Women in Porn

Let’s talk about what porn used to be. You turned on your VCR, popped in a tape, rewinded it back, and your choice of porn was ready for you. Pornography has of course now evolved. The world was at your fingers, with hundreds of sites offering free or paid porn. But even though porn has moved on digitally, the question I am asking is, has it moved on socially and ideologically and if so, who has led it in the right direction?

 

“Women’s bodies have always been sites of contestation and resistance”

I am a well-respected woman, but I haven’t always been treated as such. In the pornography industry, women have had to work hard for representation and equal rights. ‘Women’s bodies have always been sites of contestation and resistance. Whether it is the freedom to decide what to wear, the ability to control reproduction or the right to express sexual preferences or pleasures, women have had to push against the limits of cultural and legal expectations.’ (Russell 2020: 18) 

Although we have often been paid more than men in this industry, it hasn’t come without its downfalls. Misogyny, incorrect representation of women and many more dilemmas have come from indulging in personal needs and desires. 

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to pay tribute to some of the women in the pornography industry that have paved the way forward for us. Not only to be seen as equals in the industry, but fight the discrimination and fear we’re subjected to.

The rise of feminist pornography took place in the mid 80’s and early 90’s, looking to question how we consumed our porn and how we treated the women in porn. Pornographers such as Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle set up sex-postive feminist companies producing pornography and erotica among fellow porn stars. They faced severe backlash from anti-porn feminists.

While we fight for way to define our own sexuality, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture: women still face economic, political, and legal discrimination.

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“A sexuality based on equality ultimately requires a society that is based on equality”

Porn is embedded in society’s wider structure, as nowhere is the practice of inequality so starkly obvious. In porn we are one dimensional objects who want nothing more than sex. What we actually want is equality in all areas of our lives so that we no longer have to fear erasure, poverty, loss of reproductive rights and violence against us. As long as we have porn, we will never be seen as full human beings deserving of all the rights that men have. This is why we need to build a vibrant movement that fights for a world where women have power in and over their lives -because in a just society there is no room for porn.’ (Dines 2010:165)

However, I believe there was a pivotal point of movement in this view point when Linda Williams, a scholar in pornography studies, released her book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible (second edition 1999) and inspired many women, who had originally found porn particularly degrading of women, to objectively look at it and ask themselves, how are they going to change it. One important porn producer to come out of this is Erika Lust, an indie porn producer who has since built an entire empire of ethical porn. Lust believes the reason porn is still misogynistic and sexist is due the fact that in mainstream porn, the only role women play in the making of the pornographic material, is performing however she is directed.  The men make all the other choices, regarding costume, make-up, camera angles and at what point the woman will reach a climax. This making the process very ‘unnatural’ and ‘forced’. By women making porn behind the camera, we then add a whole new lense, creating the female gaze, giving a more authentic performance to the camera. She has gone on to inspire many new female porn producers who allow a new expression of authentic ethical porn to be produced.

 

Along side Erika Lust, there have been many women in porn that have fought for a greater understanding of sexual politics in the pornography community. One of them being our very own three time award-winning AVN star Nina Hartley. She is described as a sex-positive feminist, who uses her large platform to educate her audiences on how they look at porn, how they consume porn and how they treat porn stars. Making it clear that sex workers are humans to and they should be treated as such. Having such a big name in the pornography industry share her  own opinions that are feminist at nature has moved the industry in a feminist direction. However, ironically, her biggest backlash has been from the ‘anti-pornography’ feminists. In an interview with the Humanist she states ‘In a nutshell: my body, my rules. Other women don’t get to tell me what’s “right” for me, just as no imam, rabbi, priest or minister gets to tell me what to do with my body. You don’t know better than I do what I need, so don’t presume to. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it, thank you very much.’

We find ourselves at a crossroads. With platforms such as OnlyFans and AVN Stars giving women so much ownership over their own content, there is a place now for us to share ourselves the way we want to. Yes, we are giving in to your desires and performing for you, but you will respect my space and my body. So, when consuming pornography, I want you to think – does this look ethical to you? Does it follow the values and principles that women have fought for over the past 50 years – the right to wear what we want, perform how we want, the right to our own pleasure on screen, and fair pay. Women in the porn industry work hard to produce pleasure for you. Make sure you pay them their worth so we can pave the way for a more fair and equal pornography industry.

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