Defining feminist porn

Posted at 18:53 on 12 Jan 2012 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, Gender politics, Politics

A little while ago I wrote an article in which I attempted to define what "fairtrade" porn would look like. There obviously isn't an international standard for fairtrade porn, but perhaps there should be. Production ethics are something I'd love to see more producers publically talking about, especially the ones who are already doing things right.

As a feminist, I'm not only interested in ethical production in general, but also the specific ways in which porn can be compatible with feminist values. (My feminism is post-third wave sex positive trans/queer feminism, which holds no innate incompability with explicit sexual imagery and self-expression.) Not all producers are interested in being feminist, and that's okay: I'm not saying that those studios are unethical. But if you do identify as a feminist, how does that affect the porn you make?

It's not quite as simple as that feminist porn should be woman-positive, while fairtrade porn should be human-positive: it's more that I think feminist porn takes extra care with gender expression, and strives to be explicitly gender egalitarian in its approach. Quizzical Mama has proposed some good guidelines, but they don't leave space for low-budget/homegrown productions, nor for feminists who wish to explore their kinky, violent or nonconsensual fantasies in a progressive way.

Images via Sex is not the enemy

Although my own porn is kinky, I've tried to come up with a general set of principles which would apply to any kind of production. As always, I'm mostly interested in the realities of production, rather than the type of fantasy explored on screen. It's informed by the good work already done by feminist pornographers: I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel here. My aim is to boost signal for good ideas, and extend the conversation.

Obviously any feminist pornographer has their own understanding, and I'm not trying to police anyone else's feminism. This stab at a definition reflects my own process as a newbie pornographer: at this point in time, what does feminist porn mean to me?

  • Focus on female desire, sexual agency and sexual pleasure, as well as male desire/agency/pleasure.
  • Performers are presented as whole people, not merely objectified body parts. Throughout the presentation emphatic respect is shown for the personhood of all performers, regardless of their role in the fantasy.
  • Celebrates a range of body types, skin tones and sizes - i.e. not only petite, white, cisfemale bodies can be sexy!
  • Use of female gaze and female POV.
  • Male, female and genderqueer bodies are all shown as objects of female desire. The viewer is neither assumed to be male, nor to only be interested in female bodies.
  • Trans/genderqueer bodies are normalised; neither more objectified than cis bodies, nor presented as less sexy.
  • Gender equality within queer content - i.e. no greater emphasis on F/F scenes than on M/M.
  • Any female orgasms shown are real, not faked.
  • Sexual acts take place within a framework of enthusiastic consent. This is particularly important for power play or 'traditional' porn tropes which may have a history of sexism.
  • Where enthusiastic consent is not possible within the parameters of the fantasy, it is expressed by the performers in the presentation of the scene e.g. through blogs, live interaction, or behind the scenes material.
  • The presentation makes a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, especially where the fantasy includes traditionally sexist porn tropes such as M/F power play, cum-shots, forced blowjobs or rape fantasies. Fantasies which involve misogynistic tropes or language are approached with the greatest care. In other words, showing a woman being raped, beaten and called a slut isn't impossible in feminist porn, but a feminist producer would probably only undertake such a scene if it was specifically the performer's fantasy, and take great care to frame the scene with interviews and behind the scenes material which made the desires and agency of the performer explicit.
  • Relatedly, content which might cause distress to survivors of abuse is clearly labelled as such before sale.
  • Women are involved at multiple levels of production, e.g. as writers, producers, directors, technical crew, editors or post-producers, not just performers.

The above is intended more of a spectrum of possibility than an "all or nothing" test. For example, many feminist pornographers focus on female or genderqueer bodies, with little emphasis on heterosexual couples or cis male performers. (Notable exceptions include For the Girls, Lust Films and Heavenly Spire.) I think gender diversity is important, but I'm not about to start calling anyone unfeminist for catering to a specific sexuality. Equally, while I don't know of an all-male studio producing feminist porn, it's totally possible.

Criticism, comments, additions and clarifications from feminists and gender hackers are warmly welcomed. Unless you're trying to argue that porn can never be feminist, in which case we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

(Coming up: introductions to my favourite fairtrade and feminist porn producers, in kink/spanking and beyond.)

Comments

Good for you for trying to put down some rules for making feminist porn. I agree with them but I don't know if you could have every female climax as real unless you only employ women in the movies that climax really easily and they are the minority.

Well personally I don't believe in feminist porn. As in to me feminism has a set of values that does not go together with porn as it works today. But I do watch porn, not queer or feminist porn, but mainstream porn.

But, if I was to speculate on what could be feminist porn to me then it would have to subvert existing structures and gender norms. So BDSM porn where the woman was the sub and the man was the dom would not be feminist to me no matter how may times someone called it that. It would have to forgo all kinds of power differentials to be close to feminist porn for me.

As I see it: Simply because I'm feminist does not make the porn I make into feminist porn.

I have been thinking about being in amateur trans porn, since I'm a trans woman, and sometimes a femboy. But I would never see it as feminist even if I did follow all those guidelines you have made. I would just see it as porn.

I guess it does not matter to me if something is called feminist or not. I just want to watch porn.

Interesting post, but I don't think that the majority of your guidelines are feminist so much as they are humanist.

With the exception of women being involved at all stages of the production, I think that your suggestions reflect porn produced by a caring and non-discriminatory supplier; I hate to say it but feminists are as capable of discriminatory actions as misogynists. I don't think that the areas you cover necessarily reflect feminist thinking exclusively.

I'm not a feminist as such; I'm a man, for a start. Yes, I regard women as equal to me, and I entirely accept that it is appropriate for porn to appeal to women as much as men. I have often praised, for example, Northern Spanking and Shanelle's paysite for utilising models with different body types. I cannot see why this should be exclusive to feminist porn.

I could make the same comments about several of your other criteria; sadly my sex excludes me from being a feminist, so I cannot offer my own suggestions as to what would make good feminist porn.

The main thing, I think, is that women are not portrayed as weaker than men(a thing I blogged about recently), and that their desires are not excluded from consideration when producing porn.

I may be wrong (I may not biologically be able to appreciate the differences) but I think a number of sites cover this; I don't think it's an issue, for example, of whether spanking videos are M/F, F/F, F/M or M/M. I think that is more an issue of sexual orientation.

Having said that I appear to have lost around 25% of my blog readers after reviewing an F/M website recently, so what do I know?

Anyway, thanks for making me think again.

Tim

well I am not a feminist at all, and I think some of the points are sound. So maybe your 'manifesto' is not entirely or exclusively feminist?

A few things I disagree with e.g.:

'Relatedly, content which might cause distress to survivors of abuse is clearly labelled as such before sale.' - I think this is pointless myself. If you label porn as what it is - e.g. kink, spanking, 'rape fantasy', kidnap etc, people can make up their minds whether or not to watch it. I think it is patronising to put 'trigger warnings' on, and, feminists in particular tend to focus on things they think will trigger women 'survivors' and often women survivors of 'male violence'. There is often a political agenda behind the warnings. Well you have admitted there is - a feminist one!

I watch mainly M/M porn and don't really care if the studios who make it only make M/M porn or not. But, as I am not a feminist this is not an issue!

So maybe the trigger warnings should turn into something resembling an ingredients list? I consider peanuts to be a positive addition to a food product while people with nut allergies want to know to keep away. Likewise I don't want to see cocks close-up, but it sounds like you do. A porn ingredients list can help us both find the porn we want to see.

Can I also suggest, if efforts are being made to make sure he ejaculates an unrealistic amount of semen, that can also be part of the list? I see it on a par with faked female orgasms.

That's a very difficult topic, Pandora! Discussing fairtrade porn is much easier for me than discussing feminist porn.

So I won't try to give a definition, but instead I am going to write a bit about what I, as a woman, am missing today in many (spanking) porn productions and what I would like feminist porn to add to the mix. When I think about it, the only additional aspect which I would like to have in addition to your fairtrade porn definition in order to make pornography more attractive for me as a woman are scenarios that attract women and cater to their fantasies. For me that means first and foremost (especially concerning spanking porn) scenarios which present female as well as male actors and their bodies in an aesthetic, erotic manner, and scenarios with gender constellations that attract women.

Of course women have very different fantasies, though, and men can be attracted by similar aspects as women. For example, I think that many men like scenarios which focus equally on the male as well as on the female actors, too. And many women surely like classical F/F and M/F scenarios. But the majority of videos still focusses on female bodies (and sometimes on their bodies only), and I would expect feminist porn to close that gap by focussing on male bodies as well, by combining aesthetic pictures with elaborate storylines and by offering scenarios which feature the less common F/M and M/M constellation as well.

One point of your definition made me think. Why do orgasms in feminist porn have to be real? In a way I guess that I get your point: I assume that you don't want women to be depicted as feeling ultimate pleasure where there is none. But on the other hand, if a video is made to arouse the viewer, the scene would be more erotic with an orgasm and the actors are okay with that but for some reasons it doesn't happen for real (making porn after all still is work as much as it hopefully is also fun), why should the actors not have the option to fake an orgasm?

Wouldn't they be under even more pressure if not being in the right mood automatically meant that the storyline had to end without the climax that it was supposed to have? Transferring the question to spanking porn: Is it wrong to exaggerate any reactions to a spanking? Or does that rule only apply to orgasms because they are more intimate? Are they more intimate? As you see, I don't have any answers here. I understand your point, but I'm not really sure whether it is valid under every circumstance or whether it maybe just results in a harder time for the actors...

I'm really happy to see you thinking about and implementing these feminist standards in your porn productions. I would be happy about it anyway, because although I am a man, I consider myself to be a feminist. Now I wonder how many male feminist Tops there... Additionally though, I happen to be of a nature to erotically appreciate a feminist perspective in my spanking/BDSM porn.

A big thrill for me is chasing that line between what might actually happen in reality and a given fantasy. When I see women that, although submissive or consensualy objectified or punished, my internal thought is "Oh wow. This could be real. That's clearly a real woman."

So besides the fact that for me a feminist approach is ethically preferable, it's also erotically preferable.

Your Friend,
Quai

I kind of worry about the fluency in which you throw lines like this out:

"Any female orgasms shown are real, not faked."

First instinct is: "Duh! Of course!"

Then you think: "Why only female orgasms?"

Obviously the implication is that by way of the money shot, all male orgasms are authentic - but the fact that you specify a gender kind of undermines the very point you were trying to make. You should have written:

"Any orgasms shown are real, not faked."

Then it would have actually met the criteria for which you stand. Perhaps it's assumed that all male orgasms are genuine (although perhaps you're not as familiar with the San Fernando Valley industry, where stunt cocks and fake spunk exist) but the fact that you mentioned a specific gender buys into the gender hypocrisy which continues to undermine the credibility of sex positive feminism.

This is a nice contribution to the conversation about feminist porn. I enjoyed reading the above comments as well. I agree that in many ways feminist = humanist, with the exception that feminism notes that there is still more work to be done on behalf of women and other non-male groups of the population to attain equality. As to the comment that it would be equally important to feature convincing male orgasms, I agree. Mutuality is key.

My own criteria sidesteps the dilemma of whether or not it would be okay to fake the orgasm: as long as it's portrayed convincingly and I as the viewer think it's real, and that the actor performed as such consensually, I'm satisfied with that.

As to your comment to my guidelines that "they don’t leave space for low-budget/homegrown productions, nor for feminists who wish to explore their kinky, violent or nonconsensual fantasies in a progressive way," I would beg to differ. It is true that I emphasize esthetic quality, but I don't require high budget. A lot can be done with limited resources; Louise Lush of For the Girls has shown as much. And when I include "subversive role-play, critically appropriating, revising, and playing with erotic fantasies" in my criteria, I also refer to kinky, violent or nonconsensual fantasies in a progressive way; I give a few examples of this in my book.

FYI, Good Vibrations Magazine has moved to a new site, so this is the correct address to my definition of feminist porn: http://goodvibesblog.com/part-i-my-very-brief-guide-to-feminist-porn/

I also read your post on fairtrade porn and enjoyed it very much!

[…] porn is performer-centric and performer-driven, giving the actors the opportunity to choose their scene partners, write their own scripts and have […]

[…] rights is separate from whether porn is feminist. Ethical production is the basics; feminism adds an additional set of standards which are, I think, optional. Porn can be ethically produced in the sense of treating its workers […]

Add a comment

Post as:

(or log in to post with your own username)

I'm fighting porn censorship - support me on Patreon

Browse archive

2012

PSA »

Find Pandora online

Feminist porn

Spanking porn

Spanking blogs

Sex and Politics blogs

Toplists & directories