Feminist porn talk at The Book Club

Posted at 17:00 on 7 Sep 2017 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: Alyx Fox, Annie Sprinkle, BDSM, Bishop Black, Chelsea Poe, consent, ethical porn, events, female porn, feminism, feminist porn, fetish porn, Four Chambers, Foxhouse Films, Pink & White Productions, public speaking, Rooster, trans porn

Feminist Porn: how to find it and feel good watching itLast Thursday evening found me screening porn to a crowded basement bar in Shoreditch, as part of my workshop ‘Feminist Porn - where to find it and how to feel good watching it’. It was totally sold out, and when I got there I realised I'd underestimated how big an event it was going to be; there were apparently a hundred people there including ten journalists, so the whole thing was a bit higher profile than I'd anticipated. I hope that the coverage is favourable, and that my material wasn’t too controversial for the members of the press who were there.

My intention was to introduce the topic of feminist and ethical porn to people who wanted to learn more about it (including talking about the differences between those two terms, and some of the problems that have been raised with ‘feminist porn’ as a phrase), and to also screen some short samplers of some of my favourite feminist porn films, to give an indication of the variety available under that umbrella.

To kick things off I gave a very brief history of feminist porn, starting with Candida Royalle’s Femme Productions of the 1980s (read a heartfelt bio of her here), and introducing other important feminist directors and producers since then, from Annie Sprinkle to the present day. The first screening was a short clip starring Annie which kicks off with her schooling a male lover in how to lick her pussy. I wanted to show that porn which bucks mainstream trends and centers female pleasure and desire has been around for several decades now, and is going from strength to strength.

Still from Gloaming by Four Chambers, starring Rooster and Bishop BlackAt the more recent end of the spectrum I showed the trailer for the recent Four Chambers film Gloaming, starring Rooster and Bishop Black - an absolutely beautiful exploration of queer male pleasure, centering two gorgeous performers of colour. As with all Four Chambers productions, their strong politics of labour rights and good working conditions for performers is made visible in the behind-the-scenes clips that are included at the end. I wish I'd had time to screen more material, but I wanted to give just a taste of what’s out there, from the earliest feminist porn to the most recent.

After this I explored some of the complexities around feminist porn - what makes porn feminist, how we can recognise it, and what to look for. I debunked some myths and red herrings about some of the things which feminist porn is often associated with, such as a focus on softcore or sensual vanilla pleasure rather than harder sex: particular sex acts do not make porn feminist, nor indeed does beautiful aesthetics and good lighting. Instead I directed people's attention towards diversity of representation, looking at the way that feminist porn makes visible a variety of people and bodies, and subverts rather than upholds heteronormative stereotypes and traditional structures of oppression. 

To illustrate my point that feminist porn doesn’t have to be softcore and vanilla, I screened two kinky feminist porn clips, the first by Foxhouse Films directed by Alyx Fox and starring Chelsea Poe, Gaperiella Holl and Alyx herself. It’s called Silver Star and it satirises two problematic tropes of mainstream porn - the idea of the ‘gold star’ lesbian who only fucks cunt-owning women, and ‘forced bi’ scenes in which a straight man is forced to suck the cock or otherwise sexually interact with a man. From a queer perspective both of these tropes are pretty unpleasant, feeding on and propagating biphobia and transphobia. Alyx subverts them delightfully in Silver Star, which stars a young and innocent-seeming Chelsea Poe whose character identifies as a ‘gold star lesbian’; to which Alyx and Gabriella respond by getting their dildoes out and making her suck their cocks, along with comments like ‘I can see that gold star fading!’ It turns into a hot threesome scene, and when Gabriella’s partner Andy arrives Chelsea is encouraged to interact with him as well, providing a uniquely queer and trans take on the idea of 'forced bi'.

Still from Bed Party: Jack Hammer XL and Nikki DarlingI followed this up with Pink & White’s Bed Party: Jack Hammer XL and Nikki Darling, which is a gorgeous inversion of standard hardcore hetereo BDSM such as that produced by Kink.com. Jack Hammer and Nikki Darling are a real-life couple, who have a dom/sub relationship in their private life; they’re into bondage, orgasm control and power exchange. Under Pink & White’s cameras we get an lovely fourth-wall-breaking docu-portrait of the couple, including interviews about what they love about each other, affectionate behind-the-scenes candid interactions, and lots of delightful laughter and in-jokes, even while Nikki's gagged and bound, with Jack holding a magic wand to her clit while fucking her and refusing to give her permission to cum. I find it really heartwarming to watch, and I thought it was a lovely introduction to some of the ways in which porn can be both kinky and feminist.

Even more important than what is visible within any particular porn film is the importance of good working conditions and ethical working practices behind the scenes; the scene with Jack and Nikki provided a great springboard to talk about labour rights, fair pay, and what it means to treat performers well.

We spent most of the second half of the workshop on good working practices in porn, based on my experiences as a performer and the ideas that others have developed over the last few years. I gave some tips about what sort of things people should look for. One of the issues I explored was transparency; whether a production compnay makes the realities of shooting visible to the audience, or obscures it behind the fantasy. We talked about the value behind the scenes videos, out-takes, performer interviews, and to what extent the production centers the voices of the performers themselves, linking to their own platforms, social media, Twitter, blogs etc. Fundamentally, as with so many aspects of the sex industry, if you want to find ethical and feminist porn, you need to listen to sex workers.

With only 90 minutes it was a lot to fit in, but I managed to find time to answer a number of questions during breaks in the presentation, and there was some great discussion. I was delighted and terrified when I asked the audience about their relationship with porn at the start, and discovered there were several people there who were pretty new to it; one person had never viewed any before, so my selections may have been something of a baptism of fire!

The questions and comments were engaged and smart, and kickstarted some fantastic conversations about some of these complexities; such as how we can tell whether porn is feminist, where are the grey areas and how we might form our own opinions, and to what extent non-consent fantasies might be considered problematic? It was delightful to have an audience who were eager to get stuck in to some of the trickier aspects of this topic.

The slides are now online so do check them out, whether you came to the talk or not - they include links to my porn recommendations if you're eager to check out some hot ethical porn for yourself!

I haven't heard from most of the journalists who were there (although I was pleased to see that the event was listed in Time Out, who coined the memorable phrase "patriarchy pounding pornos" - I'm totally stealing that!) I gave an interview to the Metro, and to the Hackney Gazette, the local paper - the journalist seemed to have had a nice time, so I’m intrigued to see what they made of it. I'm not sure why but local press feels strangely more exposing than national media. 

There were some good chats in the bar afterwards; I’m really pleased that so many people came and seemed to get something out of it. Many thanks to The Book Club for doing such a great job of producing and promoting the event, and getting a full house - it was a pleasure to work with them! I’m eager to do more events like this so if you missed it don’t worry, it’s unlikely to be the last one.

Comments

It seems to me (as you explore here) that the phrase 'feminist porn' can have a number of different meanings, and by itself is rather ambiguous. At the very least, you have:

1. Porn with queer/kinky/subversive content, or featuring more diverse body types, or otherwise generally different from mainstream straight cis porn.
2. Porn that emphasises the importance of consent.
3. Porn made ethically, where participants are properly paid and well treated, not coerced into doing anything, and allowed their own voice.
4. Porn made by and/or for women.

And that's just from five minutes' thought! Those all cross over to some extent, but not necessarily. In particular, we shouldn't assume that queer/kinky porn is necessarily 'ethical' (or that mainstream porn can't be).

I should have made it to this event, would have enjoyed the discussions... :)

Hi, sorry for bombarding you with comments! Just wanted to add some further thoughts here.

The piece above suggests certain porn tropes, like 'forced bi', are problematic and offensive. Personally, I'm reluctant to say that any particular porn content is anti-feminist or unacceptable; it seems like judging people for their fantasies, which is a dangerous road to go down. (Some people even say that anything involving female submission is wrong, for example, which I'm sure you wouldn't agree with.) Part of me feels that as long as everyone involved is well paid and treated and enthusiastic about what they're doing, that's what matters, not the content.

I admit that some of the porn tropes that appeal to me are kind of problematic as hell; but as long as I'm aware of that, isn't that OK? Is there a difference between just unthinkingly reproducing a problematic trope, and playing with it in a knowing way?

But there's some porn content which even I find uncomfortable and too offensive to enjoy (e.g. racial stereotypes), so I'm not sure it's that simple.

No conclusion here, just ruminations...

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