Can porn be feminist? It depends who you ask.
Porn, along with sex work in general, continues to be one of the most controversial and contentious topics in feminism; there are those who believe that sex work and porn are inherently harmful to women, and those who not only tolerate it, but argue that porn in itself can be feminist and liberating to women.
While Iceland and the European Union are currently in talks to ban violent online porn, I think it’s worth talking about the sexy stuff we’re looking at.
The anti-porn feminist movement was at its peak in the 1980s, but there are still vocal anti-porn activists. Feminists including Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem were supporters of Women Against Pornography (WAP). WAP is perhaps most famous for rallying around Robin Morgan’s claim that, “Porn is the theory, rape is the practice.”
While the organization faded out in the mid-1990s, when you look at most of the porn produced in the era when they were formed, it makes sense why they would protest it.
Women were often portrayed as passive accessories to the sex acts happening and had a homogenous image: widely white, thin, blonde, tanned, bikini-waxed, and heavily made up. It’s true that this cast women as objects and didn’t give women a lot to feel great about if these were the ones men supposedly wanted to have sex with.
Then, the Internet came along and changed everything – now that porn was widely and easily available, it flourished. This did two things:
1) Made porn lose its novelty effect and caused consumers to become bored and more demanding.
2) Created room for visible niche markets and diversity.
With online porn and the means to make it widely available, pretty much any desire of a porn consumer is on the table – which can be positive and negative.
Porn that is violent, degrading, depicts unhealthy sexual attitudes, and is downright harmful to women is increasingly made available. Porn consumers have become bored by your average jackhammer penetration clip – even anal, fairly extreme BDSM, and “facefucking” are becoming de rigueur. When you can watch 50 porn clips for free in a day, the boobs and vaginas really start to fade together and it takes something more extreme or taboo to get you excited.
However, this has also led to an outcry for realistic, empowering, feminist porn. Porn that features all kinds of bodies doing all kinds of things – fat folks, skinny folks, queer, trans, and consensual sex. The Internet and the people who like to get naked on it have responded to the requests oh so kindly.
Proportionally, more exploitive porn exists, but what new providers lack in quantity they make up for with quality and enthusiasm. It’s due to inclusive, positive porn on websites like Cherrystems, Bright Desire, Indie Porn Revolution, and Queer Porn TV who all agree that porn and realistic depictions of desire are not only possible, but sexy.
Cue the Feminist Porn Awards, a celebration of porn that’s “good for her.” When they started eight years ago, they adopted the ethos of Annie Sprinkle.
“The answer to bad porn isn’t no porn [ . . . ] it’s to try and make better porn!”
So every year, they gather in Toronto to celebrate and discuss feminist porn through an awards ceremony, parties, and workshops.
Therefore, while not all porn is feminist, not all porn is automatically harmful to women. Women make up a reported 30 per cent of online porn consumers—and we can assume the actual number is higher—but feminist porn isn’t just porn that caters to what women want.
When you are watching porn, try to think critically about what you’re seeing; do the women seem to be gaining some sort of pleasure and are freely consenting to the activities they’re engaged in? Are the people in it of all shapes, sizes, colours, orientation, and genders? Does the film or images promote violence or non-consent (BDSM excluded)? Does the film use racial stereotypes or cultural appropriation?
Getting off feels better when it’s good for everyone.
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