What is feminist porn?

Posted at 10:03 on 23 Apr 2014 by Pandora Blake

Tags: Dreams of Spanking, Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, feminist porn, Feminist Porn Awards, Gender politics, in the news, media, Politics, Sex worker rights

In my last post I wrote about my personal, emotional response to the Feminist Porn Awards and Feminist Porn Conference, but I didn't go into the actual question of feminist porn - what it means to me, how my work relates to it and so on. While I was at the feminist porn conference I did a bit of live-tweeting and I kept noticing @ClaireLitton's tweets in the hashtag, and retweeting them - she would often say exactly what I wanted to, and save me the trouble!

We spent some time talking, and after the conference she asked me (and a few others) to answer some questions for an article she was writing on feminist porn. Her piece includes insightful quotes from some top names in the field and is well worth reading. I hope Claire doesn't mind if I publish the full text of my response to her here, as the simplest way to explain my take on the subject.

Flare by Sensate Films at PinkLabel.tv

What do you think are the origins of the genre and where do you think it is going?

I'm not sure feminist porn is (or should be) a genre so much as a movement, or a framework for discussion. The history of the movement is rooted in the work of women like Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle, who pioneered the ideas of couples porn, positive sexual role modelling, sex positive feminism and erotic cinema from a female perspective. Petra Joy, Anna Span and Ms Naughty were other early innovators of porn depicting female sexual fantasy, agency, pleasure and desire.

Nowadays feminist porn is intersectional and concerned with taking the above themes beyond a "male/female" binary and expanding them across the gender spectrum. Feminist porn is about challenging the status quo and providing an alternative to kyriarchal standards of sexual desirability. It's about making space for trans* people, people of colour, fat people, people with disabilities and others not represented in mainstream porn to be sexy and have sex that expresses their true sexualities.

As the category has evolved, how has it shifted and changed?

Feminist porn used to be more or less synonymous with porn for women, but nowadays I think it's more like porn for everyone. It's expanded and in the future, I think - and hope - porn that is now considered "feminist" will be the default, and radical porn will need to seek out new boundaries to explore.

Porn is intensely personal and no single feminist porn film can be everything for everyone. That's why as a movement inclusivity is so important, to make space for an ever-expanding range of sexualities and erotic themes. For instance, for the last ten years many feminist pornographers have made queer porn, creating a necessary alternative to the male gaze heteronormativity of mainstream porn. But I think it's also important for feminist porn to explore the heterosexual female gaze, eroticising cis male bodies in straight encounters as well as in queer ones. Many feminist pornographers are queer, but on this planet so many people are straight that it's important to create radical, feminist, ethical and female gaze straight porn alongside the queer porn revolution.

It's wonderful to see feminist porn embracing and centering trans* women in a respectful way - that's new. As a producer of feminist spanking porn, I also think it's essential for feminist porn to expand to include the world of fetish pornography and to explore the themes of consensual non-consent and fantasy fiction in a feminist, ethical way, rather than limiting ourselves to documentary style "real world sex". For many people porn is about a safe space to explore fantasies that don't represent the sex we have in reality, and I think it's essential for feminist porn to embrace this concept. Not all our fantasies might be feminist, but I think it's still possible to make porn of them in a feminist way.

What are your personal reasons for becoming involved in feminist porn?

I started working as an adult performer before I became a feminist, and as my politics have evolved, so has my work. My fetish is spanking and most of my work has been within the world of kinky porn, which has historically been just as male gaze and heteronormative as mainstream porn. I became invested in promoting queer visibility and the female gaze within fetish porn, and in unpacking gendered expectations of power roles. I have submissive fantasies and in order to feel comfortable exploring those as a feminist, I want to live in a world where power play is just that - play - without any expectations of which role you will play based on your gender. I think switch visibility plays a key role in deconstructing this sort of gender essentialism.

I wanted more fetish porn featuring hot guys (both tops and bottoms) for me to perv over, and make porn which catered to my fantasies - which are generally story-driven and emotionally complex with dark, edgy flavours. I wanted more positive depictions of male submission, not only normalising the female top/male bottom dynamic but celebrating and eroticising male submission from the female point of view. I was shocked to discover most fetish producers didn't pay male performers and that was what finally kickstarted me into starting to produce my own material. For me equal pay for equal work in porn is not only a labour rights issue but a female gaze issue. You get what you pay for and if you want to explore female fantasy on film, you need to pay top rates for professional male talent.

I also got sick of seeing kinky porn which was consensually produced but sold as if the non-consent fantasy was actually true, pretending the performers hadn't really consented. Sure, I like dark fantasies that involve pain and helplessness but I can only enjoy them if I know the performers are really into it and having fun. I started thinking about how to express this dichotomy and make the difference between non-consent fantasy and consensual reality crystal clear to anyone watching. That's how Dreams of Spanking was born, which emphasises enthusiastic consent behind the scenes through out-takes, interviews, respectful marketing copy, and blogs and social media by the performers themselves.

How can a consumer identify feminist porn? What are its characteristics?

Feminist porn is a complex tangle of intersecting factors and no two feminist porn films will look alike. But for me, the heart of is rooted in two priorities: the experience of the performers on set, and the way the final product is presented.

Feminist porn is performer-centric and performer-driven, giving the actors the opportunity to choose their scene partners, write their own scripts and have a say or final veto in everything that happens on camera. Feminist porn is fairtrade porn, and performers are paid fairly and well, fed well, and treated well. Communication beforehand is honest and thorough, with no deceit about what will take place, and directors who are willing to be flexible. On set the producer works to create an environment that is relaxed and fun to be in, without stressing the performers out or making them anxious. There's no pressure put on performers to do anything they don't want to.

Once the footage has been captured, the edit is done in a way that is honest and representative of what actually happened. Full credit is given to everyone involved and the product is sold in a way that respects the performers' professionalism, agency, and personhood.

Feminist porn centers performer consent, agency and desire in every aspect of production. It is inclusive, diverse, sex-positive and politically aware. Feminist porn is based on the idea that all sexualities are valid, and everyone deserves to feel sexy, no matter your gender, body type or sexuality.

Any further comments or things you think people need to know?

Anyone who is curious about feminist porn should start out by watching Courtney Trouble's keynote from the Feminist Porn Conference last week.

Feminist porn is a movement, and it is imperfect. It's not intending to segregate itself from the rest of porn but to seed ideas, hope and inspiration that will spread across the globe. If you don't see yourself represented in feminist porn, speak up. Get involved. The feminist porn community is a close-knit family full of love, intimacy, affection, trust and respect, and from the outside that sort of closeness can always seem a little cliquey or exclusive. But this movement is built on a premise of inclusivity. If you make yourself known, show up, and talk to people, you will be welcomed; and if you have questions to ask or critique to offer, you will be listened to. Feminist porn is centered on openness to change, and on challenging received ideas of what is sexy, or who porn is for. It is, by definition, open to feedback.

I also want to add that if you can't find the porn you want to see, you should make your own. The more people making porn which authentically represents their own sexualities, desires and sexual selves, the healthier the porn industry - and society as a whole - will be.

If this all sounds good and you want to see more, check out Gala Vanting's (incomplete) list of feminist porn resources, or the videos on demand at PinkLabel.tv. Image at the top of this post is from Flare by Sensate Films.

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