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Anna Span's pornography may not always be serious, but it is absolutely political

Posted at 19:44 on 12 Mar 2010 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Anna Span, Body positivity, Gender politics, in the news, other pictures

The news this week has been full of stories about Anna Arrowsmith, the former porn director who is now running as a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats.

Perhaps surprisingly, most of the coverage has been positive. Heresy Corner has a rundown of the response from most of the major papers - it seems everyone's covered this one, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail. To me, this makes far more exciting news than the mere fact of her candidacy. Quite apart from the wider social implications, if Anna Arrowsmith can run for parliament, it bodes well for the potential impact of my current career on any more public endeavours I might undertake in the future. Kink is still considerably less permissible in our society than mainstream sex, but the details of Arrowsmith's career have promising implications for my own situation.

Bloggers on leftie news site Liberal Conspiracy suggest that "she seems like someone with a real belief in personal freedom and choice rather than some sorry mens mag sleazoid, like, well, the owner of the Daily Express". The distinction between 'good' and 'bad' porn implicit in much of the discussion is made explicit by the Heresiarch, who opines:

Perhaps it's Span's much-vaunted feminist beliefs that afford her the benefit of the doubt - this isn't just porn, the subtext reads, this is serious political porn (even though in all honesty it isn't). Would a male pornographer who put himself forward for election attract quite such positive publicity, I wonder?

Her gender is certainly worthy of comment. Like the mainsteam film industry, porn is still male-dominated with a lot of entrenched sexism. Female directors and producers are a relatively recent phenomenon, and Anna Span was the first in the UK. It certainly seems as though her particular approach to pornography has gained her political currency with most commentators; however, her approach is still unusual enough that this may also have been true if she was male.

In an industry as historically misogynist as pornography, Arrowsmith's gender is radical in itself, but the ethos of her productions also stands out from the crowd. The Heresiarch may sneer at the implication that her work is "serious and political", and I'll concede the former - from the stills and descriptions on her website, her productions seem joyous and informal, full of real smiles and infectious laughter. But viewed in the context of the industry, her films are absolutely political.

Arrowsmith wrote her BA dissertation in 1997 on what a female perspective on porn would look like, and those ideas have clearly informed her work. She wanted to make the industry more accessible to women - in other words, increase the proportion of fair trade productions which respected women and catered to their desires, compared to the tired male-gaze tropes which still dominate the industry. This was absolutely necessary, and while Anna wasn't the only woman setting out to revolutionalise porn, she was part of a movement that has had a huge impact. Female directors are no longer isolated rarities, and all manner of indepedent, creative companies are producing porn which celebrates female perspectives.

Easy on the Eye is feminist, cutting-edge and very political, not only because it is (was) woman-led, but because:

  • It focuses on the female perspective - not only in having a female director, but in the stories themselves. Beautiful men are displayed as sexually interesting; most of the stories are told from the female protagonist's point of view; friendship, intimacy and humour are as present as much as tits, legs and ass. The resulting productions are warm, glowing with good energy, and hugely respectful in their presentation of the male and female actors who took part.

  • It celebrates a range of skintones and body types, including the squashy female bodies which are so rare outside the BBW niche.

  • It features believable characters with interesting back stories.

  • It is set in the day-to-day, diverse London world Anna inhabited, rather than the unattainable fantasy lifestyle presented in so much mainstream porn.

  • Her scenarios involve interesting, entertaining and often unpredictable storylines - for example:

    I visit Ava's house in South London one stoned late summer afternoon to see Nadia helping Ava paint her squat-like bedroom. The painting becomes labourious in the sun and the conversation turns to sex and past partners.

    The two of them 'start fucking about' and the paint gets spilt all over the place. Ava settles for a green room with a large stripe of the previous magnolia showing through.


    and

    Stumbling back from a club at 6 in the morning. My friend Linda has pulled the DJ. She has, however, forgotten to buy the cigarettes - even though we went out of our way in a cab to a petrol station. Luckily the bloke hasn't had his shag yet, so he's feeling all gentlemanly, and goes out to get some.

    Meanwhile, I get chatting with Linda. Well... does she like him? On Mickey's return I make myself scarce to give her the chance to pounce as I can see that she is ready. And pounce she does. Mickey's a goer - an East End boy that likes it hard, and he gets it that way.

  • The productions are full of warmth, laughter and silliness. This may not be an explicit item on the feminist agenda, but it's a notable feature of most women-driven porn. Not only does this stick a well-deserved finger up at the stereotypes about women and humour, it suggests that everyone involved was having fun, which is, in my opinion, one of the sexiest things money can't buy.

Some pro-porn feminists may find things to criticise - there's a healthy dollop of male gaze mixed in, as well as a smattering of tired pornographic stalwarts, like double penetration scenes or the blowjob-and-big-eyes shot of a woman's face. But Arrowsmith was a pioneer, and her work set the stage for the increasing number of independent, women-driven, female-gaze porn which have been gaining momentum ever since.

As a fellow feminist, liberal activist and aspiring producer, I wish Anna Arrowsmith the best of luck in this election - even though it sounds like her seat will be a tricky one to win. Even if she doesn't, her candidacy has generated some excellent publicity not only for the Lib Dems, but for feminist porn. Weeks like this, it feels like social change may be possible after all.

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