Political Smut Makers

Feminist porn takes center stage at historic event

Last week, when I boarded a plane at Toronto Pearson International Airport to return to New York, nestled in my carry-on bag was a prized possession. Wrapped securely in red tissue paper was a clear glass butt plug mounted on a small pedestal with an engraved brass plaque that read "2006 Feminist Porn Award." My trophy (for Hottest Anal Adventure) was one of 11 handed out at "Vixens + Visionaries: Female Erotic Directors Revolutionizing Porn," a symposium–awards show–party that drew more than 300 people to the century-old Gladstone Hotel on June 1. The event was produced by local feminist sex shop Good for Her (goodforher.com), which just celebrated its ninth year of bringing sex-positive products and workshops to Canada's largest city.

The evening began with a roundtable discussion among five feminist pornographers: Candida Royalle of Femme Productions (royalle.com) and her newest protégée, Abiola Abrams; Erocktavision director Dana Dane; S.M.U.T. Magazine editrix Jen Bowers (showmethesmut.com); Angela Phong, director of Pornograflics; and me. It was an honor to sit among such a diverse group of women at this particular moment in my life. I've directed three movies and written extensively about the adult industry, but only recently has making porn taken a more central role. I'm becoming practically a full-time pornographer, and it's inspiring to hear from other working women in a field that's not exactly overflowing with feminists.

After we responded to questions about everything from finding performers to shooting strap-on sex, moderator CoCo La Créme asked us to answer one more: "What turns you on?" Her query elicited laughs, but it got to the heart of the matter: We are all attempting to create images, stories, and works that female and male viewers can relate to, feel inspired by, and find sexy and arousing. It's no easy task, considering how diverse our sexual identities and fantasies are.

Good For Her Manager Chanelle Gallant, Candida Royalle, and Abiola Abrams at
the 2006 Feminist Porn Awards
photo: Tania A.
Good For Her Manager Chanelle Gallant, Candida Royalle, and Abiola Abrams at the 2006 Feminist Porn Awards

After the panel came the awards ceremony. "We came up with the idea for the Feminist Porn Awards because people don't know they have a choice when it comes to porn," said Chanelle Gallant, manager of Good for Her and the event's organizer. "Yes, there's a lot of bad porn out there. But there is also some great porn being made by and for women. We wanted to recognize and celebrate the good porn makers as well as direct people to their work." Selected by the Good for Her staff, winning films had to meet at least two of the following criteria: A woman was substantially involved in the creation of the film as producer, director, or cameraperson; the film portrays real orgasms, and women getting their fair share of genuine pleasure; and the film expands the range of sexual expressions for women. Unlike other porn awards, which focus on performers, the majority of the Emmas (named for early anarchist and feminist pioneer Emma Goldman) went to filmmakers. Candida Royalle received a lifetime achievement award. Her work has clearly paved the way for the rest of us. She began making what she called "erotic films from a woman's point of view" in the 1980s, when the mainstream industry balked at the idea that women, alone or with their partners, watched—let alone enjoyed—porn.

Lots of people commented that we were making history that night just as Candida did 20 years ago. I wondered if, a decade from now, we'd sit in a greenroom with a spread sponsored by Ms. magazine, sifting through our gift bags of limited-edition gold-plated vibrators, portable DVD players, and designer lube and think, "Remember 2006 at that funky hotel, when it was standing room only?" I hope the Feminist Porn Awards continue to happen, since their mere existence is significant; say the phrase to anyone and it sparks confusion, contemplation, debate, or the obvious question: What the hell is feminist porn?

Some say no porn could ever be feminist. Lots of us disagree. But that doesn't mean we agree on what it is: each filmmaker defines her or his work differently. For me, feminist porn is about character, choice, and consciousness. I like to collaborate with performers on how their sexuality is represented, rather than give them a script or formula to follow. I want to capture complex, three-dimensional beings rather than stereotypes, to create an open environment that's safe for everyone—especially women—to take charge of their pleasure and be able to express their desires freely. I want to represent sex as positive, fun, healthy, and adventurous. I consciously work to create images that contradict (and hopefully challenge) other porn that represents women only as objects and vehicles for male pleasure.

In my chosen porn genre, gonzo (the cinema vérité of porn, unscripted, where the camera is acknowledged), the trend is toward hardcore imagery that supports every anti-porn feminist's claim that porn is degrading and offensive. Its emphasis is on rough (often bordering on hostile) sex, circus-like stunts, and what I call impalement contests (how many things can we fit into how many orifices simultaneously?). I'm not saying all gonzo is bad or all rough sex exploitative by nature, but a lot of it has become very one-sided. The lack of female pleasure in porn just sucks. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble of sticking a girl's head in the toilet, you damn well better give her an awesome orgasm.

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