Feminism vs Pornography

(Or why feminists need to stop worrying and learn to accept the adult industry.)

We’ve come a long way since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s and it was only a matter of time before the evolution of female sexuality led to the creation of pornography made with female viewers in mind. This type of pornography is often referred to as “female friendly” or feminist porn. But can any type of pornography truly be feminist? Many feminists see any form of pornography as the epitome of misogyny due to objectification of women it presents. They assume that the women depicted in the films are failed actresses who are only doing it for the money, but what if they want to do it? (*GASP*) What if they enjoy it or find it empowering? (*Double gasp*) How can feminists hate a life a woman has chose? Especially when it’s in one of the very few industries where women consistently earn more than men?

There are many conflicting ideas about what constitutes feminist pornography, feminist pornographer Tristan Taormino describes her version as pornography made “under fair, ethical working conditions…that does not demean women or men.”[1] To be eligible for a Feminist Porn Award the production must meet at least one of the following three criteria;

  1. Women and/or traditionally marginalized people were involved in the direction, production and/or conception of the work.

  2. The work depicts genuine pleasure, agency and desire for all performers, especially women and traditionally marginalized people.

  3. The work expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film, challenges stereotypes and presents a vision that sets the content apart from most mainstream pornography.  This may include depicting a diversity of desires, types of people, bodies, sexual practices, and/or an anti-racist or anti-oppression framework throughout the production.[2]

For me any pornography that is fully consensual can be feminist.

However many women feel they can’t watch mainstream pornography because it makes them feel “alienated.” [3] Majority of the female stars are what we imagine to be the stereotypical  porn star – young, long blonde hair, thin but with large breasts and mainly white.[4]  They wear make-up that looks like it’s been applied by trowel and teeter around precariously in ridiculously high heels and ridiculously short skirts. They are coy yet overtly sexual at the same time, giving an innocent doe-eyed look through a thick set of false lashes before engaging sexual activity. The slightest touch cause them to writhe and scream out in pleasure. Feminist porn tries to break down these stereotypes by employing women who “look like the average woman walking down the street”[5] and portraying sex that is “authentic.”[6]

Many feminists will argue that any porn, regardless of consent, production and pleasure is misogynist. Anti-porn activist Gail Dines argues that “anyone willing to feed off women’s bodies and use them as raw materials to make a profit has no right to call themselves feminists.”[7] This includes women involved in any part of the production of pornography. But if we were to follow that logic, pornography is basically misanthropic because human beings of both genders are being used as props to make money.

My main issue is how can feminists be so staunchly against the one of the very few industries where women consistently earn more than men? The gender pay gap in Australia across all industries currently stands at 17.5 per cent. For every one dollar a man earns, women are earning 82.3 cents.[8] In the United States it’s even worse with women only earning 77 cents for every dollar a man earns in 2011.[9] Of the top 20 highest earning porn stars an incredible 75 per cent are women.[10] Compare this to the 20 richest bankers, where all are white men.[11] Porn star and one of the only five men in the 20 richest porn stars list, Ron Jeremy estimates that men will earn around $300 per scene and make an average of $40 000 a year in the porn business whereas women will earn $500 to $1500 per scene and can earn anywhere from $100 000 to $250 000 per year.[12]

If you’re like me, you probably assumed that most women in pornography were naive, failed actresses who have hit rock bottom and would do anything to make a living. While this was true back in the 1970’s when Linda Boreman (better known as Linda Lovelace) was forced to perform in Deep Throat at gunpoint by her husband  Chuck Traynor[13], many women today actually choose a career in the adult industry. Current contract star for Digital Playground, Kayden Kross told documentary film maker Deborah Anderson;

“I didn’t get into [porn] because I was desperate. I got into it because I was bored. I had an education, and nothing else appealed to me like this. I’m not going to lie or be ashamed. I like the money. I like perks. I like … sex! I was always a very sexual person, and this offered me an opportunity to make a pretty good living using that. What I wanted to do far outweighed any worries I might have had about what people thought.”[14]

Fellow Digital Playground contract girl Stoya is a regular contributor for Vice where she offers her thoughts on the industry. She says that the adult industry offers you a choice of what roles you want to do and no one can force you to do a scene you’re not comfortable with.[15]

Most of the feminist stances against pornography can be described as anti-feminist themselves. Shouldn’t the basis of feminism be choice? Women have the choice to work in whatever industry appeals to them and they shouldn’t be judged for those choices by other women. We assume these women are unintelligent and victims of society but they’re not and it’s unfair to stereotype them that way. They have more of a choice over their work lives than most of us. It takes a lot of confidence to do what they do, how many of us would be willing to strip down to nothing day in and day out? As Madeline Albright, the first female Secretary of State said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” and it shouldn’t matter if we approve of their profession or not.

[1] Tristan Taormino, “What is Feminist Porn?” http://puckerup.com/feminist-porn/what-is-fp/, accessed 29th June 2013.

[2] Good for Her, “Feminist Porn Awards,” http://goodforher.com/feminist_porn_awards, accessed 29th June 2013.

[3] Dylan Ryan, “How I Became a Feminist Porn Star,” on Jezebel, http://jezebel.com/5984021/how-i-became-a-feminist-porn-star, 23rd February 2013, accessed 29th June 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Maura Kelly, “Can Porn be Feminist?” on The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/21/can-porn-be-feminist.html, 21st April 2012, accessed 28th June 2013.

[6] Ryan, “How I Became a Feminist Porn Star,” http://jezebel.com/5984021/how-i-became-a-feminist-porn-star

[8] Rosie Squires, “Ditch the Pay Gap,” in Cleo July 2013, pg 55.

[9] Mike Burns and Olivia Willis, “As Equal Pay Act Turns 50 Conservative Media Continue Crusade Against Closing Gender Wage Gap,” on Media Matters, http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/06/10/as-equal-pay-act-turns-50-conservative-media-co/194405, 10th June 2013, accessed 30th June 2013.

[10] Brian Warner, “20 Richest Porn Stars,” on Celebrity Net Worth, http://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/20-richest-porn-stars/, 1st February 2013, accessed 28th June 2013

[11] Lisa Du, “The 22 Richest Bankers in the World,” on Business Insider Australia, http://au.businessinsider.com/the-richest-bankers-in-the-world-2012-3?op=1#alfredo-harp-helu-and-family-1, 13th March 2012, accessed 30th June 2013.

[12] Hariharan, “20 Most Richest Porn Stars on Earth,” on World of Female, http://www.worldoffemale.com/20-most-richest-porn-stars-on-earth-sfw/, 8th June 2013, accessed 30th June 2013.

[13] Tom Leonard, “Abused by the porn industry AND her feminist saviours: How Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace’s tragic life was a very modern morality tale,” on The Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2120823/How-Deep-Throat-star-Linda-Lovelaces-tragic-life-modern-morality-tale.html, 26th March 2012, accessed 1st July 2013.

[14] Mike Hammer, “Deborah Anderson’s book and film ‘Aroused’ looks at the people behind the porn industry,” on New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/update-nudes-aroused-eyes-porn-stars-article-1.1333286?localLinksEnabled=false, 3rd May 2013, accessed 29th June 2013.

[15] Stoya, “So You Want to Perform in Porn,” on Vice, http://www.vice.com/read/so-you-want-to-perform-in-porn, 8th June 2013, accessed 28th June 2013.

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