Fuck Your Feminist Porn

by Mikey Way on September 18, 2015 · 19 comments

in Porn

(Still of 1920s silent film porn by Narisa Spaulding)

(Still of 1920s silent film porn by Flickr user Narisa)

Last year, I was short on cash and struggling with full service work. For the first time in my life, I approached a porn company.

This was no ordinary porn company—they made this known every step of the way. They were “alternative” and “empowering.” They were “feminist” and made “erotica.” They were a company that was not like the others.

They were full of shit.

Here’s what working for them looked like:

They had me sign a form in which I promised that filming for them was just a hobby, not my job. It was a lie—one that was already pissing me off. They handed me a camera, took my passport for collateral, sent me home with a list of very exact specifications for what to film, and had me shoot my scene myself. Then, they had me come back to deliver the work. They complained about the amount of makeup I wore—said it didn’t fit their more “natural” style, though it was the same amount of makeup I had worn every day for the past 10 months—and handed me $200. They didn’t invite me back. They did invite back my skinnier, scar-free friend.

So feminist, right?

Here’s the thing: For porn to have a feminist counterpart, that would imply something about it was inherently anti-feminist in the first place. Instead, what happens here is that this company gets everyone so worked up about them supposedly being an ethical alternative to mainstream porn that nobody notices that they’re an international corporation paying next to nothing for people to style, shoot, produce, edit, and perform in their own work. It’s okay, though—it’s just a hobby!

Let’s stop and do the math: I spent about two hours shaving, waxing, washing, and getting made up for the shoot. I spent about an hour on the setup, getting the lighting right, and cleaning the area I wanted to photograph in. Three hours in front of the camera. Another hour going through the footage, editing and color grading it. For about seven hours work in total, that’s less than $30 an hour.

Which is decent pay and all. Until you remember, this is porn.

In the meantime, this company and others like it have effectively cornered a market based on political paranoia and deeply internalized negativity towards porn, making bucket loads of money at the expense of workers who are genuinely trying to make a living on this shit.

Alternagirls rule the world. (Image by Flickr user slurkflickr)

Alternagirls rule the world. (Drawing by Flickr user slurkflickr)

That isn’t feminist. That is exploitative, and it distracts from real solutions to issues in the industry, steering us away from discussions about labor rights and conditional consent and working conditions. That’s right, working conditions—because this is work, not a hobby.

If there’s anyone trying to sell the hackneyed sex work “empowerment” narrative, it’s groups like this. It gives them a marketing scheme—we’re better than our competitors, we swear!—and stops them from having to examine the ways in which they are identical to every other porn producer out there. It stops them from having to examine the way they profit off the undervalued labor of their workers.

In the meantime, they have the whole world arguing about whether or not this work can really be “empowering,” forgetting the fact that it is work, and a necessity for survival.

The feminist ideals upheld by this kind of alternative porn are a joke. Their insistence on natural, “alternative” beauty excludes those who cannot attain white beauty ideals or at least have to work to reach them. At these porn companies, makeup is frowned upon, plastic surgery is a hell no, and fatness is as shunned as ever. While the image isn’t one of people actively working to meet fashion industry perfection, it instead enters around only those who can achieve it without effort. Ultimately, their “feminist” message is: “don’t work to be beautiful, but fuck you if you’re not effortlessly beautiful.”

Here’s what my feminist porn looks like: independent models working the way they want to work; making money; and setting their own hours, limits, and standards. Major companies working to include models of all backgrounds, allowing models their limits without pressure, and respecting the labor rights laws that govern all industries. Unionizing workers with bosses, being paid overtime, and being treated with respect. Having a damn job to keep us going until the revolution happens.

That’s not what your alternative, woman-friendly, queer, feminist porn companies are offering.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

M September 18, 2015 at 11:47 am

OMG Y-E-S.

Over years workin’ with a grassroots org, we’ve gotten a few emails from people looking for people to get filmed for virtually nothing in their “transgressive” and “transformative” videos celebrating “different bodies” and “tearing apart stereotypes” …

For some reason, they think that this is what sex worker rights orgs are for (Right. We’re really a casting center for unpaid work…) Some ppl. **have** gotten involved/volunteered for this shit.

But when these people are, ya know, asked help out at or photograph an event or even help film a kick-starter for an art project someone who shot with them is doing…it’s nothing but…cricket. cricket. cricket. They can go fuck themselves.

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M September 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Anyways, Mikey, you are so dead-on. feminist porn is about the image of the final product, not the work conditions/process through which the film is created. And even the final product is not “feminist.”

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Goldmarx September 18, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Mikey, please tell us the name of this ‘feminist porn’ company.

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Mikey Way September 18, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Sorry! No can do. This isn’t about attacking a particular company- this is a trend I’ve noticed across a lot of ‘feminist’ and ‘alternative’ companies, and other workers have commented on to me. I don’t want this to turn into a personal vendeta, or make people feel they’re obliged to turn down work from particular companies. After all, any money is money. I just want people to be aware that feminist porn is not inherently better than other porn, but can in fact be worse, and to stop putting companies like this on a pedestal.

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Ms. Pris October 7, 2015 at 4:54 pm

I think in a sense though you are generalizing you experience with this porn company and applying that experience to all “alt” and “feminist” porn. That just doesn’t work. Like the insistence that makeup and plastic surgery are not allowed in these genres, which is just not true in my experience and observation.

Making this generalization isn’t accurate or helpful.

The same goes for presenting “feminist porn” as a counterpart to “regular porn.” It’s not a counterpart, but a category. In that sense maybe it should be viewed as any other marketing category for porn.

I do think that altporn and feminist porn purveyors often try to use their niche as a way to pay performers less, which is really shitty. “You should be doing this because you love it, not for money” is the kind of comment tossed around a lot and it ignores the fact that we all actually need money.

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J Thomas October 8, 2015 at 4:57 pm

“I do think that altporn and feminist porn purveyors often try to use their niche as a way to pay performers less, which is really shitty.”

This particular example wants the performer to do a whole lot of work, to their precise specifications, and pays piece-work rates. It fits your description. It’s better not to do business with them. Instead go with some other porn purveyor that pays decently, unless these guys give you some other advantage that’s worth the difference in money to you.

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Mikey October 9, 2015 at 3:07 am

While the specifics of this piece are based on my personal experience with one company, I had no intention to decry the genre as a whole until many, many people I spoke to informed me their experience with various alternative and feminist porn groups mirrored mine. It is generalised; there are certainly companies who don’t reflect the ideology mirrored here and take on a feminist/alternative label, but much of this is widespread enough that the genre on the whole does need to change.

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Creatrix Tiara September 18, 2015 at 11:58 pm

If their name is a four-letter work that starts with F, they’ve cheated me out of my money claiming that I was the one committing fraud by sharing my promo code on coupon sites (I don’t even remember what my code is).

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John Woulkers September 19, 2015 at 5:30 am

I think big companies just can’t do this because they are almost by definition exploitative. A co-op model might work a lot better, and actually reach those goals (including scale).

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J Thomas September 19, 2015 at 8:41 am

How would you do this stuff right?

I’d suggest, start out with something that is in fact intended for hobbyists. I tend to think that porn is probably a highly competitive industry with a few big names and lots of people who don’t make much money. Choosing to do innovative “special” porn for a living would be worse than trying to write fiction for a living. In bad economic times with fading moral constraints, innovative porn would be extremely chancy while standard stuff would leave a performer just one of the mob of expendable replaceable sex workers.

So they let you do whatever you want, and you get to put some tags on it to give customers some idea what to expect. It goes at the end of the list for each of the tags. Then customers ask for something that fits some set of tags. When your video comes up, they can see it for a small fee. They say whether they liked it. If they like it, the next customer who wants those tags (who hasn’t seen it yet) gets your video, and that continues until somebody doesn’t like it. Then it goes back to the end of the list.

If they like your video enough to ask for you by name, then they pay a higher price. The more videos you make that they like, the better you do.

This gives hobbyists a chance to do innovative pornography, and find out what can sell. You should not do it for a living because it probably won’t pay well, certainly not at first.

You should have the rights to your own work, and sell it wherever else you want. They are providing you a service by showing it to people who rate it, and splitting the (small, at first) proceeds with you. They accept almost anything because they don’t know what people will like. (Traditional companies know something that sells, but they don’t know more than that either.) The more customers who like your work, the quicker it gets shown to others and the quicker you get a sense how popular it is among the people who like your tags.

I can imagine that this sort of thing can be done right, and done right would be something like my description.

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L September 30, 2015 at 6:51 pm

I assume you’re not an indie porn producer/model, and if I’m correct; please stop writing these comments because you don’t know what you’re talking about…

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J Thomas September 30, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Hello, L. I am not yet an indie porn producer and I may never be, the usual business model looks fundamentally unsound. It doesn’t take a whole lot of capital to start a venture that will fail with the others, and it takes a big ego to think you can come in with a new plan and break even, when the market is glutted with the offerings of failing enterprisses having their going-out-of-business sales.

So I am pretty sure I know as much as anybody about how to do it right, if you agree that nobody is doing it right yet. Well, there may be a few people who have actual clues from their experience, and maybe they are in fact doing it right and nobody’s noticed yet. I don’t notice them here telling us how they’re doing it.

So here’s my challenge to you — Since you know what you’re talking about, tell us how to be successful at least at creating a new niche market that a business and its performers can be successful in.

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L October 2, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Usually I charge $4 per minute of my time. But I digress…

“I tend to think that porn is probably a highly competitive industry with a few big names and lots of people who don’t make much money.”
-Most full-time adult models seem to make enough to live comfortably (myself included). Do we all make tens of thousands of US dollars per month? Of course not. But does the average person NEED that kind of money?? I define my own success, no one else.

“Choosing to do innovative “special” porn for a living would be worse than trying to write fiction for a living.”
-I don’t know anything about being a fiction writer, but doing fetish (or “special”) porn is more of a money maker than vanilla porn. Trust me. Vanilla porn is available for free, and it’s everywhere. But very specific fetish porn is not, hence it’s in higher demand from paying customers.

“In bad economic times with fading moral constraints, innovative porn would be extremely chancy while standard stuff would leave a performer just one of the mob of expendable replaceable sex workers.”
-The fact that you would refer to ANY sex worker as “expendable replaceable” is disgusting.

“So they let you do whatever you want, and you get to put some tags on it to give customers some idea what to expect. It goes at the end of the list for each of the tags. Then customers ask for something that fits some set of tags. When your video comes up, they can see it for a small fee. They say whether they liked it. If they like it, the next customer who wants those tags (who hasn’t seen it yet) gets your video, and that continues until somebody doesn’t like it. Then it goes back to the end of the list.
If they like your video enough to ask for you by name, then they pay a higher price. The more videos you make that they like, the better you do.”
-Ok but you do realize that anyone with a webcam or cell phone can make any kind of porn they like, right? I mean, what’s stopping a hobbyist from hopping onto a camsite, or uploading their experimental videos to ManyVids? Then they’re in direct contact with the customer, and can do custom videos, etc without a middle-man. If it’s props or editing programs you think a model is in need of; that’s what models have wishlists for.

“You should not do it for a living because it probably won’t pay well, certainly not at first.”
-Do you have any stats, or are you just throwing your inexperienced opinion out there? Because as a model, I’ve found that most companies pay the same rates for all models, no matter if they’re new or not. A-list models probably get paid more but not everyone can be an A-lister, and that’s ok!

“You should have the rights to your own work, and sell it wherever else you want. They are providing you a service by showing it to people who rate it, and splitting the (small, at first) proceeds with you. They accept almost anything because they don’t know what people will like.”
-So what you’re basically suggesting is make a site like Clips4Sale, ManyVids, ExtraLunchMoney, Clipvia, iWantClips… etc? Except with less direction?? Because if the site doesn’t know what audience they’re catering to, how are they getting traffic? Why will a customer join THIS new hypothetical site, when there are already so many established ones out there with similar business formulas and thousands of videos available?

“So I am pretty sure I know as much as anybody about how to do it right, if you agree that nobody is doing it right yet.”
-I don’t agree that “nobody is doing it right yet” so…

“Well, there may be a few people who have actual clues from their experience, and maybe they are in fact doing it right and nobody’s noticed yet.”
-Who is nobody? Mainstream porn producers? Sites that offer stolen indie porn? Playboy-esque magazines???

“I don’t notice them here telling us how they’re doing it.”
-Not every single feminist porn producer and model is a writer/cares to publicly comment/reads titsandsass/etc, so your above statement is redundant…

“So here’s my challenge to you — Since you know what you’re talking about, tell us how to be successful at least at creating a new niche market that a business and its performers can be successful in.”
-Why do you need to create a new niche? This article is about labor practices within the adult film industry. You CAN have a successful porn production company without under paying and treating your models like commodities. This isn’t business 101. So back to “How would you do this stuff right?” – Listen to sex workers.

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LoriAdorable September 20, 2015 at 11:25 am

YEEEESSSSSSS. This! This is the issue with framing of porn primarily as a form of media instead of primarily as a product of highly stigmatized labor. It’s a consumerist perspective, and it erases sex work as work. I think the only truly feminist porn company would be a cooperative, but I’m not sure what that would look in practical terms.

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J Thomas September 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm

It looks to me like porn is becoming a dead-end job for most workers. It doesn’t pay that well, considering the stigma. As the stigma is reduced, many more women try to join. The Internet is full of free porn with anonymous women doing all the usual stuff. To get decent pay you must develop a following, customers who want you personally and not just porn, otherwise you are in a commodity market where you are an interchangeable commodity. A buyer’s market no less. But there’s only room for so many stars with a decent following, too. If there are special niches — people who display a special personality, or who can put large eggplants up their asses, or who have enough holes in their labia to carry a variety of padlocks, etc — how many customers will choose each niche, much less a single performer in that niche? Is there room for 10,000 non-commodity porn stars making a living wage?

I agree, some kind of co-op is a good idea. Then at least you don’t officially have somebody in there whose purpose is to suck away the profits. Each member has a reasonable chance to see where the money is going and suggest improvements. That doesn’t fix the bigger problem, but it’s an obvious improvement.

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L October 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm

“It looks to me like porn is becoming a dead-end job for most workers”
-Who are these workers? In my 7+ years of being an indie porn model/producer, I have NEVER seen/heard anyone complain that there isn’t a demand for new porn… The idea itself is almost laughable!

“It doesn’t pay that well, considering the stigma.”
-I disagree.

“As the stigma is reduced, many more women try to join. The Internet is full of free porn with anonymous women doing all the usual stuff. To get decent pay you must develop a following, customers who want you personally and not just porn, otherwise you are in a commodity market where you are an interchangeable commodity. A buyer’s market no less. But there’s only room for so many stars with a decent following, too.”
-Women are never “interchangeable commodities”. To you, a model may appear as an anonymous woman with no following, but how often do you actually google search these models to find out if you’re correct? I often see stolen content from models I know/recognize being shared on free porn sites, with different stage names or video titles. And how do you know what kind of money a performer makes? The whole concept of being a “star” is irrelevant. A sex worker could have one or two customers who spend thousands of dollars on them and you just don’t know it because it doesn’t reflect in their number of video sales or twitter followers.

“If there are special niches — people who display a special personality, or who can put large eggplants up their asses, or who have enough holes in their labia to carry a variety of padlocks, etc — how many customers will choose each niche, much less a single performer in that niche?”
-Niches tend to either be physical traits (like big feet on women), or acts that most people can do (like vacuuming). As for how many videos a single performer can sell in each niche; the number is unlimited. I’ve personally sold dozens of videos of myself yawning. Almost all of my fetish fans are repeat buyers, and many niches intersect.

“Is there room for 10,000 non-commodity porn stars making a living wage?”
-It’s already reality!! (Plus, ugh, can you please stop referring to sex workers as “commodities”!?)

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Carmen B September 20, 2015 at 4:53 pm

That is so irritating about that stupid form ! Signing saying you are NOT a sex worker while doing their underpaid sex work ? Shame on them! Yuck!

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Peter Schult September 21, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Sounds kinda like the Über of porn: the “sharing” economy mindset being used as a ploy to undercut further the compensation in an industry already undercut by other factors.

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Sten September 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Thank you so much for writing this. I am constantly appalled at how often these queer, “feminist” porn companies exploit the idealism of their performers to get away with paying them appallingly low wages, not to mention the self-righteous attitude that many of them adopt as a sadly effective marketing technique. Rates have gone down in past years, sure, but not THAT far down! Even companies that have been around for years bill themselves as these little indie productions that are just barely getting by in order to justify how little they can supposedly afford to pay for the oh-so-very-important product from which they profit, even going so far as to solicit donations. I think they honestly think that getting their “message” out there is more important than adequately compensating performers. They think that the media they produce is more important than the people they use to produce it. I’ve talked to many non-LA-based performers who absolutely feel used and put off by these companies but feel they have little choice but to work for and play nice with them as they are some of the biggest names in town in places like SF and Toronto. They call it the “queer porn cabal” and honestly fear being blacklisted if they speak up. And with good reason; as I mentioned, too many of these companies employ sanctimonious condemnation of other performer-producers as a form of self-promotion — never going after the problematic mainstream producers, mind you, but usually other low-to-mid-level female performer-producers who they deem not feminist enough, thereby inflating their own image while denigrating potential competition, all in the name of social justice. It’s vile.

My wife and I have our own history of being a favorite target of theirs, despite the fact that we go out of our way to produce content that pays proper rates, features ethnically diverse casts of people who love their job, and, whenever we can, builds upon well-written, sex-positive scripts peppered with progressive social commentary. Oh yeah, and we do it all without counting on a “day job.” But to talk to some of these producers, you’d think we were the Queens of the Patriarchy… Some went so far as to boycott the Feminist Porn Awards because one of our films was nominated, content that I’m sure they never saw and probably would have liked on its merits, content that we produced at a loss because we wanted it to be as good as it could be and weren’t going to skimp on paying people to do it. I’ve been content to just ignore these attacks for the most part, but it does make me angry to see them promote themselves and continue to be treated as if they are morally superior in any way. I’m kind of tired of ignoring it.

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