Women are on top: how feminist porn is changing a male-dominated industry

ALEXANDRA DOWNING & VERONIKA KHVOROSTUKHINA
The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia)

Traditional mainstream porn can be unhealthy, so women are starting to take charge.

VANCOUVER (CUP) — Porn and feminism make odd bedfellows.

Mention pornography to feminists of previous generations, and they’ll likely shudder. Porn at its worst is demeaning and sometimes even violent, which is in opposition to a movement that makes empowerment its goal.

But a new generation of feminists has transformed these anti-porn sentiments. Having grown up in an increasingly sex-positive culture, third-wave feminists began reexamining pornography in an effort to reform the industry. Thus, a feminist porn movement was born.

“The legacy of commercial straight porn is one of racism, heterosexism and phallocentrism — none of which carries a positive, enriching sexual charge for female viewers,” says Becki Ross, the department chair of women’s and gender studies a the University of British Columbia. “Men have controlled pornscapes forever because they’ve owned the means of production, as Karl Marx would say.”

Feminist porn tries to get more women involved in the production process. This in itself is empowering. By upsetting the gender divide within the industry, feminist porn can create better conditions for sex industry workers, and depict women as enjoying sex.

For five years, Toronto-based sex shop Good for Her has organized the Feminist Porn Awards. The awards have celebrated works of feminist pornographers such as Erika Lust, Tristan Taormino and Anna Span. Men have been honoured as well; male pornographers Carlos Batts and James Avalon won in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“Sex and porn are not inherently bad,” wrote Alison Lee, the organizer of the Feminist Porn Awards, in a 2009 article for This Magazine. “It’s exploitation, unsafe working conditions, coercion and advocating violence that are never okay.”

The artificiality of mainstream porn body types are a big focus of feminist porn.

John Ince is a Vancouver-based author, lawyer and politician. In his 2005 book The Politics of Lust, he worried that “the only porn available to a young person [depicts] a narrow range of body types, such as only slim women with big breasts and no stretch marks, pimples, or cellulite… constant exposure to such a narrow range of porn could produce a sexual appetite only for few body types.”

Feminist porn rebels against this narrow range, to the point of having a “Most Deliciously Diverse Cast” at the Feminist Porn Awards. Their films show straight, queer, transgender and transsexual men and women of various races and body types.

“We need new kinds of porn that will allow everyone to have a healthy experience instead of restricting fantasies to a few stereotypes,” says Erika Lust, a pioneering writer, director and producer in feminist porn.

Ross agrees. “It’s time for lesbians, disabled women, fat women, trans women, elders and women of colour to seize opportunities to imagine sexual representation on our own terms — juicy, messy, hot and liberatory.”

“Traditional, male-dominated porn… shows a categorization of women into two groups: virgins or whores,” says Lust, “and in both cases it says that the role of women in society is sexual and tied to men. It denies women’s pleasure in sex and shows an artificial vision of sex based only on old stereotyped and sexist fantasies.

“Many men don’t feel they can identify to this porn either, since it has nothing to do with the women they know, the situations they’re in every day.”

“What’s been missing in male-dominated porn is the evidence of arousal of women, and they’re not particularly aroused often,” says Ince. “So much of the female response is not real and we can detect that. Really concrete stuff like an engorged vulva, an engorged clitoris, a flush on the chest. When women are really turned on they’re more likely to turn men on, and the failure of traditional male-dominated porn to give a lot of attention to female pleasure undermines its effectiveness.”

For those involved in the feminist porn industry, this adds up to a simple conclusion: traditional mainstream porn can be unhealthy.

“Most of us saw our first porn film when we were teenagers,” says Lust. “The lack of quality sex ed and the easy access to mainstream porn results in us having to learn about sex from adult entertainment.

“It’s completely normal to watch porn, but if traditional porn is the only kind of porn, there is nothing that shows another vision of sex, a healthier, modern vision.”


Graphic: Indiana Joel/The Ubyssey

  • Adefretas

    “It’s time for lesbians, disabled women, fat women..”

    STOPPED RIGHT THERE