Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 3

Continuing with my series of notes on The Feminist Porn Book, I am taking this next one from Candida Royalle’s essay, “What’s a Nice Girl Like You…”

This quote is about porn but really it’s about every aspect of sexuality, IMHO.

“If women don’t create their own erotic visions, their own sexual language, men will continue to do it for us and we’ll never fully understand our own unique sexual nature.” Candida Royalle

Candida Royale was one of the first women to make “porn for women” – a term that, although now problematic, spoke in its beginnings (and still does today to an extent) to a need for porn that was not so into money shots, not so lacking in foreplay and in female orgasms, porn with a little more conversation to go with the action, please (geddit?).

This quote – or rather, how I think about it – is about much more than that, though.

Of course, having women (or anyone that is not cis, hetero, able-bodied, male & white) direct & call the shots in porn allows for others fantasies to be explored, other bodies to be shown, other types of sex to be represented. And that is awesome. That is not the start, or the end of it, though.

Across the board, it is primarily men deciding what our bodies should look like, how we should feel about them, what they should mean to us, and how it is acceptable to use our own bodies and sexuality. Mass media, the “medical community”, mainstream porn, the beauty industry: they are by and large owned by white cis-het able-bodied rich men who get to tell everyone what sexy looks like, what normal looks like, what acceptable, healthy sexuality should look like.

[Oddly enough, if you ask me, enthusiastic consent is the only “should” that has a place when it comes to sexuality, and yet it is the one thing that none of these industries seem to care about.]

We could be the ones calling the shots on what our bodies feel like and what we want them to look like. We could be the ones calling the shots on what our fantasies are, what our sex looks & tastes & sounds & feels like, and if and when we choose to even have it.

This is something we can all learn from feminist pornographers: we get to decide what we think is sexy, acceptable, desirable, healthy for us & our bodies. And your sexy, acceptable, desirable & healthy will not necessarily (or likely) look like my sexy, acceptable, desirable & healthy, and that’s okay. That’s friggin’ awesome, in fact, because choice is at the heart of feminism & sex-positivity, and should be at the heart of just basic human decency, to be honest.

We don’t have to make our own porn for this to be the case – although if you feel so inclined, please do make your own porn, and tell me all about it afterwards! Everytime we are thinking about our own body and sexuality & feel a “should” question coming to our brain (should I ask them to take out the whips? should I lose a few pounds? should I wear this tight glittery dress?), we could replace the should with a want. Do we want to ask them to take out the whips? Do we want to lose a few pounds? Do we want to wear the tight glittery dress?

As long as we ask and get the consent of everyone involved in whatever is going on – and no, your judgmental fatphobic aunt is not INVOLVED in your weight – then you should feel free to do whatever you want to do.

Going back to the quote, moreover, if we don’t start (or continue) pushing back against what the media, the beauty industry, most of mainstream porn, & the patriarchy at large tells us to look, feel & fuck like, the powers that be will continue to do it for us. And how do we fight back? Sometimes it is one outfit choice at a time, or one sexy session, or one meal, or one heartfelt conversation. Hell, even a selfie at a time. One shame-induced should at a time.

 

This is not to say of course that we are at fault if we are unable, unwilling or too exhausted to push back & fight the oppressive systems that tell us we don’t look the part, we don’t fuck right, we don’t do as we should. It’s okay to be tired of fighting back; it is okay if you don’t feel emotionally or physically safe doing so.

The corporations, the media, the government should be the one changing to become better at representing its costumers, its consumers, its people. Some brave folks work everyday from within these systems & structures & institutions to try to shift gears towards more humane capitalism (is that even a real thing, I ask?) It is not enough though, and it will never be.

Empowerment & resistance start at home, because body- & sex-negative capitalism – or sketchy, sexist, racist porn, for that matter – isn’t going to hand over the power. We gotta take it ourselves.

—————-

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: shame, empowerment, sex-positivity)

What Revenge Porn Tells Us About Sex and Humilliation | Charlie Glickman

The cost of sexual shame | The Salon

Megan Falley – “Fat Girl” (poem)

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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.

——————-

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.

What sexy word starts with a P and ends with an N? POPCORN!

Let’s take a moment to talk about porn, okay? Okay.

Some feminists argue that the porn industry is just another way the world exploits women, objectifies them, sells them. The same feminists, probably, that say those same things about other forms of sex work – another topic for another day, buddies. They say that it is bad for sex and bad for body image and bad for feminism. I am oversimplifying their somewhat valid case, but I seriously do not want to get that much into that viewpoint.

Yes, some women are exploited into and by the sex industry (by sex industry I mean pornography, street-based prostitution, escorting, hotlines, etc). But as with sex work, viewing all pornography as exploiting women ignores the vast majority of cases in which, with more or less degree of choice, women opt into the industry. Their experiences are equally valid. Moreover, it reduces women in the industry to passive victims instead of actors in their own lives, it strips them of any sort of credit and agency. It also implies that women could not possibly WANT to work in such an industry, morally judging it. Unequal working conditions, agency within the workplace and pay, furthermore, are (sadly) true to any profession and any industry. Which is to say, you are still marking a difference and morally judging it. Not very feminist-sounding, IMHO.

Yes, porn, as most form of media nowadays, objectifies women. BUT it also objectifies men, albeit in a different, possibly-less-degrading manner. Most mainstream porn does in fact portray women as receiving, dying-to-get-some-from-whomever, furniture. Sure. But it reduces men to their penises, and they are only as good of a man as the lenght and girth and endurance of their ever-ready, ever-pleasing, sex machinegun.

One could argue – as many have and will – that it objectifies women more, or in a more negative way. Maybe, I don’t really know. But even then, doesn’t every form of media do that same thing? Then the problem is not pornography, but pervasive sexism and patriarchy. This is to say, STOP HATING ON THE SEX INDUSTRY. Feminism has bigger things to worry about, you guys..

Porn tells us both, too, to expect unrealistic – and lets face it, not even that pleasurable – things from sex and from our partner. It tells us both what we should want and what we are supposed to get out of sex.

Where the similarities stop, and my main charge against porn, is where point of view is concerned, and diversity is ignored in every possible aspect in which diversity exists.

The point of view, the gaze, in mainstream porn is clearly that of a man. The pleasure it seeks is that of a man. The fantasies it portrays are those of a man. It absolutely reiterates that sex and pleasure are GUYS STUFF. And that what women want is either secondary and optional, or supposed to be only to please a man. Visit any major porn site – what a cool homework I am giving you, eh? – and look at the videos in the homepage. How many women orgasm? How many men? How many show a man who is hotter – by mainstream standards, anyway –  than the woman (we like ’em good looking too, y’know?!)? How many gay couples (although there is the lesbian fetish that men have..)? How many end with the guy cumming in the girl’s face – the absolute grossest thing for a gal, if you ask me?

In sex as in life, furthermore, variety and diversity are what makes it awesome. There is no such variety in mainstream porn. Look at that same homepage. How many gay couples are there? How many radically different sexual experiences are portrayed? How many have prostate stimulation? You’d think that if it is supposed to be the most pleasurable thing for men, they’d include it, but because it is related to homosexuality and OMG EW LEAVE MY BUTT ALONE it is not. How many gender non-conforming people do you see? How many include foreplay which does not directly include genitalia? How many include toys (and I do not meen strap-ons in lesbian vids BECAUSE WHO COULD NOT WANT A PENIS)? In how many is the woman the “agressor”? How many of the penises are not irrealistically huge? How many women are unshaved? How many vids feature women are not skinny but the vid does not revolve around their large breasts? How many transgender people?

A very controversial thing that I do not often talk about is snuff porn, rape fantasies, etc. It is a very contested area for feminists, for women in general (why aren’t these groups the same people? another topic for another time..), for activists. Sure, the fantasy of rape or abduction is a real one for many women – many more than most feminists would like to admit, probably. While, true, it is largely due to how women are socialized into being passive receptors, into being submissive, into wanting protecting and strong and powerful and dominant men. It is also true that it could be partly due to the fact that women sexuality and sexual desire is still a taboo and that, through a rape or abduction fantasy women are free of responsibility – and therefore guilt or shame – for what happens.

Thing about these fantasies many women have is that the rape or abduction happens with a man the woman already desired. With a man the woman was playing hard-to-get, or was feeling unsure but his irresistible moves made her change her mind mid-act, as much of this type of pornography would have it. And let’s remember it is a FANTASY, not to be confused with a desire to be translated into reality. Other times, outside of porn and often when it is acted out with a partner, rape fantasies are possible only in a previously agreed-on space and time and manner, with a trustworthy partner women already know and desire and feel safe with.

The problem is not with the women in this type of fantasy, but in men. Because men are the ones at which mainstream pornography is targetted, because men are statistically more likely than women to be the rapist in real-life situations, because men have this fantasy too but it does not translate to the same thing necessarily. Because men are receiving other ideas from mainstream pornography that, together with rape fantasies, can be extremely dangerous and problematic. From most porn, as I already discussed, they learn and internalize that women are passive receivers, always ready for some action from whomever wants it: the plumber, the teacher, the doctor, the neighbor, the brother, the grand-father even. She always wants you and if she seems to not, she just needs some convincing (#MaliciousAdviceMallard: don’t convince her with words and open communication and charm. convince her waving your dong at her instead). Many men, then, internalize that a woman is only playing hard to get, but your ever-ready machinegun non-consensually inside her will change her mind for sure.  A rape fantasy played out is only cool if an explicit, verbal, consensual, safe conversation happens before – and by before I mean a fully-clothed, un-pressured, calm kind of before.

pushmeifiask

I guess that is what I want to say about porn. That in itself it is not a problem, that it should probably try to take on a bit of variety, that it should embrace the radical, unthinkable notion that women want orgasms too and that it could do away with so much violence against women, so much rape fantasies from a male gaze, so much “Oh you were just a plumber but now that you’re naked you are my ideal stud” (how about some where the woman really wants to and the guy plays hard to get? let’s at least switch roles from time to time, man!), but that porn by the mere definition of porn is not the problem.

I would also like to reiterate that stigmatization of the porn industry and the sex industry at large is totally uncool. They are performing, they are making a living, they are selling a product. All else that you add to their definition is your own moral judgment and lack of understanding of the many dimensions of sex industry. Sex workers are not criminals nor are they victims. They are people who happen to work in something that is considered taboo in this day and age. Hey, at some point doctors had to dig up corpses illegally to do a filthy thing called science, so drop it.

[Also, those whose charges against porn are that it is missinforming our youth: you should start by giving youth appropriate, comprehensive, inclusive sex education. That is one big reason why people look to porn when searching for info and some sort of truth about sex – porn was there when sex ed was not. Don’t get me wrong, porn can teach you stuff – sure as hell taught me a thing or two -, but if unaccompanied by science and facts and support from a community, it deeply impairs and limits you sexual identity and experiences.]
sex ed

Cool? Cool.

For further porn-related goodness (sorry! no porn here, dudes and dudettes, that is what Google is for):

A Feminist Defense of Pornography

What makes feminist porn feminist?

Children and the culture of pornography

Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off

Kids turning to porn for sex education: study – The Globe and Mail