There was a point a few years ago when I thought: “Maybe I should write a book about women’s porn. After all, I’ve been researching and writing about it for ages.” And then I considered all the time and effort that would be required and the minimal chance of monetary return and decided against it. There was more fun – and more money – to be had in making films and putting the time into my porn business.
Meanwhile, academic Anne Sabo was doing her own research into new porn by women and thankfully she decided the time and effort of writing a book was worth it. The end result is After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography and Why It Matters which will be released shortly. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing it and I think it’s fantastic. Anne has written a much-needed discussion of the growth of alternative, feminist, female-driven porn, sans the usual hysteria that accompanies academic discussions of adult material. Indeed, the very title plays on the negativity of anti-porn feminists Pamela Porn (who wrote Pornified) and Gail Dines (Pornland), who have made careers out of making sweeping generalisations and demanding censorship. Anne points out that it’s time we moved beyond that and actually looked at porn in a nuanced and intelligent way.
The book looks at many of the directors who have worked to create female-friendly porn: Candida Royalle, Anna Span, the Puzzy Power group, Erika Lust, Petra Joy, Ovidie, Murielle Scherre, Jennifer Lyon Bell and yes, even me. The focus stays mainly on heterosexually-focused porn; the recent explosion of queer and lesbian porn is a book for another day, it seems.
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Anne uses her own label to describe the porn made by these women: “re-visioned porn.” I like it. It implies a new way of seeing and presenting sex. She writes:
I am interested in authentic porn made by women who show a clear commitment to radically change porn, featuring female and male sexuality with respect and realism. Where porn becomes a vehicle for women to explore their own sexuality and define it for themselves. A new language, in fact not found elsewhere, to talk about sex. A radically progressive and liberating gender democratic discourse with which to think and approach heterosexuality.
The book resembles a film studies course in some ways. The films of each director are described in great detail, with discussions of camera angles, dialogue, sets, lighting and costumes. The reasoning behind this is sound: if you are going to talk about porn, it really helps to know the details of what you’re discussing. Whenever someone asks “Yes, but what does porn for women look like? How is it different?” I can now just refer them to this book.
Anne interviews the directors and gives them plenty of space to discuss their philosophies and their work. She also makes her own commentary on the films, offering her thoughts on what they mean and why they are important. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize poor acting or production quality where she feels it is warranted, though her tone is mostly positive.
Anne herself was not a fan of porn until she discovered the films mentioned in the book. She doesn’t pretend that her views are anything other than a personal perspective and there are numerous anecdotes in her book about her own experiences with erotic material. This is a refreshing take. If only Gail Dines would just admit that most porn isn’t to her taste instead of making generalizations about it and about men and women, we could probably have smarter discussions about the topic.
Porn for women/feminist porn has been my life for so long. I’ve watched it grow over the last 12-15 years from a handful of movies and creators to a fully-fledged movement. It’s great that there’s now a book that takes it seriously and acknowledges that this is an important development in the evolution of sexually explicit material. I think it deserves pride of place on the bookshelves which are currently groaning under numerous anti-porn rants. Someone is speaking for us, finally!