Her Pleasure

600In an era where pornography could be considered the greatest manifestation of modern freedom, it’s unsurprising that The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure has shown up on the shelves. Edited by Tristan Taormino, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley and Mireille Miller-Young, The Feminist Porn Book is a collection of writings by sex-positive feminist pornographers and academics discussing the stigma of having sex on film against the struggle to define, explore and express female agency in a male-dominated industry. Between batting down antiporn feminist viewpoints and tackling the evangelical prescriptions for female sexuality, this book gives a wide-ranging, albeit liberal, description of what feminist pornography is and can be.

Broadly defined, feminist pornography is first described using decidedly essentialist terms tapping into our culture’s assumptions about who women are and what women do. Some of the articles in the beginning of the collection center around a desire to explore “female-oriented” sex and tap into women’s “unique sexual nature.” In this way, feminist pornography is a product that caters to women’s experiences in sex; namely, her pleasure and her orgasm. While this sounds simplistic and perhaps too individualistic, the authors complicate this by acknowledging that “porn for women” can limit our understanding of the range of desires women have, implying that women “can’t handle the hard stuff.”

Later in the book, the authors collectively build a more theoretical foundation as they balance an examination of the social constructions of gender, sexuality and desire with the real-life experiences of those who buy, sell and create pornography. Themes of pleasure, authenticity and consent abound as the authors discuss the positive expansion of sexual representations and labor beyond the limited horizon that mainstream pornography offers. As an example, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, encourages readers to consider the ways feminist pornography helps us to rethink pornography as a site of Black women’s “intervention, imagination and activism.” Her argument is compelling as she navigates the terrain of transgression and restriction for Black women who work in an industry that capitalizes on sexualized racism. Black women’s bodies become a site for cultural constructions of deviance and pathology, and Miller-Young encourages Black women to take control of these representations by moving behind the camera to direct their own films.

The politics of producing pleasure has a lot to do with capitalist consumption, and while most of the authors in this book acknowledge that the supply of images reflect these underpinnings, Ms. Naughty still jokes in one essay: “I am an evil, capitalist pornographer, after all.” Few of the pornographers in this book hide their motive for profit and even fewer got into the industry with the intention of making “feminist” films. However, the feminist pornographers and academics are truly committed to advocating for more representations of bodies and fighting against the idea that sex is inherently oppressive to women. The overarching message is that the limited visual discourse of mainstream porn ignores and represses the sexuality of women. In addition, the book captures and explores the existence of genderqueer and trans pornography to show how the porn industry has opened up in some ways to alternative bodies and pleasures.

The Feminist Porn Book is a good read for the narrative, and the authors do a good job weaving through the personal and political aspects of their journey towards and within the pornography industry. But for a substantive exploration of why pornography is empowering, readers are left to wonder. It’s assumed in the text that the antiporn feminists get it wrong, but I’m still not convinced. The authors come close to suggesting (with Gayle Rubin, who provides the axiom for the sex-positive feminist understanding of pornography) that if one is displeased with pornography the reason must be sexual repression, discomfort with one’s body, religious mores or all of the above. This can be dangerous territory when the capitalist underpinnings of the pornographic empire continue to (re)produce racist, sexist and heterosexist fantasies because of consumer demands. When pornography is taken seriously by those who watch, study and make it, it’s not hard to see that pornography can never actually be considered the problem, but similarly this book leaves you wondering if it can really be considered the solution either.

CeciliCecili Chadwick teaches women’s studies at California State University, San Marcos, where she also coaches the dance team.

 

Comments

  1. Sounds like an interesting read, anyway! It’s hard to come up with a definitive answer to some questions, as everybody has their own unique story. Having fallen into making money with pornography, rather than seeking it out, I can say there is a certain empowerment that can be found in pornography, especially if you have a great deal of control over your own image, material, etc. It’s all about how much of a slave you are to the money or to others. Of course, that can be said for many industries :-p

  2. Hi. I’m your self-described evil capitalist pornographer. Thanks for reviewing the book.
    I’m a little perplexed at the idea that being open about the need to make money from porn somehow detracts from the desire to make it feminist. Porn is expensive to make; it helps to have cash flow to create more. And it’s how I make my living. Profit is a motive for me, but so is the desire to make better porn. I don’t think I’m less “pure” because I’m participating in capitalism. And I should point out that the anti-porn feminists make tidy sums from their book sales and speaking appearances.

    As for how porn is empowering, I will speak for myself and say that it’s how I’ve been employed for the last 14 years. I’m my own boss, I make my own decisions about work and about life, I pay the bills and I don’t rely on anyone else to do that. That’s pretty damned empowering. Beyond that, I think being able to showcase a variety of sexualities, body types and genders means that the audience may feel less oppressed by societal norms. Being comfortable with one’s sexual self is – to me – empowering.

  3. A pretty reasonable review by the look of it. Though I’m also bemused by what appears to be an implication that it’s wrong to make money out of porn *even when you are making porn under feminist/fair-trade conditions*. The only valid reason I can see for condemning the porn industry in general is the unsafe and unfair working conditions some performers are subjected to, but the solution to that is always going to be for more people to make porn with performers who are well-treated, willing and properly paid. Exploring, speaking out about and *having fun with* sex and sexuality has always seemed to me to be a vital part of feminism, after centuries of insistence that women don’t like sex and have no autonymous sexuality anyway, but gain satisfaction from either pleasing Their Men or fulfilling a reproductive function.

  4. What she said, too :-p I started back in 1995, when making money from porn on the internet was pretty much unheard of :-p And, in retrospect, I wish I handled a lot of things differently. It took awhile to come to terms with it, but as long as you’re not letting the pursuit of money dictate what you do, what you put out there, porn absolutely can be a force for good…

  5. Women involved in pornography are not there because they are crusaders of civil liberties, as many libertarians see it. They’re there because they were sexually abused as children, and are now acting out on the resulting trauma. Most also have other issues (drug addiction, etc.) as a result of their childhood trauma, and a disproportionate number of them eventually commit suicide. These women need treatment, not encouragement of their self-destructive behavior.

    • Hi Jon– I’m curious as to how you know this. Would you mind sharing how you came to this understanding?

    • Thank you for highlighting these issues. I would also add that “sex work” itself (prostitution/pornography/strip clubs) are themselves sexual abuse. It’s bad enough that the women involved were sexually abused as children (or young adults), but then they get further abused in the “sex trade.” I also am not convinced it is totally economic – prostitution existed in the communist/socialist countries, and this would suggest that the problem is NOT totally economic. Just because some of the women are white and middle-class doesn’t mean they are “freely choosing” to be exploited; it just means that the root of the problem is not economic. Also, drugs do play a huge role in this – unfortunately, technnology has made drugs much more prevalent. At one time, only movie stars could afford cocaine – it is very different now. In summary, just as animal rights advocates can be against animals being exploited and abused for entertainment purposes (circuses/rodeos/parades) but not be against the animals themselves, feminists can be against exploitation of women but not be against the exploited women themselves. In terms of treatment, I know that the “schools for johns” do have some success in helping women out of street prostitution; maybe there can be something similar to this to help women out of pornography.

    • Jon: “They’re there because they were sexually abused as children, and are now acting out on the resulting trauma. Most also have other issues (drug addiction, etc.) as a result of their childhood trauma, and a disproportionate number of them eventually commit suicide.”

      And you know all this…how? Where are the studies and stats from reliable feminist sources backing that up?

    • Origami Isopod says:

      I love it when men come in and mansplain why women do things and what we really need. Thank you so much for enlightening our feeble li’l ladybrains with your dudely wisdom, Jon! /giggle & hairflip

    • Hi Jon. Thanks for the massive generalizations. Please cite a credible source for your assertions.
      Every performer I have worked with has been sober and fully understood what they were doing. It is incredibly condescending of you to suggest they were suffering some kind of false consciousness. Part of being a feminist pornographer is ensuring that consent is freely and eagerly given and that involves vetting performers beforehand to make sure they are OK with the job. I have convinced a number of potential performers not to do it when they expressed hesitation.

  6. Cecili Chadwick says:

    I appreciate the comments and respect what the writers are trying to do in this book. I also agree wholeheartedly that there is a real feeling of empowerment for individuals that can be acquired through economic independence. What I am still unsure about is whether feminist pornography has the power to liberate women as a class of people from the conditions of their oppression (i.e. poverty, deportation, imprisonment, and violence – just to name a few). It seems that the problems women face are more material than they are ideological. So, while the assumption that women should not showcase their sexual preferences or get paid for sex is certainly problematic, the focus on pornography at times feels like a sideshow – which is not to say it’s not important. I just don’t believe pornography is the source of women’s oppression or alternately a pathway for liberation.

    To clarify my point, it’s not that making money from something makes it anti-feminist; it’s that this method of liberation or justice is only achievable if you have the capital to do it. It’s perfectly in line with Bill Gates’ model of “creative capitalism” or what Slavoj Zizek calls “creative capitalism.” The only way to do good is to buy your way into it. The life-affirming act of sex becomes tangled in the expansion of discourse and the motivation for profit.

    In addition, I disagree with the authors’ collective stance on prohibition. I don’t think prohibition is really here anymore and if it does exist in some ways, I certainly don’t think it comes from antiporn feminists. This is akin to saying that Karl Marx’s treatise on Capitalism degrades workers. It seems more accurate to say that in today’s consumer-oriented consciousness, all that might be considered bad transforms into something that’s good for us, pushing us to consume more. For example, fat free half-and-half, non-alcoholic beer, cigarettes without nicotine, rape with consent (BDSM), feminist pornography. The opposites coincide making us feel in someway liberated, but we end up tightening up the very restrictions we are fighting against (Foucault is a great resource for understanding this dynamic). Feminist pornography carries with it a hidden command that says you must seek pleasure and you must enjoy sex. This does not seem like sexual liberation to me, but rather a new set of instructions about how to do it. As an example, I always hear the suggestion from sex-positive feminists that if you don’t like porn you must hate sex. Is there a space to resist consumption and commodification of bodies and pleasures within the sex-positive community without being pathologized as uncomfortable with your sex life?

    • “I don’t think prohibition is really here anymore and if it does exist in some ways, I certainly don’t think it comes from antiporn feminists. ” Well, I hate to break it to you, but it does, and is. Obscenity laws still exist, and Gail Dines joined a delegation to Congress consisting mostly of Christian fundamentalists chiding the Obama Administration for not enforcing obscenity laws. Shira Tarrant broke that news right here on this very blog.

      I am no practitioner of BDSM, but defining it as ‘rape with consent’? Really?? Rough sex with consent, yes, but by insinuating rape into the concept, you automatically insult those women – many who support gender equality – who are practitioners, both as doms and subs. And what’s up with your effusive praise for Foucault when everyone in France and in the LGBT community knew he was a BDSM practitioner?

      “Feminist pornography carries with it a hidden command that says you must seek pleasure and you must enjoy sex.” Two things here:

      a) A hidden command? How does one going about proving or disproving the existence of a command if it is hidden?
      b) Do you want there to be pornography in which the woman is clearly not enjoying sex and is not seeking pleasure?

      ” I always hear the suggestion from sex-positive feminists that if you don’t like porn you must hate sex.” Citation?

      “Is there a space to resist consumption and commodification of bodies and pleasures within the sex-positive community without being pathologized as uncomfortable with your sex life?” If the resistance is done honestly, in context and with full knowledge of the facts, that should not be a problem. If porn doesn’t arouse you, fine. But if you turn your lack of arousal into a prescription for feminism, then it becomes a problem.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      “rape with consent (BDSM)”

      No. Just no.

      And I really don’t need “feminists” telling me what’s good for me, thank you.

  7. Risa Goodman-Rice, Anarchist MBA says:

    I’m going to take the anarchist MBA-view of this by first stating why I did an MBA, which was, “to get all of the money back that has been taken from women, artists, and queers,” after the gradual defunding of women-centered organizations and artists that started in the early 80′s and continues to this day. So, I am speaking here as someone who has actively, aggressively, with absolute relish and glee made money for women, artists and queers using capitalism. And i am proud that it’s now the bulk of my life’s work and my raison d’etre.

    Secondly, i feel it is an immense privilege it is to be so blase about capitalism when in many parts of the world women lack ANY economic independence whatsoever and by extension, lack self-determination. Thus capitalism, while imperfect, does allow for some measure of self-determination and that is why for right now at least, I’m willing to work with it. It may not be my economic end goal, but i would encourage some willing observance of it’s ability to lend a start to self-determination which can then lead to all kind of wonderful revolutionary things.

    Lastly, i believe there is a confusion with profit as a sort of excessive bounty and not as an earmarked investment in future endeavors. OK, so think about this way: when feminists “profit” they have our money, yes? But what we are really doing is investing in their future and continued work. Profit is really just an investment. When you have a business you keep retained earnings so you can re-invest in your business and grow it. I believe we have to stop stigmatizing feminist who are making “profits” because we are enabling them to keep producing — as feminists. Further, as people who probably still don’t make a living wage, i’m down with getting feminist a few shekels. I personally WANT feminist pornographers to make a profit because i want the money pooling in our camp around our interests and families.

    By focusing my argument on the business side of things I avoid, I fully realize, discussing the the content of pornography. I am after all, making a business case for its continued existence in the capitalist structure and encouraging a measure of pride about making a living doing it and consuming it. Due diligence to this business case requires that I address the notion that to, “…(re)produce racist, sexist and heterosexist fantasies…” exists due to “consumer demands.”

    There are many, many correlations between what people *want* and *what kind of things get made* but to assume are a direct cause and effect linkage is to be both unclear on the way supply and demand work as a structure and the amount of choice involved in each. Let me first outline the structure of “supply and demand.” It’s total bullshit. There isn’t one proof that has ever been done than effectively links one *directly* to the other. This is a long economic argument & my anarchist stripes are showing through but it’s literally a non-thing. It simply is concept. It is not real per se and it has never been fully tested.

    Just so you know, that whole “supply and demand” theory sort of reads like a pencil and paper experiment; unlike other pencil and paper experiments, such as those by Einstein, which were actually tested and proved true. I’m happy to argue with economists on this. You keep your equations, i’ll keep my reality.

    So on that note- i hope i can remove the anguish from this argument that seems to have unsettled the reviewer- the discomfort with “demand” and those who supply it by summarizing 1) that it’s ok to invest in feminists by posting profits to their enterprises because it is how they continue producing feminists works and 2) and that just because a work of art or porn gets produced is not a direct cause of demand. There may be a correlation yes, for sure, but to say “there is a demand for racist porn” is really to give much more power to the idea of “demand” than one should give. The idea that racist porn exists is just that- an idea that exists. In many way for many reasons.

    and now i turn it back over to the more qualified to hash out the many ways and reasons.

  8. Any sex-positive feminist who says, if you hate porn you must hate sex, is in short, an idiot :-p And if that’s all your hearing, you need to talk to more sex-positive feminists. None that I know are saying that. Because I choose to express my sexuality this way (and no, I was not abused as a child or any other stereotype many like to believe to explain something they can’t understand) does not mean I expect everyone to feel and do the same. I have actively discouraged people from doing what I do in many cases because I knew they were considering this purely for financial gain, and their heart wasn’t really in it. (No, I’m not against making money, but anytime you do something to make money that goes against who you are inside, it does cause harm.) I am also a Mother to twin 8 year old girls and, one of the many things I’ve tried to teach my daughters is that, everyone is different. And, that’s not only OK, it’s great! I’m striving to help them grow up so that nobody, not even me, dictates who they are. So far, I believe I’m doing a pretty good job (as does everybody who meets my daughters… Even those who disagree with what I do).

  9. Feminist pornography? Sorry but I’m not convinced. I disagree with the view that anti-pornography feminists are repressed. Audre Lorde said it very well: Pornography is anti-erotic. It is sad to see the feminist movement getting co-opted by patriarchy.

  10. Feminist porn doesn’t exist because feminism is about eradicating male domination over women not perpetuating it by promoting mens’ pornography industry.

    Mens’ pornography industry reinforces mens’ misogynistic belief that women aren’t human but merely exist to be mens’ disposable masturbatory objects.

    Women imitating male sexual dominance and subjecting other women to the same sexual violence and control as men is not feminist.

    This book was written by female handmaidens of mens’ porn industry and reason this women-hating book was published is because it promotes the same old same old mens’ lies. Even reviewing this book is condoning and promoting mens’ right to view pornography.

    • Hecuba, it does not appear that you even read the book. Dismissing it as you did is not very Goddess-like of you,

  11. Cecili Chadwick says:

    Citations:

    “I’ve observed that the more uncomfortable a woman is with the state of her sex life, the more outraged she is by the existence of porn and the women who are proud to make it… It feels like they’ve cut off their clits to spite their orgasms. “ Nina Hartley

    “But mainstream feminists, as it turned out, had never been entirely comfortable with sex… Most of the latter [antiporn feminists] have internalized negative attitudes about sex, especially divergent sexual behavior, and certainly about sex work itself… None of these crusaders, whether they emerge from the Religious Right or the feminist Left, voices respect for sexuality.” Carol Queen

    “Although they vehemently reject being characterized as ‘antisex,’ writers like Dines foreclose the possibilities of sexuality as plural and in process.” Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood (The Feminist Porn Book, p.51)

  12. Tristan Taormino believes “race play” can be feminist, as per her weekly podcast, Sex Out Loud. Is there *any* way some people get off that she would not defend? I really don’t know the answer to this, as I’ve only heard her defend every possible type of BDSM.

    And how is “race play” feminist? Because individual women like it?? Well, I’m am a cashier at McDonald’s and I find my job empowering and feminist!! Why won’t you Marxists listen to me and stop saying I have a false consciousness??

  13. afeminist says:

    Although not surprising, sad to see feminism being confused with victim consciousness. “Feminist pornography” is an oxymoron and so is “rape with consent” It’s not feminism if it’s pornography, and it’s not rape if it’s consensual. Both, however, are forms of abuse. Jon and Karen are the voices of understanding on this blog. “Moving behind the camera” is simply a position change on the victim triangle. Many people who have been abused superimpose the attributes of their abuser(s) onto their personality. This can take place on the collective level too. “The Feminist Porn Book” makes that clear. Lots of anger in the book. Anger is like a shield that stops people from feeling what’s behind it. It keeps the triangle in place. Intellectualism is in many cases just another coping mechanism. Foucault is a perfect example. I encourage those responsible for the creation of the book and this blog to dig deeper. This is a good start, but don’t stop. This is not a destination, just a sign post along the way. I’m a Psychologist with over 30 years of experience and a big believer in the feminist movement. I’ve seen and heard it all. I’ve seen what pornography does to men and women. It’s not freedom. It’s bondage. It destroys people, just a matter of time. What about the children? I have seen, first hand, how pornography hurts children when they stumbled upon it.

  14. Sex-positive porn and porn for women are all good and healthy things. Be happy, jill often!

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