What makes feminist porn feminist?

Last weekend’s Feministing Five interview with feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino raised the question of what it is that’s feminist about feminist porn. It’s a complicated question, because the issue of pornography is such a divisive one in the feminist community, and has been for a long time. There are those in the feminist community who would argue that no pornography can be feminist, and that pornography necessarily exploits human sexuality and dehumanizes the performer. Others would disagree, and argue that there are those who make a free and informed choice to work in the pornography industry, who work in safe and just environments, and who participate in the creation of adult entertainment that they don’t believe is exploitative or harmful. Taormino falls into this second camp. When I asked her what makes feminist pornography feminist, she gave me this very thoughtful answer:

There’s no one definition. The feminist pornographers I know, we all don’t really agree on what that definition is. For me, the emphasis really is on the process of making it, because once I make it and put it out in the world, people can read it and use it in all these multiple ways that I really can’t anticipate.

For me, it’s about creating a working environment that is respectful, consensual, fair, that people have good working conditions, and that their experience of the sex as sex work is a positive one. I also have a really collaborative process with my performers. I’m interested in the performers participating in creating their own images, and participating in creating their own representation. I don’t have an interest in saying, “You, you’re going to fuck this guy, in these five positions, on the kitchen counter, and you’re going to do it for this long.” I want to find out what they’re into. What things they like, what they don’t like, what toys they want to use, what positions they like, what performers they want to work with, and what pieces of their sexuality they’re interested in sharing with the camera. I think it’s important that they also have a voice.

A big part of my porn is the interview segments. A lot of people speak for sex workers in this country, but we seldom let them speak for themselves. And I think it’s important to let them speak, and to let them speak freely, in order to create this three-dimensional image. It’s still an image; I’m not claiming that this is the real person behind the porn star. They’re still performing for the camera. But I do think that it gives people a better sense of who they are as people, as three-dimensional human beings, rather than essentially what I would consider bad porn, which is porn that has sex robots, who arrive, and fuck and then depart, and you don’t know anything about them, or why they’re fucking, or what their deal is. And I also think that I’m dedicated to showing a diversity of female sexuality. I’m interested in genuine female pleasure and genuine female orgasms. Those are things that are missing from a lot of mainstream porn. For me, it’s really about the work process, and an atmosphere and environment where I really value the work that they’re doing, and I want to give them the best possible conditions to do it in.

What do you think? Can porn ever be feminist? And if it can, what does feminist porn look like to you?

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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