Feminist Porn Awards, Porn — January 19, 2014 at 2:48 am

Feminist Porn Hits The Mainstream Industry – And Makes People Uncomfortable

Stormy DanielsIt’s a big week for feminist porn thanks to panels and awards at the two major industry shows – AEE/AVN Awards and the XBiz 360 conference. The fact that the mainstream industry is starting to sit up and take notice of the movement suggests the message is getting out there… and I think they see a possible new market.

On Friday 17th Jan AVN played host to a panel called “The Feminist Porn Mystique” . This featured performers Jiz Lee and Nina Hartley, webmistress Angie Rowntree and directors Dana Vespoli and Stormy Daniels (pictured). Unfortunately I couldn’t be there for the event (being in Australia does make life difficult sometimes) but luckily academic Lynn Comella, who has a chapter in the Feminist Porn Book, was live tweeting it.

So halfway through the session this happened:

And I think it might be fair to say that there are still a lot of people in the porn industry who feel the same way. They certainly don’t see anything wrong with the way porn is made now. But perhaps more interesting was this:

That’s a pretty strange thing to be saying when you’re *on* the panel. But then again, perhaps not. I think Stormy may have been there to represent a somewhat skeptical and increasingly defensive industry that has heard the criticism inherent in feminist porn and has got its back up.

I’ve encountered this defensiveness before. The ongoing emphasis on ethical production when it comes to feminist porn can be read as an assumption that other porn isn’t made ethically. Obviously that’s not true; plenty of companies in the mainstream industry are doing the right thing by their performers. The difference is that feminist porn creators are making those ethics explicit and are including it as a label in their marketing, like organic food labelling. This is happening because of the widespread belief (and sometimes reality) that porn abuses and exploits the women involved.

Last week I tweeted a link to a Funny Or Die piece featuring a wish-list for porn.* It was mostly quoting a piece by Lacey Black at MikeSouth.com but at the end the unnamed FOD authors added the following “wish”:

Enough of the “Feminist Porn” labeling.  Yes, Ms. Director, you are female, are a self-described feminist, and making porn with soft filters, harp music, and extended expository dialogue scenes to establish it’s all female-positive, but let’s face it: it’s still porn as soon as the actors start having sex of any kind.  Yes, DO practice ethical shooting practices, treat your performers well, avoid activities that may cause injury or illness, but let’s all try to think of a new term for it?  Last I checked, the term “Feminism” was defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men”.  That is a sociological/political term, not a definition of movie shooting style!  All women viewers are individuals and have a vast variety of tastes and turn-ons.  Lumping them all together for some sort of political statement is not real helpful in diversifying the styles and genres of content that we produce and direct.

Where to begin with this? There’s the conflation of feminist porn with the stereotypical idea of “harp music” porn for women. The idea that a movie shooting style can’t be feminist or try to depict a feminist gaze. Or that porn is “just porn” and can never be political or artistic. Then there’s triumphant dictionary definition and the concept that feminist porn is trying to dictate “what women want”.  And how about the idea that feminist porn is somehow counteracting a pre-existing movement within the mainstream industry to diversify the styles and genres of porn? (And this exists… where?)

The level of misunderstanding is impressive. And it makes me think that this is perhaps how a lot of others in the industry view feminist porn, which is why a major studio director would feel uncomfortable with the term.

But when I read that quote, my immediate thought was: we’re having an impact – enough to make people whine about the label and impose their own definitions on the term. People are getting offended by the idea of “feminist porn” because it’s making them think critically about porn in general. It’s pointing out that porn isn’t perfect and that structural inequalities DO exist… and it’s making people like the interrupting dudebro at the AVN panel want to assert that everything is fine as it is, thank you.

On top of that, feminist porn is getting the media and it’s also getting the audience. There’s a real desire to see a better, more inclusive type of porn. And I think we’re also showing that people who want ethical porn are also more inclined to PAY for it. Ultimately, this comes down to marketing and market forces.

No matter how uncomfortable it makes them, I’m looking forward to the mainstream industry embracing some of the ideals of feminist porn. Then we won’t have need for separate labels. It can just be “porn”. But that seems a way off yet.

Edit 29th January 2014: Cosmopolitan has an interview with Stoya. The piece mainly discusses piracy but the well-known star had this to say about feminist porn:

“The concept of porn for women drives me insane,” she says. “It’s like, ‘We made porn for women because you’re all exactly the same and want the same things.’ The concept of feminist porn as well. Feminism can be great, can be horrible. … I’m just so offended by the whole idea of catering it toward women.”

I really would like to take Stoya and James Deen aside and have a chat about this. In any case, here’s another example of how “feminist porn” is coming to mean only one thing in industry minds.

Edit: 30th January 2014: Another article about AVN at Forbes seems to dismiss the idea of feminist porn, thanks partially to Stormy Daniels’ comment:

What is feminist porn? That remains unclear. Several of the panelists describe themselves as feminists; for others, a feminist porn production is more focused on “sexual agency” and erotic authenticity, plausible story lines and diverse body types.

“I’m not entirely comfortable with the label ‘feminist porn,’” Stormy announces mid-discussion. “What does my vagina have to do with it?” she asks the crowd rhetorically. “Why can’t I just be a great director?”

No one has an answer for her.

*As an aside, this wish list closely resembles my Good Porn Manifesto post from 2006, sad that things haven’t changed much

# Image of Stormy Daniels  by Glenn Frances from Wikimedia Commons

Bookmark and Share

7 Comments

  1. Yeah, there was one dude in the audience being a dumbass, but what I took away from that was a) the panel used his stupid question as a platform to launch a really interesting discussion that went way over his head and b) when he tried to drag it back down to his level the moderator was like, “lol, no, we’re not going to debate 101 shit. moving on…”

    But I think ya’ll are being a little unfair to stormy daniels or making something out of nothing with that statement. what she said went along with something she said earlier… that people are always saying “you are one of the best female directors” when she just wants to be one of the best directors, period. i think that ‘feminist porn’ statement came from the same place, and a lot of women would identify with that sentiment in a variety of industries, like “i don’t want to be the feminist engineer, i’m just an engineer.”

    • OK Sten, thanks for that context.

      I do still think that there’s a defensiveness in the industry, though. I’ve been present at a panel where it was discussed.

      And also, I think the demand that labels not be used tends to suggest that the status quo is fine and I disagree with that. I use “porn for women” and “feminist porn” as a way to differentiate content that is different from most of what the mainstream industry creates. To say that I shouldn’t try and demarcate content that is more inclusive or respectful of women and minorities suggests to me that we all should be happy with porn as it is. It doesn’t acknowledge the way that porn has a default white male audience, a default worldview that is often racist and sexist. We need labels like “feminist porn” to point this out.

    • Thanks for this clarification. I see your closing point about Stormy wanting to be considered on just her merits and labeled, as many of us do as “x” and not “female / feminist x”.

      I am however wondering, because the original point didn’t come up well in text hence your clarification, do you think the point was made much clearer in person? Vocal context and all that.

  2. it was a very interesting panel. Jiz and Dana really held up the whole thing for me, they were so good at taking the posed questions and working them into productive conversation.

  3. I just read this piece and i have to say i’m glad i did because it challenges me as to what type of porn do i watch and why. Too often porn is the male getting the best of the situation and the female just another part to show who is in control of the situation. I truly enjoy when the women do have a say in the discussion, do have a say about their health (welfare, role, etc.) when shooting or not, and that women are not on the backburner of the discussion of sex on camera, but on the front end of the debate.

    I also think the women who are heading the debate are, in their own right, sexy and thoughtful women who want porn to be at its best and that all forms of porn is not taking and using women as objects but the persons they are.

    Like the evolution of adult bookstores from male dominated shops to a place where couples/singles can go togegther the porn industry may shape into a positive influence for all in the end.

  4. When I first began producing and directing what eventually came to be known as “feminist porn”, back in the mid-’80′s, the mainstream adult industry was all too happy to award my work. Sure, I had naysayers; But I took home plenty of AVN awards to collect lots of dust on my shelves. I find it amusing that all of a sudden the adult industry is up in arms about ‘feminist porn’. I mean, it’s not like it’s just come on to the scene all of a sudden.
    I’d actually like to point out where the term “feminist porn” originated. Certainly not from me. It was the media, folks. Looking for a descriptive term that they knew would catch people’s attention and ‘get their goat!’ The media knew that many people would think the term ‘feminist porn’ would seem like an obvious oxymoron. Funny thing is to observe who’s getting all upset about it: the adult industry itself!
    As for the women who don’t want to be labeled ‘feminist pornographers’, perhaps it’s because…they’re NOT feminist pornographers! Just because the one stepping behind the camera is a woman doesn’t automatically make her a ‘feminist’. And I dare say, much of the work the women are directing in the US adult industry I wouldn’t consider feminist at all. Much of it, in my opinion, doesn’t look a whole lot different than the standard male porn. And that’s fine by me. Just don’t call it feminist when there’s not a thing that would identify it as such….at least not in my opinion.
    So let the debate rage on. I’m just still waiting for more women in the states to come out with something uniquely creative, feminist or not. I was tired of the same old stuff that’d been around for ages upon ages, and I’m still tired of it. Come on girls. Get creative. Be different. Who cares if you’re a feminist or not. What a silly argument in the first place. All I really care about is seeing the girls take on a tired old industry still dominated by men with the bucks to tell them what and how to do it. How boring.

    • It’s heartening to hear this from you, Candida; that last paragraph particularly. I can rhetorically support my colleagues who work in the mainstream industry, and I believe wholeheartedly that a diversity of approaches is required to push a feminist or ‘ethical’ agenda in porn. But I do find that working within the mainstream often lends itself to the repetition of mainstream tropes, whether because the goal of that work is more political / representational than creative / innovative (which I can’t really make a judgment call on), or because they necessarily must mimic the mainstream by working in the infrastructure of that part of the industry. When you work for a corporate studio, you are at least somewhat responsible to the imperatives they hold dear, and often those are pretty conventional (‘the same old stuff’, as you say). While I admire the effort that my friends and associates make as feminist producers in the mainstream industry, I can’t necessarily recommend their work to a viewer who is looking for something ‘different’ and isnt’ necessarily affected by things like longer screen times for female pleasure or interviews establishing consent. What they’re looking for is a re-invention of the genre itself, and you’re much more likely to find that from the independent producers than those working in the mainstream.

      I’m of two minds about this concept of feminist porn going mainstream. On one hand, I want to see as many new and more visible vehicles as possible for promoting a feminist ethic (or at least critique) around pornography. On the other, I just don’t really care for the mainstream politically, aesthetically, economically, socially, and sometimes also ethically; I don’t really want to see my work alongside BangBros or Shane’s World, and I don’t really want to be part of or support the glamour industry that mainstream porn so often represents. It’s a bit like how I feel about the gay marriage debate. Do I want to put my energy into an idea of ‘equality’ in the eyes of the (white supremacist capitalist patriarchal) state, or do I want to fuck that state, turn it on its end and envision and manifest the thousands of alternatives?