Setting the Record Queer… Feminist Guilt
Queer feminist blogger Francesca Lewis argues that certain films do not necessarily objectify and exploit women OR perpetuate body standards.
Writing this piece is my attempt to finally absolve myself of the massive feminist guilt I’ve carried around my entire adult life. I confess – I watch ‘certain films’. Just because I’m a woman, just because I’m queer, just because I’m a feminist, I still have needs, man! I refuse to be ashamed of my love affair any longer. I’m here, I’m queer, I like watching these things – get used to it!
As a child of the ’80s, I am part of the first generation to have unlimited access to ‘certain films’ography. Explicit images had made their journey from the page, to the big screen, to tape, and finally to disc by the time I was in my teens, but DVDs still had to be purchased, borrowed or stolen. However, by the the time I was fifteen, a new and completely free source of vicarious sex was bursting onto the scene. I had never heard anyone female talk about ‘certain films’ – and I still haven’t! – except to make a joke at a guy’s expense or to make envious snipes about a peer’s amble bosom. Luckily, I had an older male cousin, and when I expressed an interest in touching girls’ bubbies, he introduced me to soft-core cable and later to his collection of overpriced DVDs. I was a horny young woman stuck in a small town with a highly sexual female partner under my belt and a frustrating lack of subsequent offers. I had already been using Napster to download obscure Tori Amos B-sides, ignoring the amusingly titled files that came up sometimes, full of triple Xs and very bad spelling. One day though, I got curious…
Over ten years later and here I am – a queer feminist blogger with pages like The F-Word in my Facebook news feed. I spend a lot of my time reading about our oppressive beauty standards, our increasingly sexualised media, the damage the porn industry does to both the women in it and the ordinary women who are expected to live up to it. Everyone I relate to and admire, people who study gender, queer theory, feminism – they all resoundingly say “No!” to poor. And here I am, a frequent visitor to streaming website X-hamster, dreaming of being able to afford a subscription to I Feel Myself or Abby Winters and torrenting their content. I even wrote my dissertation on Sadeian Feminism – the idea that women are just as strong and capable as men and therefore should not be protected from sex and ‘certain films’ography but rather should own it, use it and enjoy it. In the eyes of my community, at best I’m a fool, at worst, I’m a traitor.
Talking about “Porn” with a capital P, as if it were all identical, is as silly as talking about any other medium that way. Is Mad Men the same as Jersey Shore? Is Twilight the same as Melancholia? Is Katy Perry the same as Amanda Palmer? Every medium has its big budget crap and its indie truth, its formulaic products and its life-changing masterpieces. I dislike the bleached hair, bleached buttholes and general fakery of mainstream porn just as much as any other intelligent woman. Most of it is degrading, either to the participants, the viewers or both. The women are objectified, exploited, unrealistic stereotypes pretending to enjoy something they are either bored of by now or actively not into at all. Mainstream porn makes me sad, and only a little bit horny, in a way that makes me want the ground to swallow me up for being such an animal. But that’s just it, isn’t it? We are all human animals, underneath it all, and one of our primary drives is for sex. There is nothing wrong with masturbation, for either gender, I think we all agreed upon that about ten years ago and I’m so glad to see Ann Summers becoming a part of most high streets – in my town it’s right between a shoe shop and a toy store! Yet, we are still terribly closed minded about what people look at while they are getting off. The consensus seems to be that those who use porn lack imagination. In my experience, the opposite is often closer to the truth. People with imagination constantly seek fuel for that fantasy engine in their heads and since it’s illegal to go peeping in bedroom windows, we watch porn. We watch it to be sexually inspired, to see people enjoying things we hadn’t thought of, in ways we may never get the chance to or want tips on how to.
In an attempt to educate those of you who think all ‘certain films’ography is evil and dangerous, I have broken down your most common objections below.
These films objectify women!
When most of you say this, what is the picture in your heads? It’s a very thin, very blonde, very bad-at-acting young woman, perhaps too young, wearing too much make-up, displaying her body either for the camera or for an actually present man. She has no personality, her clothes – if she wears any – express nothing about her, neither does the setting. She is a human doll. This is what most people picture when they think of ‘certain films’. But what we are actually talking about here is only mainstream ‘certain films’, which I agree is lame, boring and usually not even that hot.
The women in independent and amateur ‘certain films’ are people. They are individuals I’d recognise in the street, from their quirky style and personality. The setting may be their bedroom, their garden, a ledge outside their window.
The bottom line? Women in indie and amateur ‘certain films’ are individuals, not objects.
These films exploit women!
Ok, so you’ve accepted that there are some women in ‘certain films’ who show their true selves and exist as more than objects for the gratification of men. But you still think they must be being exploited, somehow, in some way. Maybe they have low self-esteem or they need the money. We’ve all heard about young women lured into the ‘certain films’ industry in order to fund their coke habit or feed their baby. Now, apart from the fact that people do a lot of different things for money and some would say sex is less humiliating than waitressing, exploitation is really more of a mainstream problem.
The women in these independent and amateur films actually want to be there! They are often directors themselves who have committed to representing strong, independent women, or else they are amateurs, often doing it for nothing, just for the thrill of being brave enough to expose themselves so completely.
The bottom line? These women are perfectly happy to get naked and get crazy, nobody is forcing them.
These films promote unrealistic body standards!
So, you’re with me so far, right? Objectification and exploitation are diseases of the evil mainstream ‘certain films’o machine and they have no place in the eclectic, modern worlds of independent or amateur ‘certain films’. But surely, I hear you say, even though they are well-rounded and willing, these women are still setting unattainable standards for the rest of us. You assume that the women in ‘certain films’ all look like models, with perfect skin, perfect bodies and not a hair out of place. Again, you’re actually thinking of the mainstream industry, where if it can be trimmed, bleached or surgically altered, it will be.
Dylan Ryan has been many things in her time including a social worker but she is also one of adult entertainment’s favorite feminist ‘certain films’ stars. A prior recipient of The Feminist Porn Award’s Heartthrob of the Year Award, she is an avid defender of sex worker rights and a queer-identified activist.
The women in independent and amateur ‘certain films’ are like snowflakes – not one is alike! Just like the women in the world, they are of varying ages, ethnicities, shapes, sizes. They even have body hair, quite often in unconventional places, and their co-stars are of varying genders and just as unique. As a fat woman with a metric tonne of body issues, I can tell you right now that independent and amateur ‘certain films’ have done more to help me accept my body than anything else. Unlike the women in magazines, they are not airbrushed, and unlike mainstream stars, they are all natural – blemishes, stretch marks, freckles, tattoos, cellulite and all!
The bottom line? Women in indie and amateur ‘certain films’ reflect our real world, not the world that the patriarchy wants to see.
These films fake!
You just about believe me so far, you get that these indie-made films are about awesome women just like you or me doing what they want to do, but you still don’t get why anyone would want to watch it. Why would you want to see strangers pretending to have orgasms? We’re all aware of the kind of ‘certain films’ where the woman moans and screams not remotely convincingly, supposedly having the best sex of her life, while we can clearly see she’s wondering if she left the oven on. And you guessed it – that’s just the mainstream!
In independent and amateur ‘certain films’ the orgasms are real. Sometimes the women are alone, sometimes with props, sometimes with a guy or a girl, perhaps all of the above! But the focus is on genuine experience, not acting. Sometimes there may be a roleplay scenario going on – she’s a queen or a CEO – but the phony stuff ends there.
The bottom line? Women in indie and amateur ‘certain films’ may scream, yell, giggle, wail or even recite poetry when they get off, but they ain’t faking.
Independent and amateur films do not objectify, exploit, create unrealistic expectations or present lies. The kind of ‘certain films’ I watch, the kind of ‘certain films’ I like, are REAL. If I want to have a one man joy splurgle while watching a curvy Australian lass hump an armchair in her bedroom, or a biracial Canadian LGBT couple tying each other up, or a tattooed Polish pair pretending to be brother and sister – well, so what?
Fellow feminists of all genders, join me! Continue to boycott and protest the hideous mainstream ‘certain films’ industry but please, learn more about the independent and amateur stuff out there before you proclaim that ‘certain films’ography has no merit and no place in your lives.
Trans-woman Drew Deveaux won Heartthrob of the year at the sixth annual Feminist Porn Awards. Looking good.