Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 2

I am continuing my series of entries on quotes from one of the sex-posi favorites in my bookshelf, The Feminist Porn Book.

“You see, erotic filmmakers were the original indie filmmakers. The fact that their films turned you on was no different from a different genre scaring the daylights out of you, or making you cry. Films are great vehicles to elicit strong emotion. When they touch you on multiple levels simultaneously, we call them ‘masterpieces'” Susie Bright

This quote speaks to the movie lover in me. I don’t know a lot (actually, nothing at all) about film, so my reaction to movies is very simple: I like it the most when it makes me feel something – anything.

I appreciate the quote because it attempts – as I and many sexuality educators do as well – to normalize porn and porn consumption. Just like sex work is still work but is treated very differently (and sometimes violently) because sex is taboo in our society, porn flicks are still flicks that are treated very differently , often because the emotions and sensations (arousal, pleasure) it can produce are taboo in our society. The taboo gives us a story about the society it lives in, but it is not a valid reason to judge the work itself, the porn movie itself.

We sometimes think of or perceive pleasure as unacceptable, inappropriate, shameful. But really, fear, excitement, anger: they’re all ways in which our bodies and brains are aroused. It’s the same thing with sexual arousal.

This quote also says a lot about how pornographic films – I don’t mean PornHub four-minute videos here – are looked down upon when they take their own set of skills and they are their own genre, within film and media. Both mainstream and feminist porn have certain conventions, standards, particular practices to the genre. Same with actors – just like not every average Joe can pull off what Tom Hiddleston (and his stunt doubles, I guess) can, not a lot of gals can do flexibility, grace & endurance like Stoya can.

Susie Bright’s quote reminds me, moreover, of the fact that pornography (as is clasified by whoever classifies pornography) is not the only type of film, or media, that can sexually arouse. I don’t know about my readers, but seeing Loki making everyone kneel is a pretty intense experience.

All jokes aside, different images and mediums and formats arouse different people, but they are not all treated the same way. To mark as pornographic the media that has sexual arousal as a purpose makes sense, I guess, but it is also alienating. A shoe fetishist can enjoy watching Sex & The City more than they enjoy YouPorn, for all I know. And THAT IS OKAY. Pleasure as one of many sensations and emotions that film, or TV, brings out in us, is okay.

Now you may think, “Well yes, but isn’t it calling some porn film a masterpiece a bit of a stretch?” I don’t really know. I don’t think so. A porno, within its genre & era & budget & goals, CAN be a masterpiece. Just like you can’t (or would probably be mistaken to) compare an Action movie to a Documentary – because the skills, the required talents, the money going into them, etc are not comparable – I would not ask anyone to compare, I don’t know, No Country for Old Men to Much More Pussy.

(Even the criticism of porn as being racist, sexist, with sometimes sketchy work conditions. I hate to say it but most industries have varying degrees of racism, sexism, & it is always the case that the more an employee needs a job, the more an employer feels like they can abuse their power. Sexism, classism, violence, racism, ablesim: they are society issues, not pornography issues.)

I guess what I am trying to say is, don’t be so quick to judge or look down on the porn flicks, or the porn performers, or the porn consumers. Their art is not all that different & neither are their struggles.

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If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 1

I recently read The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino. It is such a great book, and Taormino, as well as all the other authors who contributed essays to it, have amazing brains.

I love talking about porn with people and listening to their opinions. This book definitely helped me in polishing and re-conceptualizing my own, and has equipped me with more information and perspectives to be able to help and guide others in their journey through porn & porn critique.

I decided to write a series of (shorter than usual) blog posts about different quotes from the book that are thought-provoking, fun, and/or great to talk about. Please comment, add to, disagree with, and share through the comments, on social media or wherever you feel like bringing up porn (hey, Easter is coming up!). Communication is what keeps us learning and growing!

I will start with a quote from the Introduction which I think is VERY relatable to many, and I think speaks to one of the reasons I love feminist porn.

“Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women’s fantasies. It creates space for realizing the contradictory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are.”  – Constance Penley, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, Tristan Taormino

It is very simply put here, which I love about the quote, but really it speaks to a complex, ongoing process of deconstruction, critique and mindfullness that feminism has always dealt with in different ways with different phenomena.

The internal battle between desire & politics, fantasy & activism, the personal as political, is not exclusive to porn, of course. For decades certain currents within and outside of feminism have criticized femme identity of being internalized misogyny, sex work of being a weapon and a victim of the patriarchy, fetishism as being just another form of female objectification, to name a few instances. Hell, even being attracted to cis men is sometimes subject to feminist, queer criticism. Ask bisexual communities.

The thing about porn, and about sex & sexuality at large, is that we do not pick and choose what turns us on. Sure, desire is to an extent malleable, but it is hardly voluntary. Either something has orgasmic potential or it doesn’t. What we protest against during the day may very well be what we ask our partners to (consensually!!) act out with us at night.

Think about BDSM, abduction fantasies or rape (role)play, D/s relationships, maid/slave/schoolgirl role-play. These are all things for which (primarily people raised as) women who enjoy them, in particular when these women want to play out the submissive role, often face external and/or internal criticism, shame, accusations of betrayal to the movement. “Am I perpetuating rape culture?” “Why do I want a man to be physically/verbally violent with me in bed?” “Am I furthering the stereotype that (all) women WANT to be submissive (outside of bed too)?”

My answer would be NO, people whose desires take them to submissive roles, feminine attitudes, and/or ANYTHING ELSE for that matter, are not perpetuating anything. They are (consensually, duh) enjoying their sex lives, which is awesome, healthy and empowering. And they are acting upon their own bodies as they please. Isn’t choice and self-determination what feminism is all about?

Now, we – the book & I both, I mean – aren’t saying that fantasies, BDSM, porn, etc should be exempted from intersectional feminist critique. Feminist porn is about allowing that critique to happen – in front and behind the camera, as well as in the audience & under the sheets, there should be discussion & reflection of why and how and when these things are happening, ways to be ethical & humane about them, etc.

But feminist porn – and sex-positivity in general, I would say – is about acknowledging that our politics are no less valid because we don’t get off on them. It is also about being mindful that our desires are just as big a part of us as our ideologies, and that paying attention to both is not an impossible contradiction but rather a useful tool in knowing ourselves and others better.

Feminist porn does not pretend these “darker shades of women’s fantasies” don’t exist, nor does it judge & police them. It exposes them, is highly aware of them, comments on them, and ultimately allows them to be. This is something to love and admire and try to bring to our lives: feminist porn allows (or tries its best to allow) all shades of human emotion & sexuality to just be.

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If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

Related bits (re: fantasy, feminism, BDSM):

Laci Green’s vid on Female Sexual Fantasies

The Pervocracy: “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”

Feminist Halestorm: Consensual Non-Consent. Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

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What do YOU think about fantasies, feminist porn & the politics of desire?