The Feminist Porn Book (2013)

by Caty Simon on February 15, 2013 · 6 comments

in Books, Porn, Reviews

Feminist_Porn4I’ve seen the question “where is women’s porn, made for women” before, and I’ve seen it answered, but I’ve rarely seen the question “where is black porn, made for black women?” The Feminist Porn Book asks that question and answers it, as well as others: where is feminist porn made for trans women, for fat women, for women with disabilities? This is not tokenism, but rather an attack on heteronormativity from all angles.

The Feminist Porn Book is both refreshing and challenging right off the bat—it announces its title in big yellow letters on its bright pink cover, the proud opposite of discreet brown paper bag packaging. The volume, clocking in at 432 pages, allows enough room to create a delightful blend of the academic and the historical, the personal and the political, mouthy smut with lengthy footnotes. It situates feminist pornography in its rich history in its first section, from Betty Dodson crashing a Women Against Pornography meeting in her leathers to Susie Bright inventing the genre of porn movie review. Then it gets into the meat of the book, which branches off into many herstories and histories, into the many different politicized identities, theories, and sexualities that make up our porn today; bringing womanism, intersectionality, and labor analysis back to porn while not settling for the more facile simplifications of “sex positivity”.

The book’s answer to the implicit question of “where is intersectionality in our porn?” is heartening. Though Tobi Hill-Meyer writes about the slow, frustrating, transphobia-filled process of trans women’s inclusion in porn, Jiz Lee and Buck Angel write about how their porn has made their trans and genderqueer bodies famous. Bobby Noble illuminates what transed masculinities mean in terms of gender expression in feminist porn, while Loree Ericson talks about flaunting her femmegimp sex, and Fatty D rejoices in transcending the BBW ghetto, reveling in her ability to inspire other fat women. Maybe I should be apologizing to Alice Walker, but contributions like Sinnamon Love’s and Mireille Miller-Young bring womanism to The Feminist Porn Book’s feminism. “My sex positive feminism is not separate from my black feminism,” Love avows. (In fact, Ariane Cruz’s essay explicitly invokes Walker and womanism as she describes her opposition to one note, negative readings of porn by other black feminist scholars.) These writers agree that there is quite a lot of racism in porn, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t serve as a vital vehicle of black women’s sexual freedom.

There are some weird off notes here and there; Betty Dodson blames repression for child sexual abuse, Candida Royalle echoes the tired truism that “many” women enter sex work “to act out feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing.” All this proves is that when a bunch of people are given free rein to talk about sex at length, they will inevitably say something stupid. (And that perhaps the pioneers of a movement aren’t always the best lasting role models, however vital their contribution.) Occasionally, I also became exasperated because, surely, there are other exciting feminist pornographers besides Shane Luise Huston and Candida Royalle, who are mentioned in practically every selection in the book, and other exciting feminist porn to discuss besides their Crash Pad series and Femme films, respectively. Not that I haven’t gotten off to both myself, but it unintentionally paints feminist porn as rather slim pickings if all of the varied contributors to this anthology can’t think of more examples of good work. But these are minor complaints about a work that is truly—if you’ll pardon the pun—seminal.

My real worry when starting the book was that it would be an unproblematized celebration of sex positivity. But The Feminist Porn Book does not settle for any safe certainties, such as the idea that porn women enjoy is necessarily more  sensual than sexual, with the focus on foreplay, or the idea that only feminist porn is what will get feminist viewers off. Jane Ward creates a manifesto for queer, feminist viewership of mainstream porn, while Ms. Naughty states, “The concept of creating porn from a female perspective is difficult because not all female perspectives are the same.”  Many essays in the book simultaneously reclaim and savagely critique both mainstream and feminist pornography. This is far from the simplistic philosophy that all kinks are ok, especially if your kink happens to involve sparky pink vegan dildos.

Though The Feminist Porn Book does have contributors who seem to buy sex positivity and its uncomplicated middle class feminism wholesale, it is an ideology that’s critiqued throughout the anthology, and replaced with a more honest labor analysis. Forget your idealism, the book’s essayists say, and remember that pornography functions within capitalism no matter how high minded a particular pornographic work’s ethics are. The highlighted point made in Constance Penley’s “A Feminist Teaching Pornography,” that “porn is labor,” is made over and over again—this isn’t simply about porn as a form of media, as it has been in analyses past, it’s about porn as sex work, with the emphasis on work. Yet, as Miller-Young writes, “One person’s fantasy is another person’s work, and the workers have fantasies of their own,”—and the workers’ fantasies are taking center stage.

The Feminist Porn Book will probably be taking its place as one of the ur-books of the sex workers’ rights movement, like the Sex Work anthology and Whores and Other Feminists. The difference is, while the typical story in the first two was a young woman bluffing her way through her first day on the set in a porn movie or her first audition on stage in a club, in this book it is the founding of lesbian sex magazine or the first time a young woman screens her *own* porn. This is about sex workers taking their place as management. The Sex Work anthology told its story of the 80s about the nascent sex workers’ rights movement, Whores and Other Feminists told a story for the oughts, about sex workers reclaiming feminism, and The Feminist Porn Book tells a revolutionary story for this decade, about feminist sex workers stepping in to control the means of production. As Betty Dodson reminds us in her selection, “pornography” originates from the Greek “pornographos”, the writings of prostitutes: “Pornographers and prostitutes […] the sexual women of antiquity were the artists and writers of sexual love.” And now they have become so again.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Epiphora February 20, 2013 at 1:06 am

Really excellent review! Glad to hear I was not the only one disturbed by that assertion by Candida.

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Betty November 11, 2015 at 1:11 am

Great review. I have not read this yet, but sounds interesting. Always glad to see women taking their place alongside typically male roles.

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