming female sexuality in its genuine manifestations is a patriarchal tool of oppression. True liberation emerges when real women and real people feel positive about their true desires. Annie Sprinkle notes, "sex doesn't always look politically correct." Sex may not always look feminist, either. 
Additionally, feminist pornographers make an effort to have their performers engage in sexual behaviors that they personally enjoy. Directors and producers often ask the actors what they like to do - a freedom unheard of in the mainstream porn world. 

I close with the following questions: 

  • Can mainstream pornography ever become a space where women's bodies, identities, turn-ons, authentic experiences, and sexualities are treated with respect and legitimacy?
  • Is there an argument to be made for women who may legitimately enjoy pornography in which women are degraded, kicked, beaten, and disrespected - and that in the spirit of artistic freedom, these depictions don't necessarily impact real life? 

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