Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A vision of new porn girls

The women’s porn market is growing: more women are producing it, and more women are
watching it (Goldberg 2003, Achille 2005, Milne 2005, Rutter 2007). At the same time, anti porn
feminists continue to accuse porn of being degrading to women, reducing them to sexual
objects for men. Thus the anti-porn and pro-sex debate between feminists continues. In the
United States, the two camps are most vocally represented in the popular media by Ariel
Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005), and the CAKE movement, with its handbook
devoted to the sexual pleasures of modern women. According to Levy, the CAKE movement
is symptomatic of a current trend equating raunchy with empowered. It all comes down to
performance for men rather than pleasure for oneself, argues Levy (Levy 2005). She blames
the consumer industry for exploiting the conflation of raunchy with empowered, and for
promoting the new porn chic with its simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality as
evidence of the sexually liberated and personally empowered. Her critique of porn is that, as a commercialized superficial version of sex, it can never give you the real thing: “no matter
how much porn you watch you will end up with a limited knowledge of your own sexuality
because you still won’t know how these things feel” (ibid., 185, Levy’s emphasis). CAKE’s
critique of porn, on the other hand, is that “there’s simply a lack of it tailored to the female
eye. We want to see ourselves on-screen and identify with the subject” (Gallagher & Kramer
2005, 180).

In my own investigation of porn made by women, I looked for porn that presents a
picture with which women today can identify. I found that some female porn producers are
successful at re-visioning porn this way,2 creating a discourse that reflects a time of growing
gender equality in which gender roles are becoming less rigid. Seeing, on the one hand, the

*This article is published in Generation P? Youth, Gender and Pornography. Eds. Susanne V. Knudsen, Lotta
Löfgren-Mårtenson & Sven-Axel Månsson. Copenhagen: Danish University of Education Press, 2007. 221-237.
 *I use this term (“re-vision”) as Linda Williams defines it to connote the more substantive revisions of porn
made by women, that for a woman implies “transforming oneself from sexual object to sexual subject of representation” (Williams 1989, 232).

Growing popularity and legitimacy of porn: now that it has joined books and sex-toys on
shelves in shops catering to women, and has found its way onto college campuses as an
accepted field of study,3—and, on the other hand, the lingering experiences of gender
inequality and oppressive gender roles as reported by young women today,4 I believe it is
worth considering what porn can offer young women (and men) as they try to establish and
express their gendered identities in a world that is itself shifting in its boundaries.

In this global mobile wireless-online age, new technologies are connecting the world
in new ways. Even so, it is necessary to consider different cultural contexts, and thereby the
need for different discourses. As we shall see, the porn that speaks to young women in the
United States is not necessarily the same as the porn that speaks to a young female
Scandinavian audience. Comparing the two can inform us not only about different pressing
issues in different parts of the world; it also demonstrates the significance of provisional
discourse, i.e. how new or revised porn, even if imperfect, can provide a stepping stone in a
specific time and place to a certain group or population.

In this article, I look at porn made by women in the United States and Europe. In each
case, porn is analyzed as discourse and as film. I begin by presenting and discussing these
terms in further detail. Then I present my analyses. Finally, I return to the question of the
possible negative and positive functions of porn.