Feminist Pornography

July 12, 2009

Recently, when a friend and fan of my writing offered to feature my books on her blog, she asked me if I considered myself a “feminist pornographer.” Talk about a loaded question — certainly not one I can answer casually.

The two terms — feminist and pornographer — are themselves volatile. For many, “feminist” is a fighting word, equated with man-hating and confused with female supremacy. Fundamentalists take this vitriol to the extreme. For example, Mike Adams, a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina, insists “Feminism is a minority social movement, whose members murder innocent children in order to obtain sexual gratification.” He rationalizes this outrageous statement with: “feminists today are voluntarily involved in a movement whose principal issue/goal is abortion on demand.” As a result of comments such as these, the word has attained negative connotations resulting in denial of the label even by those who, when questioned, agree with every tenet of feminism.

Then you have the major schism within feminism between the anti-pornographers and the sex-positive movement. The former argues that pornography degrades women. However, many women don’t consider the money they can earn as sex workers at all degrading, especially when compared to the minimum wage/no benefit job alternatives available (or not) to them.

No one has offered scientifically documented evidence of the specious argument that pornography contributes to violence against women, misogyny, or even the perpetuation of the patriarchal attitudes it reflects. Some have attempted to prove statistically that access to porn reduces rape. Tim Worst claims, in an article on examiner.com, that “since the mainstreaming of porn into American lives in the early 70s … the incidence of rape per capita has declined by an astonishing 85 percent … It isn’t exactly news that the rise of the internet and the web has made pornography vastly more available. … If exposure to porn did indeed cause rape, if on balance they were complements not substitutes, we would have expected an explosion in the incidence of rapes.”

Steven E. Landsburg writes in How the Web Prevents Rape on Slate.com: “More Net access, less rape.” He quotes Clemson professor Todd Kendall, who claims that “a 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes.”

While these conclusions are questionable, one valid point made in this article is that: “psychologists have found that male subjects, immediately after watching pornography, are more likely to express misogynistic attitudes. But as professor Kendall points out, we need to be clear on what those experiments are testing … the effects of watching pornography in a controlled laboratory setting under the eyes of a researcher,” Landsburg writes.

“The experience of viewing porn on the Internet, in the privacy of one’s own room, typically culminates in a slightly messier but far more satisfying experience — an experience that could plausibly tamp down some of the same aggressions that the pornus interruptus of the laboratory tends to stir up.”

Sexually repressed fundamentalists would like to eliminate pornography along with every other form of sexual pleasure that doesn’t result in conception. “Don’t women, and all people, have the right to control their bodies, access their sexual desires, and to enjoy safe and consensual sexual pleasure?” asks KaeLyn in Feminist Porn: Sex, Consent, and Getting Off “And while the porn and sex/adult industry is currently geared towards men and definitely objectifies women, forgets women’s pleasure, and supports an oppressive rape culture, I see a bigger solution than attempting to censor or criminalize sex.”

KaeLyn believes that “like abortion, homosexuality, and other social issues that have been labeled ‘deviant’ and make people uncomfortable, sex work and the sex trade will always go on, even if pushed underground. And legalization and support of sex work can open the door to helping the sex/adult industry become safer and healthier for sex workers and a more welcoming and affirming place for feminists and all people.” She also believes “in a society that truly values gender justice, where women can make free and safe choices about sex and sexuality, be free from abuse and assault, and have available to them the same frank and authentic access to their sexual selves that Western culture affords men from the day they pop out of the womb.”

Personally, I’ve always considered and proclaimed myself a feminist. I advocate equal rights for women including equal pay for equal work, protection from domestic abuse and rape, access to contraception, legal benefits equal to men’s, etc. But I’m also a FemDom (although not a female supremacist) who owns a collared submissive — not what many would consider “equal.” In addition I have many female friends and acquaintances who submit to their male masters, some who chose to live as slaves.

As for pornography, I myself have gotten caught up in the porn versus erotica debate with other authors on numerous occasions. I’ve quoted an author from whom I once took a class on the subject, Eric M. Witchey, who defines erotica as a story in which a character experiences a life-changing event as a result of a sexual encounter. I myself have differentiated the two by explaining erotica as fiction in which the sex scenes move the story forward or reveal/develop character compared to porn in which the story line is just used to tie the sex scenes together.

However,J.T. Benjamin says it best in All Worked Up About Porn for Erotica Readers Association, Inc.: “pornography is erotica that you don’t like, or that you don’t want to admit you do like.”

I believe my friend the feminist pornographer has the best approach. Rather than accept the mainstream feminist attitude that pornography degrades women or that women need to adjust their attitudes about their own bodies, she promotes “tackling the sticky issue of how men’s porn and male sexuality interact with gender dynamics and body image issues.”

She admits “I want to be objectified—thoroughly, explicitly, perversely — by men –because it turns me on. I enjoy using sex as power. I adore being the center of men’s sexual attention. I identify as sexually submissive.”

What makes her, in my opinion, a feminist, is that she has made these choices for herself rather than allowing society to choose her role because of her gender — just as I have chosen the dominant role in my relationship, just as my boy has chosen to submit to me, just as my friends have chosen to proudly wear their masters’ collars.

Which all brings me back to the original question: do I consider myself a “feminist pornographer”? The fiction I write could be described as erotica by the definitions above: the sex scenes move the story forward, reveal/develop character, and result in life changing experiences for the characters. Readers like it and admit they like it.

In reality, though, my novels don’t exactly meet the dictionary definition of erotica — they’re not intended to sexually arouse. Broken and Shattered are cautionary tales about the fine line between abuse and BDSM. One of the highest compliments I’ve received was from a woman I respect greatly who told me that they made her think.

Many would call the novels, and my published short stories, “smut” and “porn.” While I have always proclaimed my feminism with pride, in the past I have shied away from association with pornography. I’ve only admitted to writing erotica because I believe my work does have literary/artistic value beyond stimulating sexual desire.

But I think we need to take back that word, as others have taken back derogatory terms and embraced them. So yes, my friend, I consider myself a feminist pornographer. Thanks for helping me take pride in that.