Anti-Porn Is Not Feminist, But Feminist Pornography Is

Mainstream pornography has its issues, but anti-porn feminists should realize that feminist porn exists and that the movement to make pornography illegal is dangerous and will only contribute to more structural violence against women and men alike. Feminist pornography is defined by the ways in which women take part in adult films, from directors to producers. When women are in control of what is being produced in an adult film it creates pornography that is safe for women and men, sociologically and psychologically. Anti-pornography feminism is not productive in the fight for gender and sexual equity. It assumes that all pornography is anti-woman and discounts feminist pornographers that promote safe, respectful and consensual sex.

Most mainstream male pornographers are misogynists who  reproduce images of violence against women for their own personal pleasure. Mainstream porn creates a theme that is centered on male, instead of mutual, pleasure.  Mainstream porn also inaccurately portrays BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) as rape. Mainstream pornography is like fast food – cheap, quick and hard to digest.

Male pornographers are characterized by misogyny. The following quotes from male pornographers  describe their blatant contempt for women and why they promote violence against them:

“I’d like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we [pornographers] serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.” –  Bill Margold, porn industry veteran, quoted in Robert J. Stoller and I. S. Levine, Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-rated video; 1993.

“My whole reason for being in this Industry is to satisfy the desire of the men in the world who basically don’t much care for women and want to see the men in my Industry getting even with the women they couldn’t have when they were growing up. I strongly believe this… so we come on a woman’s face or somewhat brutalize her sexually: we’re getting even for their lost dreams. I believe this. I’ve heard audiences cheer me when I do something foul on screen. When I’ve strangled a person or sodomized a person, or brutalized a person, the audience is cheering my action, and then when I’ve fulfilled my warped desire, the audience applauds.” – Bill Margold, porn industry veteran and Free Speech Coalition board member.

“It might promote violence against women in the United States, but I say, ‘Good.’ I hate those bitches. They’re out of line and that’s one of the reasons I want to do this … I’m going through a divorce right now. … I hate American women.” -What pornographers really think of women (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 14 October 1999)

It is sick, yet hardly surprising that these male pornographers feel such hatred towards women. It is part of how patriarchy operates. It is the smog that formulates what black feminist bell hooks refers to as white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Mainstream pornography is centered on male pleasure. Male pleasure in the mainstream pornography industry goes much deeper than any superficial display of pleasure. The entire prpose of the following clip from pornhub.com titled “Blonde Teen Cheers Up Guy By Fucking Him Until He Cums”  is about male pleasure, to make the man cum.  There is a brief five seconds in which the woman receives oral sex, but it is not clear whether or not she orgasms. If we look to guides that talk about how to give women oral sex, we will realize that it is not possible for a woman to orgasm in just five seconds unless she has a hypersensitive clitoris. The clip reinforces the stereotype that women are objects whose sole purpose is to please men and nothing more.

Porn clips like the one above reinforce societal norms about how women should behave sexually. The most dangerous are the clips that portray BDSM as rape instead of a consensual sexual activity between two or more adults. There are clips that display gang-rape scenarios and present them as BDSM sexual relationships. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. BDSM sexual relationships are built on the basis of trust, respect and consent. It is not a healthy sexual relationship if all three are not present, but rather an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive one. Mainstream pornography co-opts the BDSM community in such a way that promotes abusive sexual activities and hurts the promotion of healthy sexuality. This is inherently anti-feminist because it lays the pleasure on the part of the dominant, instead of both or more parties experiencing pleasure.

Mainstream pornography operates like fast food – cheap, quick and hard to digest. The profusely anti-woman pornography is free and available almost everywhere. It is quick to watch with almost no foreplay involved which is unrealistic for women, especially because we do not magically lubricate our pussies when a penis becomes erect, as unfortunate as that may be. Mainstream pornography is hard to digest because it is so uninteresting and perverse. It has no basis in reality when it comes to mutual sexual pleasure. Women and men hardly, if ever ejaculate at the same time. Queer partners hardly, if ever ejaculate at the same time. Sometimes, sexual partners orgasm many times, maybe one does more than the other. Sexual pleasure is filled with variety and no, not every woman looks like Linda Blair from The Exorcist when she cums hard and fast.

So, in these ways mainstream pornography is toxic to healthy sexuality.  Feminist pornography has the potential to and does create hot pornography to get off to, both alone and/or mutually with one’s partner.

Courtney Trouble, a feminist pornographer in an interview with Bitch Magazine discusses feminist pornography in this way:

“Both a woman and a woman’s desires need to be involved in the production, editing, and marketing of porn in order for it to be called feminist. Now, a woman’s desires are just as varied as a man’s, so it’s hard to say what is and is not “feminist porn” just from looking at it. It has a lot more to do with how it’s made. Are all people on the set—whether performers or crew—respected and treated equally and with fairness? Are the woman’s orgasms being filmed with the same amount of importance as the man’s? Does the woman (and the man) feel safe with their partner? Are condoms being used? These are all things I think make up a “feminist” porn set.”

Feminist pornography is less about what happens on screen and more about what happens behind the screen. Female and male desire can co-exist and sometimes, what we think is male fantasy can indeed be female fantasy as well. The problem with displaying male fantasy in mainstream pornography versus feminist pornography is that the mainstream reinforces patriarchal norms about what is male fantasy versus what is female fantasy. It is very much dichotomized into the feminine/masculine that exists under patriarchy by creating soft feminine fantasies for women and hardcore porn fantasies for men that include abusive behaviors such as spitting and facials (when a man cums on a woman’s face).

Women can and should have an outlet to which they can get off without feeling guilty. Feminist pornography is that outlet. We need more attention diverted from mainstream to feminist pornography so that women do not need to feel dehumanized in order to get off. Anti-porn feminism is not the solution. Making mainstream pornography illegal will not solve the problems that patriarchy has instituted into our society, but will make it worse by creating a criminal market for buying and selling misogynist pornography. We should be critical of mainstream pornography, push out the misogynist pornographers and create feminist pornography that reinforces healthy, respectful and consensual sexual activity.

14 thoughts on “Anti-Porn Is Not Feminist, But Feminist Pornography Is

  1. I was actually nervous about “liking” this post, especially because I’d be the “first,” but I had to do it because it opened my eyes in many ways. I always appreciate “good” information, and an opportunity to learn something new. Personally, I have never been exposed to “porn,” or perhaps I should say, anything that I considered “pornographic.” I have seen Playboy photos, but never anything like Hustler (if it even still exists). I always thought the term ‘pornographic,’ itself, implied ‘hate,’ ‘degradation,’ or something insulting to women, in particular. Until now, I’ve never heard of many women pornographers, much less, lesbian pornographers, or even less, “good” pornography. So, that’s not an oxymoron!
    One reason I’m so uninformed could be that I’ve simply never been interested in exploring porn. And it might be interesting to know that I am 50+ years of age, and still not really that interested. What I do know is that I will have to re-examine my assumptions, and perhaps, revise my definition of “porn,” which I believe consisted of anything I was not willing to “look at” – though I’ve never had a problem with other people wanting to look at what I don’t care to look at. That’s their prerogative.
    Personally, I’m still not interested in looking at photos or movies of anybody doing much of anything, but I don’t have any problem with the fact that they might be doing things I wouldn’t do. It’s the ‘hate’ aspects and the misogyny with which I have a problem – yet, I’m still confused as to how ‘hate’ is defined unless the “pornographer” is a man who actually comes out and says, “I’m doing this specifically because of a hatred for women” or “…because I enjoy demeaning women.” If a woman finds it “appealing” to be “demeaned,” however, and whomever is defining the condition of being ‘demeaned,’ does this then mean that it’s NOT pornography? I don’t know if I’d even be motivated to read a book of feminist discourse on this topic, but at the very least, I now have an inkling I did not heretofore possess regarding my knowledge deficiency. And for that, alone, I am appreciative.
    Either way, very interesting post.

    • I appreciate your comments. I think “hate” is defined by intention. So, like you said if the pornographer in question is saying “I hate women” they are going to show that in their work. That’s the number one problem I have with mainstream pornography.
      Pornography is defined as the act of sex being documented. So, pornography does not need to be a demeaning act in order to be pornography. Society tends to equate it with that because that’s all we see for the most part.
      The piece was meant to be an eye-opener and to interest people into getting involved with feminist pornography in order to push the shit pornography out.
      I hope this helps to somewhat answer your question. Thanks

      Niocle

  2. The errror in this analysis is that it focuses solely on pornographers as the problem, ignoring the misogyny of the male consumers, who drive demand for the sexual objectification and prostitution of women through the medium of pornography.

    Men who want to see women objectified, displayed, degraded, fucked, buggered, and hurt for their pleasure are woman-haters. If your erection and orgasm relies on the public sexual use of a woman’s body, then you are a participant in our rape culture and male supremacy. You are helping to uphold the current reality that women are the sex class, and men have an absolute right to sexual access to female bodies.

    As for “feminist” pornography, the concept is simply another way for men to degrade and undermine women, in this case the politics that represents women’s interests. It is not in our interest to have women available for sexual consumption by men. In other words, feminism fights men’s sexual use and abuse of women, we don’t support it. Feminist pornography is an oxymoron.

    • I think that the quotes by male pornographers summed up men’s desire to see women abused, so I didn’t really see a need to expand further into it. Men’s desire to see women abused is a given in patriarchy. In almost all aspect of society, men would like to see women abused (i.e., television, advertisements).
      There’s no doubt that men who get off on the abuse of women are fucked up, sexist, misogynist human beings but let’s not forget that there is a difference between abuse and consensual BDSM sexual activities.
      As a feminist, I do not think feminist pornography is an oxymoron and I think I laid it out quite clearly in this piece why I think that way. There is some really great porn out there and doesn’t make a woman feel like an object and I advocate for that porn to be pushed into the mainstream.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Not sure where BDSM comes into it. Is this a subtle defence of BDSM? BDSM is institutionalised fetishised male violence against women. It’s something else that feminists can’t support.

        If you think that men enjoying seeing women abused and degraded is fucked up, then why would you want to provide more of the same kind of material? Turning a human being into a sex object for others use is abusive, it’s not a feeling either, it’s demonstrable. Using another person for your own gratification is dehumanising and as I said, reinforces women’s position as the sex class under the patriarchy.

        Pornography doesn’t have to exist, it’s actually only in the past 10-15 years that people have been unable to imagine a world without porn, probably because they have been soaked in porn themselves. Advocating for “feminist” porn instead of fighting the porn industry is capitulation.

  3. I think we are already coming from two different places. I come from a place where I think any consensual activity between two or more adults is OK. You seem to be coming from a place where only certain kinds of sexual activity is OK. You also seem to be reinforcing the gender binary — BDSM includes sex between more than just women and men, and women can also be dominant in a BDSM relationship. I’m not sure you clicked the link I posted where it explains how BDSM is not/does not have to be abusive. I suggest checking that out.

    At this point I’m not even sure you read the article or understand my argument. I’m arguing for feminist pornography, pornography made by women that is consensual and non-abusive. There is nothing inherently wrong with pornography, it is capitalism and patriarchy that ruins it.

  4. How do you suppose men will be interested in feminist porn when they’ve been conditioned to extreme mainstream porn?

    • It is about making feminist porn JUST AS accessible as mainstream porn. Feminist porn is more hot than the mainstream, but men are getting points to degrade women in all facets of life — not just porn. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen and it’s not just in porn.

    • All men are not robots brainwashed and “conditioned” by “extreme mainstream porn” :)
      In fact, you’ll find that very, very few are. Many men are already turning towards alternatives to mainstream porn – hence the recent boom in couple-and-intimacy-centered “alternative”, “fine-art” erotica.

      • You must know some A+ men.

        I dunno.
        Most often, when I talk to Generic Guy #5502 and demonstratively shatter all the tough-guy truisms they have been forced to swallow under crying and gnashing of teeth from the hands of their parents and various self-declared “alphas” from their very boyhood on, it turns out:
        Generic Guy is deep inside a being not devoid of decency.

        I presume it is my innter jester that drives me to it, but I love to talk down (wo)men’s swaggering “alpha (fe)male” blathering about sex and relationship.
        It is not without satisfaction that I watch the (at least momentary) transformation of the habitual grandstander into a simple, sweet human being who wants little more than someone beloved and loving to share tenderness, warmth, emotional shelter, affection and pleasure with.

        I wish the verbal brutalisms about relationships and sexuality were challenged more often than reinforced. It’s one of the sad ironies of humanity that it is not so. :\

  5. I hope it is not too late to comment, as I find this a rather interesting topic.

    There are several points in your post that I’d like to address. Some of them I agree with, some of them seem to deserve some refinement, and some, I fear, strike me as absurd.

    I will pass over the many things I agree with and will delve into discussing the points I disagree with – makes for much more interesting debate.

    The first point I would like to address is the claim that

    Mainstream pornography is centered on male pleasure. Male pleasure in the mainstream pornography industry goes much deeper than any superficial display of pleasure. The entire prpose of the following clip from pornhub.com titled “Blonde Teen Cheers Up Guy By Fucking Him Until He Cums” is about male pleasure, to make the man cum. There is a brief five seconds in which the woman receives oral sex, but it is not clear whether or not she orgasms. If we look to guides that talk about how to give women oral sex, we will realize that it is not possible for a woman to orgasm in just five seconds unless she has a hypersensitive clitoris. The clip reinforces the stereotype that women are objects whose sole purpose is to please men and nothing more.

    This, to me, exhibits two of the most fundamental misreadings within the feminist reception of (mainstream) porn:

    1. The misperception that mainstream pornography is centered on male pleasure. It is not – it is focused on male performance. In mainstream pornography, male pleasure is as absent as female pleasure. Mainstream pornography is solely about performing: The male is expected to perform by way of genital size, endurance, acrobatics, and ejaculation outside the woman’s body. The female is expected to perform by way of breast size, vocal loudness, acrobatics, and simulated climax. Thus, sexuality is placed within a context of capitalist labour instead of pleasure. That is the true insidiousness.
    I invite everyone to go through their own experiences (and fantasies) with sex with a beloved (and loving partner). You will quickly discern that if pornography truly were focused on male pleasure, it would look vastly different.

    2. This frankly abhorrent paleocapitalist notion that is is somehow not OK for a pornographic movie to be focused on the sole pleasure of one partner. Within a healthy sexual relationship, sexuality will never be about a capitalist exchange. Within a healthy relationship, giving and taking comes naturally, without the need for formalized trade-offs and blackmailings. It is OK for a man to once in a while simply receive pleasure without immediately reciprocating, and it is OK for a woman to once in a while simply receive pleasure without immediately reciprocating. Within a healthy relationship, it is completely normal for one part to give the other a sexual treat without expecting an immediate return.
    As I am all for pornography portraying sexuality within a healthy, loving framework, I think it absurd to demand it to become even more of a capitalist exchange.

    Male pornographers are characterized by misogyny.
    When women are in control of what is being produced in an adult film it creates pornography that is safe for women and men, sociologically and psychologically.

    These are sweeping generalizations. The examples (gross as they may be) you quoted are no sound grounds for such a blanket statement.

    In fact, there is pornography where men are in charge which is horrible bad badness, and there is pornography where women are in charge which is horrible bad badness.
    Just the same, there is there is pornography where men are in charge which is focused on gentleness, respect and love , and there is pornography where women are in charge which is focused on gentleness, respect and love.

    (I recall my first brush with feminist pornography quite distinctly. I regret to say that it was just the same shod as mainstream pornography but with dimmed lights and odd music. Luckily, much has been done by women and men to promote a better, “new” adult film – explicitly feminist or not)

    It is not enough to simply call for women to be put in charge. Methinks it is necessary to generally call for better erotica, no matter who is in charge of their production.

    Mainstream pornography is hard to digest because it is so uninteresting and perverse. It has no basis in reality when it comes to mutual sexual pleasure. Women and men hardly, if ever ejaculate at the same time. Queer partners hardly, if ever ejaculate at the same time.

    I do not see the perversion in this. Pornography is supposed to be sexual fantasies gone film. It is the most OK thing in the world, methinks, to fantasize about climaxing together with your partner, to fantasize about sharing that most intimate moment. To demonize this as “perverse” and “uninteresting” strikes me as profoundly absurd.

    The problem with displaying male fantasy in mainstream pornography versus feminist pornography is that the mainstream reinforces patriarchal norms about what is male fantasy versus what is female fantasy. It is very much dichotomized into the feminine/masculine that exists under patriarchy by creating soft feminine fantasies for women and hardcore porn fantasies for men that include abusive behaviors such as spitting and facials (when a man cums on a woman’s face).

    Thank You for this statement. As a male who is sick and tired of mainstream porn and many of its practices, I feel that this is a very important, often overlooked point.

    Summing it up, I think it is necessary not to only call for feminist porn (though that is an entirely legitimate call). What we need is more: We need better pornography. More diversity, yes – but also a renunciation of the cult of capitalist performance and economics that have invaded mainstream pornography just as well as (wo)men’s magazines.

    • Thanks for your comments. I disagree with your point that anti-capitalist sexuality disregards equity in the bedroom. When men in society are the majority of people receiving and women hardly receiving pleasure, there is a problem. I’ve experienced this in my sexual and romantic relationships. It’s not just a personal experience, but many songs talk about “getting head”, but god forbid a woman ever sang about it. There’s a double standard there.

      Either way, I stand by my point that there needs to be equal distribution of pleasure in the bedroom if we want to get into economic terms. There’s no need for immediate reciprocation, but there is a need for reciprocation to happen. Sometimes it can happen at the same time.

      Mainstream pornography IS about male pleasure, though. It’s also performance, but remember social problems are not just about one thing — they are complex and deserve complex solutions. If the theme of most, if not all pornography films was “Watch this girl get head and enjoy herself completely while doing so” then I would make another argument entirely.

      I don’t deny that there could be women who make shitty porn, but majority wise it is men making shitty porn. Just like there are men who are great male feminists and women who internalize misogyny. These are exceptions to the rule. I’m thinking institutionally, not interpersonally. There is a HUGE difference.

      There’s no problems in fantasies, but there is a problem when people base these fantasies in reality, which they do. Most men (especially young, inexperienced men) tend to think of women’s sexuality in terms of the pornography they watch, which is not OK. I’m all for fantasies, as long as we keep it in that realm.

      Lastly, anti-capitalist performance in the bedroom is important but it’s easier said than done. There are men who are anti-capitalist and I have been with them who perform capitalistic exchange in the bedroom. Just like they perform it in real life, because they know no other way.

      Like I said earlier, complex problems deserve complex solutions.

      -Nicole

      • When men in society are the majority of people receiving and women hardly receiving pleasure, there is a problem. I’ve experienced this in my sexual and romantic relationships. It’s not just a personal experience, but many songs talk about “getting head”, but god forbid a woman ever sang about it. There’s a double standard there.

        I agree that there is a problem when it is that way, no doubts about it. It is regrettable that your sexual and romantic experiences have been that way. I agree that when one gender receives pleasure and the other not or hardly any, there is a problem.
        My experience has been much the same, although with different prefixes: Girls owning sex toys versus boys owning sex toys being perverts and girls receiving oral pleasure being empowered versus boys receiving oral pleasure being rapists deserving only of emasculation. So, I can absolutely relate and agree wholeheartedly.
        (Also I can name more songs about cunnilingus than fellatio, but I shall not contest the point :))

        Either way, I stand by my point that there needs to be equal distribution of pleasure in the bedroom if we want to get into economic terms. There’s no need for immediate reciprocation, but there is a need for reciprocation to happen. Sometimes it can happen at the same time.

        There is nothing wrong with reciprocation, and I certainly welcome it. Whether it be at the same time, or immediately after, or later. I agree that mutuality is an important part of healthy sexuality.
        I simply it wrong to mandate a quid pro quo in the bedroom – and that extends to porn. My happiest experiences have always been these, where pleasure was given and received freely, without guilt, conscietial pressure, societal “musts” and “dos” and “dont’s”. My personal approach would be to focus more strongly on the emotional framework; in my experience, the giving of pleasure does not need to be exhorted in a loving environment. It comes naturally. Teaching that should be part of pornography.

        Mainstream pornography IS about male pleasure, though. It’s also performance, but remember social problems are not just about one thing — they are complex and deserve complex solutions.

        I am not contesting that this is a complex problem and deserves a complex solution. I agree entirely.
        I am also not contesting that it is about male gratification.
        I am however contesting, that most of current mainstream pornography is about pleasure. This is of course a matter of perspective, but as mechanical and robotic as the action in these portrayals is, it is light years away from pleasure. I find this an important critique of the status quo that must not be overlooked.

        I’m thinking institutionally, not interpersonally. There is a HUGE difference.

        Oh, I getcha, I just like to continually challenge (my own) thinking by never letting myself again slip into the category of “men are…” and “women are…”. Not even in an institutional context. It is a mental shortcut I abhor.

        Most men (especially young, inexperienced men) tend to think of women’s sexuality in terms of the pornography they watch, which is not OK.

        This is another point I would contest strongly. Of course, this is again a matter of opinion, as there is not (and, owing to the nature of the matter, cannot be) good data on it. But from personal experience it is not a matter of age and experience, but rather of milieu, education, etc.
        (On an anecdotal side-note, when I was a sweet teenage lad, I had very positive and not at all pornographic preconceptions of female sexuality, and so did those boys I grew up with ;))

        Lastly, anti-capitalist performance in the bedroom is important but it’s easier said than done. There are men who are anti-capitalist and I have been with them who perform capitalistic exchange in the bedroom. Just like they perform it in real life, because they know no other way.

        A most just observation. This crux – how deeply ingrained the ideal of numerically measurable performance has become in both sexes – is a crux that is to be tackled by partners together on an individual level, in baby steps. However, this is to me all the more reason to strive for a genre of adult entertainment that presents alternatives to this mode of capitalist exchange.

        Like I said earlier, complex problems deserve complex solutions.

        And often, individual ones. I concur.

        Thanks for the interesting rejoinder, it’s been a pleasure.

        – T.R.

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