Talking about feminist porn when I might mean ethical porn

The poster’s done, so we can move on.

I have appreciated Furry Girl‘s work for many years. She does amazing sex worker advocacy, and I think she’s brilliant. She’s also an “ex-feminist” and her arguments are among the reasons that I struggle with maintaining a feminist label for myself. (Collapsing much internal debate to a single paragraph: I still identify as a feminist, specifically a sex-positive, queer, intersectional feminist, because I think that systemic gender-based oppression and the devaluing of anything deemed feminine is still a real, significant issue, and calling myself a feminist is one quick, short-hand way of saying “I think that’s fucked up and I will be vocal about my feelings on that topic.” HOWEVER, the argument that feminism means too many conflicting things to be meaningful really resonates with me, and I do really worry that when I say I’m a feminist someone will think that means I agree with Gail Dines. And that makes me sad. And Furry Girl is also a vocal and effective advocate for gender equality and anti-sexism, so a feminist label isn’t actually necessary for the work I want to do.)

Furry Girl wrote a post about “the red herring of feminist porn.” It’s a good post. It raises some relevant points. She says that we should be talking about ethical porn, because talking about feminist porn ignores all the ethical porn being made under anything but a feminist label, and implies that only feminist porn can be ethical porn. I do not believe that porn must be feminist in order to be ethical. I also have some concerns about my own research project because I worry that some porn producers that would not be happy with a feminist label (like Furry Girl herself) are being appropriated under the feminist porn label because my project is feminist porn so the porn I’m looking at must be feminist. I hope that I am not being so arrogant, but I worry that I am.

I also worry about this because Courtney Trouble has gone on the record (I think in Herizons, but I’d have to look it up) as saying that her porn is not feminist porn, it’s queer porn made by a feminist. But she won a Feminist Porn Award for Fuckstyles so I’m writing about her porn in my project on feminist porn. Is that an inappropriate appropriation? Does the fact that she won (and accepted) an FPA mean that I can legitimately write about her porn as feminist?

In my poster, I talk about the fact that my research is not looking at production practices (the treatment of performers that Furry Girl rightly says is critically important). I am limited by what my supervisor has asked me to do in this project, and although I had originally hoped to look at production practices, I can’t. I am doing a film studies-style analysis of what is being performed on screen. Specifically, I’m looking at tropes (things like consent/coercion, agency/passivity, diversity/homogeneity and intimacy/objectification – Furry Girl disagrees that objectification is a thing, and I’m still processing that). I’m looking at how feminist principles are being performed on screen in pornography, both “feminist” pornography and mainstream pornography.

I phrased it as “how feminisms are performed” in my poster because there isn’t a single universal feminism. I was trying to address that issue that Furry Girl brings up so often, about feminism’s fragmentation into too many divergent camps.

I don’t have an answer to this question. I am concerned about generating an ethical research project, which does not just appropriate material under a feminist label because I think that a feminist label is the only way to legitimize it. I would like to find a way to work with my material in a respectful manner, using language that the producer would be comfortable with but still coming up with something coherent.

As is always the case with labeling, whatever I use as a label will, unless I’m very careful and possibly even if I am, end up excluding or devaluing things that are labeled in other ways. I don’t want to pretend (and it would be pretending, because I do not believe it) that feminist porn is the only ethical porn. Just like I don’t believe polyamory is the only ethical non-monogamy.

I appreciate Furry Girl and the discomfort her writing generates for me. I do still use a feminist label, I do still think that my research has value and validity, I do still think that it is reasonable to talk about how porn performs feminisms on screen, but I am aware that there are flaws in my logic and holes in my plan. I think that would be true no matter how I approached it, and I think that’s somewhat inevitable, but I don’t think that absolves me of my responsibility to make sure I face these tough questions rather than avoiding them because they are uncomfortable.

I think feminism is still important.

But I think Furry Girl, and others like her, have some really valid and valuable critiques, and I think that we can’t talk about “feminism” without telling a lie. We are talking about feminisms. Very different, very contradictory feminisms. Some of them are important, I think. Others are incredibly damaging. How do I navigate that? Carefully. And with a lot of transparency about my own positioning, so that there can be no misunderstanding that I am not speaking about feminism in general or feminist porn in general, and so that it is clear that although I’m writing about feminisms in porn, I don’t think that feminist porn is the only ethical porn.

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