I’m reading Imagining Safe Space: The Politics of Queer, Feminist and Lesbian Pornography and I am incredibly impressed with Ingrid Ryberg’s work.
One area of tension I have encountered in my own thinking about feminist pornography is how I, as an academic and as a queer feminist, respond to the conflation of queerness and feminism when it comes to pornography. Am I pro- or anti- this issue? I’ve written about this before and I’ll probably come back to it again. What I found in Ryberg’s dissertation, which seems to offer me a new way of viewing this issue, is the idea of an “interpretive community where certain shared knowledge and concerns tie its many different participants together” (18, emphasis hers).
This idea of “interpretive community” seems particularly relevant to my work, because the specific feminism performed by many Feminist Porn Award winners (including Fuckstyles of the Queer and Famous, which is my primary focus) is a queer feminism. The “many participants” here are queer pornographers and viewers, and feminist pornographers and viewers, both of whom are invested in representing sexuality (sexualities) that are diverse, and divergent from the norm.
I have struggled with whether this queer feminism is a “legitimate” performance of feminism, or whether the conflation of queerness with feminism is problematic. I feel that both straight and queer performances of feminism are equally legitimate, but that they are not always mutually beneficial – that straight feminism is valid and deserves recognition and representation and that queer feminism is valid and deserves recognition and representation, but that sometimes those representations act (hopefully unintentionally) to make invisible other performances of feminism.
In the idea of interpretive community I see the potential to view the queer feminist pornography that is recognized by the Feminist Porn Awards, and performed in Fuckstyles, as legitimate by recognizing the specific makeup of the interpretive community it comes out of and is recognized within. This is queer pornography, yes, and its particular feminism is queer feminism. My project, then, becomes one of articulating that specific feminism rather than trying to define all possible feminisms. This seems much more realistic. It also opens the door to answering the question of “what is feminist about feminist pornography” with a vague and dissatisfying “whatever the specific interpretive community making or viewing the pornography says is feminist.” Well, not quite.
Ryberg says that “[t]he anti-porn movement problematized pornography’s role in reproducing and implicating in its viewers gendered power relations and notions of men as subjects and aggressors and women as submissive objects and receivers of male pleasure” (23). It may be possible to articulate the feminism (writ large – the common ground, rather than the specific feminisms) of feminist pornography in opposition to this charge. It is possible to see both straight and queer feminist porn as responding to this charge by producing power relations that do not break along expected gender lines, and notions of men and women (and other genders) that do not fall into the men as aggressors and subjects and women as submissive objects trope. This would be the common ground.
Ryberg cites Alison Butler, who writes that “women produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles” (19). I would expand this to say that marginalized groups (including women, but also including gender variant individuals and men) “produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles.” I am attempting to articulate, in my honours thesis, a hermeneutics of feminist pornography and I have been struggling with the idea of claiming a single “true” interpretation of feminist pornography. I like the idea of articulating a community-specific hermeneutics. It sits much better with me than the idea of defining (or even attempting to define) feminist pornography as a whole. Ryberg states that shared knowledge (such as the knowledge shared by the queer feminist pornographers, porn award body, and viewers of the Feminist Porn Awards and Fuckstyles) is “made up by embodied spectatorial processes and different practices of participation as these take place in specific contexts and situations” (18).
So, as a queer feminist myself, I ‘read’ feminist pornography through a queer feminist lens that makes it easier to recognize feminism when it is coupled with a queer aesthetic (for me, this means questioning biological essentialism, troubling the gender binary, and showing sex acts between individuals who do not fit into the heteronorm). Straight, cisgender feminist pornography does not represent my experience or my feminism and so it is harder to read as feminist.
Similarly, a straight cisgender feminist may feel that the queer feminist porn that speaks to me is not representative of their experience and may struggle to read the feminism in that porn.
Both types of pornography are feminist, but the feminism they perform is not the same. The larger struggle, then, seems to be for all sides to be able to recognize feminism even when it is not their feminism.
Butler, Alison. Women’s Cinema: The Contested Screen. London & New York: Wallflower, 2002.
Ryberg, Ingrid. Imagining Safe Space: The Politics of Queer, Feminist and Lesbian Pornography. Diss. Stockholm University, 2012. Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2012. PDF.