| April 16, 2013 | 12:16 am

Seriously. It’s true. This occurred to me at the press conference a day before the Feminist Porn Conference got going, and it blew my mind. They’re fighting for the same audience. I think I’ve known this in the back of my head for some time, but I had a lightbulb moment while listening to Tristan Taormino and Nan Kinney talk at the Feminist Porn Conference earlier this month. Suddenly I realized that feminist/indie/alt/queer/etc. pornographers and anti-porn feminists (and most other anti-porn people) are both trying to meet the needs of the same group of people and are responding, in different ways, to the same things they see within the mainstream porn industry.

Think about it. Alternative pornography seeks to disrupt the standard model of pornography as it has come to exist by showing people of different colors, classes, abilities, preferences, sizes, genders, and so on doing things that “normal” porn neglects (ie the mass-produced stuff out of LA that rotely repeats the same five positions with the same types of people, endlessly). It seeks to promote the agency of the “other” people that normal porn tends to overlook in its single-minded drive to the White Male Dollar by showing people who are not white male giving and receiving pleasure, and it seeks to upset mainstream American ideals of beauty and gender in so doing. It does this because it’s sick of seeing the same old thing from the same old people in regular porn. It does this because it thinks that the existing model isn’t just boring or overused, but actually harmful because it fails to include so many people who don’t want to see what it’s championing. It often makes people who aren’t represented or catered to feel bad about themselves, their preferences, and their desires. Representation, it’s been said, is a powerful thing, and I would venture to say that it’s especially powerful in the world of sexual entertainment because our sexual desires are so taboo they are difficult to talk about or come to terms with. When the difficulty of those desires is compounded by the fact that the one place where nobody’s judging them–the world of porn–has no interest in catering to your specific desires… it gets even more difficult to know how to  handle them. And a lot of mainstream porn either is or can be easily perceived as exploitative–it feeds on the destruction of innocence (or pretends it does to sell itself) and seems to glory in the debasement and objectification of the female. Often, the perceived exploitation is entirely fictional, and the people involved in making it are not in any way truly exploited, but sometimes they are, and the whole machine feeds on the idea that the consumer wants to see someone being exploited. And sure, lots of people do. But that idea also gives a lot of people the icks, and when it’s unclear whether real exploitation was involved, the already morally murky waters get positively swampish. Feminist porn, and alt porn of every other variety, exists because it wants to provide what the unsatisfied masses are looking for: pornography that showcases what mainstream porn does not, and does so in a more ethical/less exploitative way, so that the viewer can find what they are looking for, get off to something that looks sexy to them, and walk away feeling good about the experience instead of stilted, shameful, and worried about their sexuality.

Right?

Ok. Now let’s flip the coin. Anti-porn feminists (and lots of other anti-porn people, but let’s stick with the feminists because they are the most diametrically opposed to feminist pornographers, and thus more interesting to my argument). They’re also trying to appeal to the unsatisfied masses. When they look at porn (if they ever have–I often get the feeling that a lot of them actually have never seen porn, given the generalizations they make), they see a monolithic entity of evil. They see the exploitation and the devaluation of innocence, they see the degradation and violence, and they see a set of expectations set up around completely unrealistic ideals. They see an all-around bad thing. They see that some people take the unrealistic bodies and sex acts to  heart. They see that some people don’t see themselves reflected there and are sad about it, while others develop a set of behaviors and attitudes about sex that are unhealthy because they believe what they see in porn to be normal or better than what is normal. They see people being made unhappy by pornography, and, like feminist pornographers, they want to change that. They just go about changing it in an entirely different way: by labeling all pornography inherently evil, sexist, exploitative, and wrong. Their answer, rather than to make something better for consumers to watch, is to try to lure the consumers entirely away from pornography with the promise of a better life, sans smut.

Obviously, the two camps come from points of view so far apart that they cannot even begin to see eye to eye. Whereas feminist pornographers offer a nuanced understanding that porn does not have to be a monolithic entity that only promotes one type of sexuality in a world in which sexuality is more varied than perhaps anything else, and take a stance rooted in a view of sexuality as a positive, human experience that bring people together when it’s distanced from shame and violence… anti-porn feminists take a stance that sees all porn as an essentially wrong-minded entity that can only come from a place of misogyny, violence, and greed. This stance, when extended, almost always comes back to a view of sex that’s rooted in fear and shame. One that promotes the idea that sex should only ever take place between certain people in certain situations, and that anything that departs from that idea is necessarily bad, and thus porn should be abandoned by all good people.

Now, I do understand the lure of simplicity. A world where right and wrong, good and bad, are clearly defined and easy to identify… would be pretty great. But that world is not our world, and it never has been, and it never will be. At any given point when right and wrong were assumed to have been worked out, it was almost always at the expense of somebody who was wrong by default, and who got the shit end of a very sharp stick. But I see why people like to think it’s possible. Black and white are a much easier spectrum to deal with than ROYGBIV. But does anyone really want to forsake the beauty of the rainbow? I hope not.

Both anti-porn feminists and feminist pornographers do what they do because they see something wrong with “conventional” pornography. Many of the things they see as wrong in porn are the same things: the exploitation, the narrowness of scope, the violence, the degradation. Both camps are trying to provide an alternative for people who have been negatively affected by mainstream porn. Both camps are trying to help. It’s just that, while one camp is trying to convince people to entirely give up the oldest form of entertainment known to mankind (you can’t tell me that storytelling at the campfire came before watching the couple next to you in the cave bone at night) at a time when that form of entertainment is more easily accessible in a highly stimulating graphic format than it has ever been before… and the other camp is saying, “Hey, check it out: you can enjoy this form of entertainment without having to give up your morality or your sense of humanity.”

I really, really think one side has got the better argument.

4 comments

subscribe to discussion with RSS or TrackBack

  1. passer by
    April 16, 2013
    9:24 pm

    Ive often heard women lamenting that there isn’t enough variation of female body types in porn etc.Yet ive seen plenty of girls with small breasts and the like and there are entire genres dedicated to BBW and even large even obese women yet they rarely put guys with avg (or below avg)size dicks in porn-Care to address that? No wonder avg guys are devalued…or ave issues given the dick size obsessed mainstream porno industry and i can’t say the few feminist type films are any diff–most of the time so…

  2. Sex News: Condom snorting, DC Comics’ transgirl, Lulu hack, tech sex work, Audrey Tautou | AllySex.com
    April 16, 2013
    9:50 pm

    [...] do what they do because they see something wrong with “conventional” pornography.” The Feminist Pornographers and the Anti-Porn Feminists Want the Same People to Listen to Them [...]

  3. Lynsey G
    April 17, 2013
    1:42 am

    Excellent point about men in porn. I recommend this article from Kelly Shibari on Fleshbot on the topic… and the comments below. VERY interesting stuff.
    Keep looking through feminist stuff. Not “porn for women” from mainstream companies directed by the same people who do the other stuff–it’s not the same as, say, a film from Madison Young or Tristan Taormino. Not by a long shot.

  4. Sex News: Condom snorting, DC Comics’ transgirl, Lulu hack, tech sex work, Audrey Tautou | UltimateAdultBiz - Earn Top Dollar From Your Very Own Adult Website!
    June 3, 2013
    6:23 am

    [...] do what they do because they see something wrong with “conventional” pornography.” The Feminist Pornographers and the Anti-Porn Feminists Want the Same People to Listen to Them [...]

discuss

%d bloggers like this: