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cum-shots, spanking, and the role of blogging in feminist porn

Posted at 18:14 on 19 Jan 2008 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Gender politics, Performers and producers, Politics, rant

Debate rages on the issue of feminist porn. Can porn be feminist, and if so, how? I'm not an expert on feminist theory, but I consider myself a feminist and I'm fairly obviously pro-porn. I don't think it's enough to naively state that being female makes anything one chooses to do a feminist act. I also don't buy into the idea that because I find spanking hot I've been brainwashed by the patriarchy and internalised my oppression, but I do feel that because my sexual preferences are easily associated with misogynistic acts, I have a responsibility to make the distinction as clear as possible.

The key for me - as with most kinky people - is consent. And I'm not just talking about spanking, here. I'm talking about representations of any sexual act in porn. D. recently linked me to some blogs debating about whether blowjobs performed by women, and specifically the "cum-shot", have a place in feminist porn. It's an interesting debate, and if you'll bear with me I'd like to use it as an example.

Can the "money-shot" ever be feminist?

Some writers believe the overuse of the cum-shot in mainstream porn has rendered it so trashy and generic, with so little reference to the preferences and desires of the women involved, that it is now inherently degrading, and should be totally avoided by directors trying to create a more equality-focussed, sexually liberated pornography. Petra Joy, a film director who self-describes as "creating porn that is radically different, exploring what is taboo in mainstream porn: sensuality, intimacy; men as objects of female desire and male bisexuality", wrote the following provocative statement:

"Feminism is committed to equality of the sexes, so surely "feminist porn" should show women as equals to men rather than as subservient beings. A woman receiving head, a woman fucking a guy with a strap-on, a guy tasting his own cum and also to feature female ejaculation those techniques that show a woman in control might be "feminist porn". If you want to show cum on a woman's face that's fine but don't call it feminist."

A number of responses sprang up from feminist bloggers challenging this view. Erika Lust sharply critiques any attempt to create a new orthodoxy about what kind of sexual act is or isn't feminist. Replacing one set of oppressive unequal standards with another isn't progressive; rather, porn should focus on the sexuality and desires of both its male and female participants:

For me "feminist porn" is porn that shows real women and real men having real sex, not just women obedient to men reproducing classic power structures, not just objectified women, not just women giving pleasure but also receiving pleasure. [...] For me feminist porn should portray womens fantasies and desires all of them. I certainly know that a woman can be a strong feminist and still wanting to be taken strongly by a man or enjoying blowing a mans cock or having his cum all over her face.

So for Erika, it's all about the expressions of desire from both male and female characters in a porn film.

Ms Naughty expands on Erika's point, with a well-written, witty post about how context is everything. For Ms Naughty, a scene of a guy jerking off on a silent, empty-eyed model isn't hot. She'd be far more interested in a scene of a woman enthusiastically going down on her male partner, including shots showing the man's face and expressions of his pleasure, which ends with the woman excitedly saying "come on my face, I love that". Ms Naughty encourages us ...

... to think about the way mainstream porn gives priority to certain sex acts and the context in which theyre presented. [...] Choice, consent and desire are what makes the difference and if Im not seeing that, I will tend to think negatively about certain sex acts in porn.

(Ms Naughty's site Penis Karaoke offers a more light-hearted take on the whole subject, which I'd heartily recommend.)

Waking Vixen takes this one step further. For her, the relevant point isn't the characters in the porn or what happens in the scene, but on how empowered the female models are in the production process:

What I do care about is: does that performer want to be there? Is the director/producer respecting her needs and paying her appropriately? Did she get blindsided by requests for acts she doesnt want to do?

So what does this have to do with spanking?

Unsurprisingly, you don't read about spanking porn much in the feminist press. But I don't see that a scene of a woman being spanked by a man is any different theoretically from a scene of a man coming on a woman's face - in both scenes the woman takes a subservient role, and the focus is typically on the man's desire and the woman's body as an object of that desire.

In mainstream porn that isn't focussing on power play, it's possible for producers to focus more on female agency and desire in a way that reconstructs these tired pornographic tropes in a way that is both empowering and interesting. But in spanking and BDSM porn, this isn't so simple. The premise of much of the erotic material in this genre is non-consent. For both characters in the film to be empowered would be to kind of miss the point. While there are a lot of very inspiring erotic spanking movies featuring women who want to be spanked and explicitly request and enjoy it - and more power to the directors of these movies - can porn for us ladies who get off on non-consent scenarios ever be feminist?

I think the answer is yes, and the key lies in Waking Vixen's post about the desires and consent of the models, and how empowered and respected they are by the production process. It's okay for porn to feature women being hurt and degraded - but in material this edgy, it's crucially important that everyone involved in the film's production explicitly and actively consents to the content of the film. The desires of the models, not the desires of the characters, becomes the crucial factor. Those desires should be respected on set, by the tops and the photographers they're working with. There's a question of basic professionalism here: a model's limits should be respected; no model should be asked more than once to do anything she doesn't want to; a model's time should not be wasted. But there's also a question of kink. The characters clearly aren't enjoying what's happening. But are the models enjoying it?

And that's where blogging comes in. A lot of spanking models have started keeping blogs writing about their experiences and explaining what they get out of it. It's not just a good way of finding out more about your favourite spankee. It's absolutely essential if we want to promote spanking porn that is progressive, focussed on real-life sexual equality and not only on male agency and desire. Yes, it's important to portray men and women in a variety of roles - men being spanked as well as women, women and men both doing the spanking, characters who enjoy their spankings and characters who don't. But the content of the movie is a secondary issue to the consent and desire of the performers.

I'd love to see more models - male and female - adding their voices and telling the world why they do what they do, and what they get out of it. It's not enough for models to be respected and consulted in the production process - the choice and consent of the models needs to be made clearly and loudly explicit. Whether it's in a blog or in an interview at the end of the movie, for spanking porn to be feminist the models' voices need to be heard.

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