Porn for Women- Feminist Sex Wars and Anti-porn Feminism

Porn for Women covers the Feminist Sex Wars and porn/anti-porn debate exploring the women directors and who create sex positive porn and porn for women.

Chick Flicks will be a series of articles, film reviews and biographies that will explore sex-positive sheros who produce pornography. During this series I hope to cover the Feminist Sex Wars and porn/anti-porn debate (see rest of article below), explore women directors and their films like Annie Sprinkle, Maria Beatty, Nina Hartley, Tristan Taormino and more, look at porn festivals that feature women made porn, and open a dialogue up about critical writings and documentaries that focus on these topics.

My Ideologies

It was during my years in university while studying art, filmmaking and film criticism, that I was introduced to anti-porn feminist debate. I took a number of feminist and women filmmakers’ courses that revealed both sides of this subject in which I was to form my own ideologies. I take the position of pro-porn and believe it is important that women express themselves sexually by being agents of their own design.

 

esctasy in berlin by Maria Beatty

Cinema, as a form of popular culture, is a system that constructs myths about women and femininity. Encoded with patriarchal values and points of view that are understood as absolute truths, it transforms the ideology of sexism to render it invisible. Traditionally, adult entertainment has been the sole domain of male desire focusing only on male pleasure from a male point of view. Like classic cinema, adult films often construct women in a negative, misogynous and passive manner; producing generic porn that does not express the beauty and diversity of female sexuality.

Sex is a natural part of human nature, as much as eating or drinking is. It satisfies a natural urge. And, it’s not dirty… unless you like it that way. Women are sexual creatures just as men are, and should be permitted to express their sexuality and desire without being shamed or stigmatized for their values and beliefs. I believe that women who create porn are able to reclaim their sexuality by reinventing traditional stereotypes as positive sexual role models. Pornography produced by women that breaks social taboos, is diverse and portrays women as positive subjects, empowers both the producers and the viewers. It also serves to engender new beneficial ideologies and iconographies that women can embrace as their own.

My Experiences

One of my professors who taught art and feminism used to go to magazines outlets and stand in the pornography section in order to intimidate men while they read or purchased pornography as part of her “feminist interventions”. She took the stance that all pornography was bad: it objectified women and was made for the male gaze and male pleasure. I don’t deny that the majority of pornography is misogynous and that the porn industry produces material marketed for a male audience. There are, however, many women who enjoy pornography. Therefore, her interventions negate mine and many other women’s desire to watch, produce, star-in or otherwise enjoy porn.

 

anatomy of a pinup photo by Annie Sprinkle

In this same class, one of the students brought in a poster of Annie Sprinkle’s “Anatomy of a Pin up Photo”. It was my first introduction to Annie Sprinkle and I was fascinated. The poster was a powerful statement on women and body image, and how mass media (including pornography) objectified women and gave women unattainable stereotypes to live up to. I found it interesting how Annie was using her sexuality and the tropes of pornography to make a bold statement against it, thus reinterpreting the stereotype into a new message. This is a strategy used in a lot postmodern art-popularized by Cindy Sherman-that takes a stereotype and reinvents it to produce new meaning. Since then, I have been interested in women’s strategies for reinventing themselves, pornography and how they reconstruct new iconologies through their films.

In another course I took, Canadian Women Directors, I watched an anti-pornography film by director Bonnie Sherr Klein called “Not a love story: a film about pornography” (1981). Oddly enough, it was a film that my mother had watched in her feminist group years before and I can remember her and her friends being outraged about the film. That was a typical response to the film back then, as the filmmaker used many strategies to outrage viewers and make them angry against the porn industry and its portrayal of women. When I watched the film in class, I became angry as well-not against pornographers however, but at Bonnie Sherr Klein and anti-porn feminists. The film is very manipulative, which was its goal. It pissed me off that it showed pornography out of context and at it most at extreme to make viewers believe that all porn was negative, misogynous, or would produce violence against women. (Next article in this series I will discuss this film in more depth).

Anti-porn Feminism

The issue of pornography and its relationship to violence began in the 70s and heated up in the 80s. Today, the stigma of that anti-porn rhetoric: “Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” still lingers via censorship and negative attitudes about pornography and women as victims. The debate began with radical feminists Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon and many others who started organizations like Women Against Pornography. They argued that pornography was degrading to women and encouraged violence against women. Dworkin began her radical feminist critique of pornography and violence against women with her first book, Woman Hating (1974). Later, she brought a civil-rights suit on behalf of Linda Marchiano (Linda Lovelace) who starred in the infamous film Deep Throat (1972) who claimed she had been forced at gunpoint to make the movie. Dworkin and MacKinnon also managed to influence Canadian obscenity laws that lead to censorship when the Canadian government raided and prosecuted Glad Day Bookshop, a gay bookstore in Ontario for selling copies of the lesbian sado-masochist magazine Bad Attitude. Censorship and attitudes linking pornography to rape still plague freedom of speech and sexual expression today.

Sex Positive Feminism

In the 1980s, a feminist response against Dworkin and anti-porn feminists began the “Feminist Sex Wars” with sex-positive/radical feminists speaking out against the censorship or regulation of pornography and who were critical of anti-porn activism. Supporters of sex-positive feminism believe that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. Although some sex-positive feminists see the porn industry as misogynist, they believe pornography can also be radically altered and used as a tool towards a feminist purpose. Many also noticed that mainstream commercial media is even more dangerous than pornography because it renders sexism invisible (take women’s orgasmic shampoo commercials for instance). The cause of sex-positive feminism brings together anti-censorship activists, LGBT activists, feminist scholars, sex radicals, producers of pornography and erotica such as Ellen Willis, Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, Nina Hartley, Susie Bright, Tristan Taormino and Betty Dodson.  Groups formed by sex-positive feminists include Feminists for Free Expression and Feminists Against Censorship.  See also The Center for Sex and Culture for more sex-postive information.

These women embrace pornography and women’s right to create it and express it. Pornography has many benefits including making sexual information/education available to a wider audience; allowing women to safely experience/experiment/ with sexual diversity and embrace their own desires and fantasies; and providing a healthy sexual outlet. Pornography also gives women producers a medium to reinvent traditional stereotypes in a sex-positive way that liberates and empowers women. Using pornography as a tool of self sexual expression women can counteract sexist cultural views by opening up a dialogue about sexism in contemporary pornography and mass media. “Sex is the weapon; Porn is Power”.

Let hear it for sex positive porn!

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4 Responses

  1. Great post, and a wonderful topic! I’m always glad to run across other bloggers taking a sex-positive perspective on various related topics. I hope that you will also consider including information on Candida Royalle (http://www.candidaroyalle.com), who began as a porn actress then moved on create “couples friendly” porn movies. She now sells her own line of unique toys for women, which are pretty darned good. I got to meet her at AASECT, where they presented a special tribute to her. Anyway, keep up the great work!
    Ruth
    The Explorers Blog – Sex Positive News & Reviews You Can Use
    exploringintimacy.wordpress.com

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Ruth for the comments! Yes, I am going to include Candida Royalle as well. I am actually going to discuss “The Naked Feminist” soon which is a great documentary about women pornographers featuring Candida. Wow you met her. How lucky! She must be a very interesting lady, and definitely a pioneer in the industry for woman-positive porn. I’ll pop over to for visit to your blog and check it out! Thanks again… Domina

  1. 07/16/2008

    […] Feminist Sex Wars […]

  2. 12/22/2011

    […] See my earlier article on the porn/anti-porn debate for more info: Porn for Women- Feminist Sex Wars and Anti-porn Feminism. […]

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