Wrongheadedly, I visited Anne Summers the other day. Hidden at the back of the store next to the ‘Dominatrix’ range (exclusively advertised with pictures of submissive women – I don’t think they get it) was the section marked ‘Porn for Women’.
A less interesting porn section could scarcely be conceived of. Whoever is designing this porn seems to think that women will descend in droves to purchase any porn which replaces the ‘for men’ signifiers ‘slutty/anal/hungry/cock/bitch/fest’ with the more delicate, pleasant, feminine word ‘couples’. As if ‘couples’ is any draw in a film that conforms in every other respect to the male subject/female object binary.
I’m sorry for women if that’s what porn ‘for women’ amounts to. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect revolutionary female-driven narratives about sexualities and the female gaze in the Anne Summers porn section, but I would at least like to be slightly titillated. The barest hint of a sensation in the knicker department would be enough.
Still, it’s only the most commercially successful sex shop ‘for women’, after all. In a more fringe way, women, or rather, feminists, have been conceiving of, directing and distributing feminist porn – or porn which tries to subvert the misogynist narrative – for ages. The downside is that the lack of mainstream market support results in small, independent distributors who seem to spring up and then go under (and not in the fun way, either). Last month, notably, saw the sad departure of Filament Magazine, billed wonderfully as the ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’.
It’s a small relief that the Feminist Porn Awards are out there, attempting to give voice to the desires of those mind-numbingly bored by the restrictive fare conventionally on offer to women (let’s not even get started on the soft/hardcore misogyny that passes for general/men’s porn). The Feminist Porn Awards reckon that porn is feminist if it is hot and:
“1) A woman had a hand in the production, writing, direction, etc. of the work.
2) It depicts genuine female pleasure
3) It expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film and challenges stereotypes that are often found in mainstream porn.”
Or, as Caitlin Moran succinctly put it, “I JUST WANT A MULTI-BILLION-DOLLAR INTERNATIONAL PORN INDUSTRY WHERE I CAN SEE A WOMAN COME.”
That all sounds great, so why is it rare to find hardcore porn which fits these quite minimal criteria? There are, of course, commercial successes. There are the Anna Spans of the straight world (though her failure to look critically at mainstream porn is rather damning), and there are the Courtney Troubles and Shine Louise Houstons on the other end of the spectrum. But it isn’t enough, it isn’t available enough, and what there is doesn’t do enough to undermine the free tube sites of the industry.
Isn’t it strange that an activity which – much of the time – is something men and women do together, should be so invariably so distorted when put on camera? I don’t think there is anything about the presence of a camera, or indeed a mass market, that necessarily turns sex into misogyny, but it is depressing when this is so often the case.
Lisa Saunders’ interesting and well-argued anti-porn/pro-sex article on this website yesterday suggests that ‘it’s about as easy to get hold of ‘ethical’ pornography as it is to score ‘ethical’ cocaine.’ My suspicion is that feminists will lose out if we completely write pornography off, forever, the end. The continued presence of feminist voices in other unethical industries hasn’t created any feminist industries, but it has changed some things for the better.
The sustained critique of the industry and its wider cultural normalisation that anti-pornography feminisms provide are extremely persuasive, but I am reluctant to condemn all porn that exists or could exist on the basis of the industry as it stands. Women watch, and get off, on porn which doesn’t cater to them, which is misogynist, racist, and unethical in every other respect. If this is the case with such rubbish porn, how much better could it be if feminist porn were to flourish?
Can feminist porn can break away from mainstream misogynist narratives? Are the criteria given by the Feminist Porn Awards enough to make porn feminist? Is there feminist porn which genuinely represents women’s sexualities? Have you seen any that really stood out? What are your recommendations for feminist porn?
Image from Flickr user the justified sinner shared under a creative commons license. It shows a graffiti stencil reading “Feminism is for lovers” (the ‘o’ in lovers is replaced by a red heart).