Interview with Marie Claire on feminist porn

Posted at 18:19 on 16 Mar 2016 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Dreams of Spanking, ethical porn, feminist porn, interviews, Marie Claire, media

I recently had the pleasure of talking to the features editor of Marie Claire magazine Indonesia, who wanted to run an interview with a female pornographer. Somehow they stumbled across my name, and got in touch to ask if I'd like to take part. I was a bit surprised to be asked - with my niche spanking fixation and weird insistence on shooting non-consent fantasies, I'm hardly a straightforward representative of the feminist porn movement. But the questions were interesting, and I had fun answering them. I also enjoyed the challenge of finding a selection of pictures from Dreams of Spanking that were suitable for a mainstream women's magazine (ie. no nudity or spanked bums!)

I'm finding it a bit strange how many journalists are interested in talking to me about Dreams of Spanking now that the site is offline, when I struggled for ages to get publicity for the project while it was live. But I suppose if my experiences of government censorship help shed light on the conversation around porn, feminism and production ethics, it's no bad thing. I'm certainly pleased to see a feature like this in a mainstream magazine - it all helps to spread awareness of feminist porn. It's a bit surprising that this is still necessary after 40 years of pioneering work by female directors, but when prominent feminist celebrities are still unaware that any alternatives to heteronormative mainstream porn exist yet, I guess every little helps.

And it was nice to answer questions about the site that didn't focus on censorship, for once. Hopefully I'll be able to rejoin the feminist porn movement as a producer at some point, once my legal battle with Ofcom is over. But in the meantime, it's nice to see my persecuted little spanking site receive some international love.

That is, I'm assuming that the text of the article is complimentary - I don't read Indonesian, so honestly they could be saying anything. Anyway, for the benefit of English-speaking readers, here's the full text of the interview.

Uncensored talk with a female pornographer

What's a day in the life of Pandora Blake like?

One of the things I like best about my work is that my days are all different! I get bored easily, and so it’s important to me to have lots of different projects to keep me occupied.

I usually get up between 8am-9am when my cat wakes me up asking for food. I make tea, do a bit of housework, answer some emails. I get an awful lot of email, and I am always struggling to keep on top of them. I work from home, and my boyfriend and I run a web development partnership, so at the moment I’m spending a lot of time doing design and code.

Some days I might travel into central London for a spanking appointment - I offer private spanking sessions as a switch (that means I like to both give and receive). I generally prefer two-hour appointments, so the whole process might take all afternoon - showering, doing my hair and makeup, packing the costumes I’ll need (this week I played two fun roleplays in the same session - one with me getting in trouble as a submissive Victorian chambermaid, and the other with me dishing it out as a strict, sadistic police officer!), and then it takes an hour to travel into town from my home in the suburbs, and an hour back. I always take my laptop with me so I can get on with some work while I’m on the train.

While I’m in town after my booking I might go out for dinner with friends, go to an activist meeting, or see my lover. Sometimes I might give a talk at a university about ethical porn or online censorship - if so that will take the whole evening.

Other days I’ll stay in editing photos or video or doing online marketing (when I was running my site, this was nearly every day!), travel across the UK to work as a performer for hire, or write an article. No two days are the same - and I love it!

As you mentioned, the feminist porn industry has started over 40 years ago. Why do you think that only now it gets a lot of hype? Media writes about it, including the BBC.

The internet has played a huge role in the spread of feminist porn. Now that porn is distributed online, it’s easier for viewers search for what they want. Before the internet, if you wanted to buy a porn DVD you had to go to your local adult shop, and if they didn’t have any feminist titles, tough luck - you might never know they existed. Now, we have the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, which has been running for ten years and has done a huge amount to spread awareness of the amazing work being done my feminist pornographers all over the world. Film festivals like the Berlin Porn Film Festival (also running for ten years), Cinekink, Fete du Slip and lots more play a big role in this too, connecting pornographers with each other, encouraging more people to make innovative, ethical porn, and making it easier for viewers to find new productions.

In 2013 and 2014 Tristan Taormino organised a Feminist Porn Conference, coinciding with the Feminist Porn Awards, with academics and industry workers giving seminars on a wide range of topics about feminist porn. There is also an academic Journal of Porn Studies, which has further boosted the credibility and profile of feminist productions as well as giving feminist filmmakers a chance to write academically about their work.

Alongside all this, we have had the efforts of feminist pornographers talking about their work and their politics online and through the media. We are scattered far and wide across the globe, running small businesses usually only operated by one or two people, which take a lot of time and energy to keep afloat. It doesn’t leave us much time for giving interviews or writing articles, but slowly over the past few years we have started to spread the word about what we are doing.

One reason it has been a slow process is that a lot of people don’t pay for porn, and so they only ever see what’s on the free tube sites. That content is usually old - a lot of it dates back to the late 90s, when lots of mainstream US porn studios sold their back catalogues cheaply after the dot com crash. Much of the rest of it is pirated. Many feminist pornographers try to avoid having their films shared there, because of the sexist language used to describe videos and performers on the tube sites, and other reasons. So if you are only ever watching free porn on tube sites, it’s hard to find much that’s feminist. If you want good porn, you have to pay for it - and it’s easy to find once you know what to search for!

How would you describe yourself in the context of feminist porn industry?

My work is very recent in the context of feminist porn - I only launched my site Dreams of Spanking 5 years ago. I am a self-taught filmmaker who was born at the right time to get online at a young age. By the time I launched my site DVDs had stopped being a profitable medium for porn, and membership sites were already starting to decline, too. My site is one of many operated by porn performers who want to take control of their creative output and be their own bosses. Thanks to better, faster net connections and cheaper video recording equipment, it’s getting easier and easier for normal people to have a go at making and selling porn online. You don’t need expensive equipment or training - just a camera, a computer and an internet connection. It helps if you’re a bit geeky and a bit creative, and genuinely passionate about your work! I count myself lucky to have grown up just in time to jump on board this movement of grassroots, homegrown porn production.

I was inspired by many queer, feminist porn-makers I saw online, from the female producers I met within the UK BDSM porn industry where I started out, to directors I discovered online like Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble and Ms Naughty. While I was developing my ideas I watched a lot of porn, worked for a lot of studios and read and wrote a lot about gender politics in porn.

My site was self-funded, without any men paying for things behind the scenes - I wanted to have total ownership of the whole project. Ten years ago, for a young woman starting out with a shoestring budget, launching my own production studio would have been financially and logistically out of reach. Now, anyone who wants to can have a go at making their own porn - and the porn industry is all the richer for it.

In terms of the movies you produce, what do you think separate them from other feminist porn? What styles do you like to explore most?

My films explore my own kinky sexuality, so they mostly focus on themes of fetish and BDSM. My biggest fetish is spanking - it’s fascinated me since I was a little girl, although I’m too young to have experienced or witnessed it growing up, so I only learned about it through books. Dreams of Spanking was my erotic playground, a safe space where I could bring my deepest darkest fantasies to life.

Some of my films depict the sort of sexy BDSM play I might enjoy with my real life partners, where everything is clearly negotiated and enthusiastically consensual. My aim is to show examples of healthy BDSM encounters and demonstrate safe, sane, consensual practice. Some of my videos are instructional and show how to negotiate your boundaries, or how to use a particular spanking implement. Others are just joyful encounters between people who genuinely love playing together!

The other kind of films I make express what I like to fantasise about, which is a bit different from how I play for real. My fantasies tend to be dark and quite twisted. I fantasise about being subjected to punishments against my will, being forced and helpless. In my fantasies I hate what is happening to me - whereas in real life, I love it. Non-consent is a tricky thing to depict on film, because from the beginning I decided it was really important to show the viewer that although the fictional characters may not be consenting, in reality the performers are all having fun.

So Dreams of Spanking is about exploring that boundary between fantasy and reality - the difference between BDSM in real life between consenting adults, and the bad things that might happen in our kinky daydreams. For kinky porn to be feminist I think it’s essential to talk about this difference, and to draw a clean line between the fictional fantasy being acted out, and the real experiences of the human actors on set.

No other feminist porn makers are specifically focused on the spanking fetish, and very few regularly explore themes of staged non-consent. Most feminist porn shows consensual play, like my real-life videos. I’m the first Feminist Porn Award winner to make non-consent fantasy the primary focus of my work. When I launched Dreams of Spanking I developed a new methodology of depicting performer consent in porn where they are pretending to be unwilling, and I presented it at the Feminist Porn Conference in 2014. My method depends on the contextualising materials surrounding the film on the website, like behind the scenes videos, performer interviews, blogposts, tweets and comments by the performers.

Dreams of Spanking also stands out as being the only BDSM porn site I know of to encompass all gender orientations - straight, queer, male/female, male/male, female/female, and trans and non-binary performers. Normally in fetish porn different gender orientations are separated onto different sites, so that the presumed straight male viewer doesn’t have to watch anything that might confront him. At Dreams of Spanking I was making porn for a mixed gender audience, and so male bodies, female bodies and bodies of all genders are treated as sexy. Shooting men as objects of female erotic desire is an essential innovation of feminist porn, and as far as I'm aware, I was the first spanking/BDSM producer to do that. I also pay equal pay for equal work, which is very radical in an industry where all other fetish sites pay men far less than women, and most pay male performers nothing at all.

So Dreams of Spanking was the first site to combine those core feminist porn principles - equal pay, gender inclusivity, the female gaze, and respecting and celebrating the consent and agency of the performers - with the non-consent fantasies you’ll find in a lot of fetish porn. I believe that all of us, whatever our fantasies, should have access to good porn that was made ethically and consensually!

Before you start filming your own movies, were you involved in the so-called "mainstream porn" industry? If so, could you tell me more about your experience?

I started modelling for glamour, art nude and fetish photography in the UK in 2005. I loved watching spanking porn online, so in 2006 I worked up the nerve to apply to some of my favourite spanking sites as a performer, and I appeared in my first spanking videos and started blogging about my experiences. Over the last ten years I’ve worked as a UK nude and fetish photo model, a spanking and BDSM video performer, and more recently I’ve branched out into more sexually explicit scenes for feminist porn sites such as Bright Desire.

I’ve never worked in the “mainstream porn” industry in the sense of traditional hardcore sex. I do like having sex on camera occasionally, but I prefer to pick and choose the people and circumstances carefully, either in my own productions or feminist porn sites operated by trusted friends.

As a woman yourself, what do you like most about feminist porn? Be it the movies, and the industry.

As a viewer, I love watching porn that treats women like human beings, and that was made with a female audience in mind. I love seeing the camera eroticise male bodies, I love seeing everyone’s faces as they receive pleasure (and pain!), and I love watching loving encounters with great negotiation and consent.

As a porn performer, I love going on set knowing that I will never be pressured to do anything I’m not comfortable with, that I will be treated with respect and won’t be talked to in a degrading or patronising way, and that the content will be edited in a way that respects and celebrates my personhood. Feminist porn directors will often let you choose what you want to do in the scene - if there’s a script, the performer is involved collaboratively in writing it. It’s wonderful to trust the people I’m shooting for enough that I can relax and enjoy myself in front of the cameras, without having to constantly worry about how to keep myself safe or protect my boundaries. And I love knowing that however they edit the scene, they will do it in a way that’s faithful to my performance and my personality, and doesn’t try and make me look like something I’m not.

What do you want to achieve as a feminist pornographer?

I want to change the world through porn! We have so many hang-ups in our culture about sex and talking about sex. Kids aren’t given decent sex education at school, they go online and discover porn without knowing how it’s made or how to critique it. A lot of people grow up without knowing how to have safer sex, or how to talk to their lover about what they like and what they don’t like. Far too many people are pressured into having sex they don’t want, or don’t enjoy. I did myself when I was young too, because I thought it was more important to put the desires of my partner first. As I’ve got older I’ve learned that as a woman, I deserve pleasure just as much as men, and I’ve developed the skills to ask for what I want and assert my boundaries. Watching and making porn has really helped me with that process.

A lot of people worry that their sexual preferences are bad or wrong, and feel so much shame and self-loathing about their kinks or fantasies. Sex educator Charlie Glickman has said "The only thing that’s normal about sex is that nobody is actually normal"; which means if anyone is normal we are all normal, and whatever turns you on, it’s okay, as long as anything you do with another person is consensual. I think porn can spread this message. Human sexuality is so beautifully diverse, there really is a fetish for everything under the sun. Everyone deserves to feel liberated to enjoy a dirty fantasy without experiencing stigma or shame. People who are into BDSM can lose their job or even their children sometimes if word gets out, and in a lot of countries (including the UK) many consensual BDSM activities are still illegal.

Kinky people deserve porn that expresses their fantasies, and that includes kinky women. Porn has historically been made by and for straight cisgender men, but feminist porn is turning that upside down and creating porn for everyone.

Sexual consent is still one of the biggest issues facing humanity - and especially women - today. I think feminist porn plays a role to play in challenging rape culture, by showing everyone what consensual, mutually satisfying, respectful sex looks like, and making it something to aspire to.

Maybe if everyone who has sexual desires can find porn expressing their fantasies that is made respectfully and ethically, and if the porn we watch models healthy relationships, good safer sex practices, communication and consent, then that will help all of us. We we will all start to feel more comfortable thinking and talking about our sexual desires, having better conversations with our lovers, and better sex! 

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