The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

And now for feminist pornography

Posted by Nic Heath on November 24, 2009

Popular pornography is undeniably big business and, thanks to the internet, virtually ubiquitous. I mean, it isn’t something I encounter often when I’m online checking the news but if you’re halfway interested, porn is a click away.

Pete Malicki’s ‘How Liberating is Porn Really?’, published at New Matilda, sums up my thoughts pretty well about the problems in the way mainstream pornography portrays women and sexuality. He also provides a neat description of what makes your bread and butter porn, which you can read for yourself at New Matilda. The thrust of his definition hinges on the preoccupation in popular pornography with male desire and the concurrent indifference to women’s sexuality.

I recall as a teenager when the porn craze hit. Girls and boys would watch it, probably mostly a typical teen taboo-breaking exercise. Adult audiences aside, the most dangerous consequence of young people viewing mainstream porn films is that the watching often constitutes a first explicit glimpse of a sexual act. It would be impossible for a young person to be impervious to its influence; pornography sets unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for boys and girls to try to emulate in the bedroom (or wherever). I can’t imagine that sex education in schools offers a correction to this skew.

As Pete Malicki says:

“Given that porn overwhelmingly represents a version of male fantasy, female viewers will be shown what males “want” sexually. It’s pretty easy to understand why women who have been overexposed to porn might feel pressured to fit that fantasy, even without being asked to perform [such] acts.”

Behaviour isn’t all that can be affected – porn provides an aesthetic template too. Arguably the rise in labioplasty, or cosmetic labial surgery, is in some part attributable to the unrealistic “elegant-looking labia” you can see in mainstream pornography.

I suspect women who voice any opposition to popular pornography are often accused of being sexual spoilsports. Statistics show that many women watch porn, and it is possible that many of them watch your standard money shot stuff in the absence of explicit films that pay more mind to a woman’s pleasure.

Of course there is plenty of pornography out there that resists adhering just to the male gaze. In October this year the first Feminist Porn Film Award was awarded in Berlin, and you can read about the awarded film makers here, and the criteria – which include ‘no misogynistic portrayals’ and more women in production roles – here. Films that fulfill the criteria will be given a ‘PorYes’ stamp.   

It’s safe to say that watching pornography can be an ethical minefield and for those who’d like less degradation with their titillation, the PorYes seal of approval could prove helpful in finding enjoyable erotica, and the internet – often blamed for spreading misogynistic material – is the perfect vehicle for the dissemination of feminist pornography.

And I note that while the Sydney Morning Herald recently reported on the PorYes movement, Life & Style web editors stuck to house pictorial policy and used a breast-enhanced image to accompany the article.


4 Responses to “And now for feminist pornography”

  1. Pangur Ban said

    This is going off-topic a bit, but hopefully it’s relevant …

    When it comes to ‘the way mainstream pornography portrays women and sexuality’, why is it that the romance genre is either overlooked, pointedly ignored or ruthlessly belittled, instead of recognising it as a major form of ‘porn’ in its own right?

    Since the sexual revolution, women’s romance writing has become increasingly explicit sexually, with a strong emphasis on female pleasure and non-coital sexplay – something Hollywood has miserably failed to tap into. Even before the sexual revolution, women’s romance fiction was very erotically charged, even if sex didn’t take place.

    Despite this, male-centric pornography is still assumed to be the definitive ‘sex industry’ norm – yet another male bastion for women to infiltrate – while the female-centric romance genre is viewed as little more than the sweet, silly indulgence of repressed teenage girls or immature, bored women (that’s if it’s even viewed at all).

    I’d personally prefer to see more feminist energy being directed at raising the cultural status of romantic erotica, rather than grooming women as the big new market for the porn industry.

  2. Kat said

    Late night SBS did more for my sexual awakening than any other source and I can’t be happier for the independent slant and European sensibilities.

  3. Jaa said

    Greash post Nic. I still rather fuck than watch.
    But I wouldn’t mind some PorYes in the ocean of FuckNo money shot hour long pounding..

  4. SJ said

    What gets me with many feminist explorations of pornography is the assumption that what woman need/want is so drastically different to men. I agree that “mainstream” pornography, or should I say commercial pornography, is generally centred around male desire, amateur pornography which makes up probably most of the porn seen by anyone perusing the internet is a pick-n-mix of sexual candies. The makers of claim a substantial number of their viewers are women. Personally, I’d take that over Mills & Boon any day.

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