Reviews|||

The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure

3rd Oct 2013

★★★
Feminist-Porn-Book
For many, 'feminist porn' is a contradiction in terms. But for others, it's far more; an essential movement, subculture and commercial industry, a way of exploring sex and sexuality on-screen and off, a politicised retaliation to cultural norms, all of the above and much more...

Enter The Feminist Porn Book, a collection of essays exploring ‘the politics of producing pleasure,’ edited by Tristan Taormino, Constance Penley, Celine Parrenas Shimizu and Mirielle Miller-Young.

For the benefit of anyone as uninitiated as I was before reading, it’s probably worth explaining that Taormino is an award-winning author, sex educator and pornographer, with her own adult film production company, Smart Ass Productions.

And there are many more renowned names attached to the project; it features original contributions from pioneering transgender porn performer Buck Angel; bestselling author Susie Bright, who co-founded and edited the groundbreaking On Our Backs magazine, the first of its kind to feature porn and erotica by and for lesbian women; Betty Dodson, sex-positive advocate and educator for over three decades and author of numerous bestselling classics including Sex for One, which sold over a million copies, and many more besides.

The result is a fascinating, kaleidoscopic collection featuring authors with a broad range of backgrounds and experiences, from porn producers and performers to academics, authors and more.

Some chapters are much more compelling, accessible and engaging than others, exploring a spectrum of issues, arguments and opinions associated with both mainstream porn and its more independent, progressive, feminist alternatives.

For a reader like me who’s never studied these subjects, the more academic essays were the least exciting and accessible, while those that combined personal experience, anecdote and insight were far more readable; fresh, frank and straightforward, acknowledging the myriad problems with mainstream porn, while maintaining a positive, unapologetic approach about the importance of creating alternatives.

While feminist porn as a concept, movement and industry is still relatively underground, as topics both feminism and porn are ideological powder-kegs; incredibly personal, polarising and provocative.The strongest aspect of The Feminist Porn Book is the diversity of the voices featured in it; genderqueer porn performer Jiz Lee (honoured as a ‘boundary breaker’ at the annual Feminist Porn Awards) has powerful insights about identity and performance in porn, while ‘Fatty D’ April Flores brings a much-needed perspective about the fetishisation of plus-sized bodies in porn and being body-positive in an industry which often conforms to strict, prescriptive and stereotyped notions of size, sexuality and beauty.

Filmmaker Tobi Hill-Meyer gives a moving account of her journey into producing porn, prompted by the exploitative approach to transwomen’s sexuality common in more mainstream pornography, while Sinnamon Love gives an honest, compelling and passionate report of her experiences as a black woman working in porn, the way race can all too often be commodified and fetishised, and why – after almost two decades in the industry – she now identifies as feminist.

Mainstream porn is omnipresent and problematic, both in The Feminist Porn Book and in the wider world, and wanting to find or create alternatives to it while retaining feminist and ethical integrity is a recurrent theme, along with the need for better sex education and the role porn can have in helping its viewers explore sex and sexuality.

But the book’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; with so many people involved – all with different writing styles, politics, opinions and agendas – the overall narrative is disjointed, confused and sometimes conflicted; the pacing is inconsistent, and while certain names, arguments and claims seem to be reiterated in every chapter, other key issues end up sidelined or ignored.

That said, it needs to be acknowledged what a bold, brave and essential undertaking The Feminist Porn Book is; while feminist porn as a concept, movement and industry is still relatively underground, as topics both feminism and porn are ideological powder-kegs; incredibly personal, polarising and provocative.

So a collection of essays looking at the areas they converge was never going to be definitive, despite all its admirable attempts at inclusivity and its multitude of original voices, opinions and ideas.

Overall, the punk, DIY ethics, politics and positivity of the contributors are infectious, and although many readers might find that the book raise more questions than it answers, as a starting point, it’s a powerful, important resource.

Published earlier this year by The Feminist Press, The Feminist Porn Book is available now.

Comments

  • mx_niko says:

    cool. book bought! (p.s. for the lazily curious, it’s available through Apple’s iBooks)

    (p.p.s. y’all have one of the more nicely colored comment areas I’ve seen)