Feminist porn: revolution or reinvention?

sleepers petit palais.jpg

Yesterday, I read an article on feminist porn and, as a result, followed links to various websites to investigate further. What I found looked rather worthy and not much fun but is this because fundamentally feminism and porn are diametrically opposed? How can pornography be filmed and presented in a way that satisfies feminists? Feminist pornography defines itself as ‘a genre of film developed by and/or for women. It was created for the purposes of encouraging women and their self-beliefs of freedom through sexuality equality and pleasure’. Now I do not confess to be a connoisseur of porn but I have been reading and watching erotic/explicit stories and films since my early teens. I know what I like and what I don’t like. From what I can remember, some of my consumptions featured or were written by women and some by men. But what they all had in common was the celebration of female pleasure. At least that was the porn I discovered and have been enjoying ever since. But does this make it feminist?

I love to watch women taking and sharing pleasure- either alone, with another woman or as part of a group. When men appear in porn they always seem to get in the way! I want the camera to move and get back to the women. Women achieving orgasm is so much more erotic than a man. After all, in porn and in films we can see a woman climaxing through the sounds they make and their facial expressions – incredibly sexy. With men, the camera has to show us an ejaculating penis – coming on the face, the body but rarely inside the woman (which in reality, is what actually happens during sex). Seeing the sperm seems to be hugely important to the process and perhaps this is why porn is seen as degrading and disregarding of women.

Rejecting this kind of porn and self selecting other forms of sexual and visceral films and literature, I realize that perhaps I have been consuming ‘feminist’ porn for years – that which puts the woman or women at the centre of the story or action – but of course would never have framed or named it. Take Anais Nin who was the early source of countless under cover reads resulting in early masturbatory experiments. Was Nin a feminist pornographer? Often eclipsed by Henry Miller as an author – in her diaries and stories she plays with concepts of innocence, power, rituals and perversions. But all with a feminist construct. In many ways I much prefer Nin to Miller. Yes his work is sexually explicit but for me, his cock and the pleasure he perceives he is giving/getting with it, obstructs the story. It reduces eroticism rather than increases it. Perhaps women are far more natural pornographers than men.

Pornography has been defined and produced by men for far too long. The word itself has been debased and degraded by the way it is executed. After all, porn was invented or at least stylized as a means of sexual display and arousal which is something to be celebrated and shared surely. Over the centuries, women have become increasingly exploited: forced to perform degrading and violent acts for the pleasure of men (mainly) but does this mean we end porn? No! Pornography should be available to watch for all of us. But if we reclaim it and define porn as feminist might this mean that the stories and execution thereof have to honour and follow only feminist principles? Or can we still enjoy in play role reversals, extreme fantasies and many of the scenarios that in the real world we would never sanction in our sentient, professional lives?

I pray not. Surely there is space for everything. When I search for porn I look for women and I find them. In comfortable, orgasmic circumstances having a great time – or so it would seem. I have been offered lesbian or group sex porn which has been disappointing for the sheer fact that the women involved are not living or expressing the truth of their sexuality or arousal. They are playing at pleasure for a male gaze and frankly us women see straight through it. Conversely, the women who really get into touching themselves, each other and even men in a fully engaged, ecstatic way is what I want to see and is what I would define as feminist porn. Women enjoying and expressing themselves in a full and celebratory way – with no censor or need for male approval. It is women who are making the choices.

Let’s reclaim pornography as a human experience and enjoy it for what it is – the most fun we can have as adults – well almost!

Photo is of a painting called “The Sleepers” by Gustave Courbet which hangs in the Petit Palais in Paris, France. The painting shows two women holding each other, naked and asleep against a dark blue background. There is a table in the foreground with a glass and bottle on it and a vase of flowers in the background. Photo taken by Charles Hutchins on Flikr, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.