Who gets to be feminist?

In some ways… the mainstreaming of porn is predicated on the very norms many feminists have argued against: heterosexual, middle-class, fairly conventional sex. Yet we can’t simply dismiss the fact that many porn texts that explicitly represent women’s sexual pleasures are now widely available in the home, on television, and that one doesn’t even need to risk the embarrassment of being seen renting a porn video at the local store in order to receive instructions in the art of cunnilingus… Hence, while criticizing the norms that marginalise some sexual practices, we should also be wary of judging desires and in the process establishing a standard of transgressive sex against which all other forms of sex are castigated as vanilla, straight, co-opted. (Juffer 46)

“We should be wary of judging desires.”


I had a very strong emotional response to this passage, and I’m going to attempt to unpack that rather that engage academically with the text.

I’m queer. I have the “transgressive sex” that is often positioned in opposition to “vanilla, straight, co-opted” sex. I don’t do missionary, definitely not in the dark. My body is a baby-free zone. I fuck like the kinky, queer non-normative person that I am.

And that informs my feminism.

It informs my porn viewing.

It informs my interpretations of feminist porn.

And when I say “informs,” what I really mean is “biases.”

It biases my feminism.

It biases my interpretations of feminist porn.

(I won’t go so far as to say it “biases” my porn viewing because, well, whatever turns you on turns you on and while I do bring my politics into my porn habit, I don’t think that’s necessary. Oh, what the heck – )

It biases my porn viewing.

So when I watched Cabaret Desire by Erika Lust, which won for Best Movie in the 2012 Feminist Porn Awards, and which I am studying for my honours thesis, I thought… wtf? This is not feminist enough for me. This is almost all heterosexual. This is almost all vanilla. This is all cis*, mostly white, clearly middle-class people having pretty conventional sex (except for a couple scenes – and the fact that I ignore them in my gut-reaction is also pretty telling).

See that?

It’s vanilla. It’s straight. It’s cis*. It’s not feminist enough.



In my mind, I have established a “standard of transgressive sex” within porn that vanilla, straight, cis* porn is measured against and found wanting.

Does that mean vanilla folks can’t be feminist?

Does that mean straight folks can’t be feminist?

Does that mean cis* folks can’t be feminist?

When I write those questions out, the obvious answer – the only answer – is obviously yes, any of those folks can be feminist. You can be a straight, white, upper class male and be a feminist. You can be a damn good feminist.

So what does my reaction to Cabaret Desire mean, and how can I make sure I don’t let that bias influence my analysis of the porn?

Basically, I think it means I have an issue I need to unpack, and issue I need to address. I need to recognize that my gut reaction to straight porn is not fair or reasonable. I need to recognize that when my gut says “not feminist enough!” that gut reaction is not good enough to go on.

I said in an earlier post that I know bad porn when I see it. There’s just something “off” about it – about the representations of power, or gender, or consent. My reaction to this text, and to Cabaret Desire, mean that I can’t just let that sit. I still believe that I know bad porn when I see it (and I try not to see it very often) but it’s clear to me, now, that I’m going to have to do a lot more digging to figure out what exactly is triggering my “eww, that’s not feminist porn!” response. And I need to accept that I might not like all the answers.

(And, okay, I need to also own up to the fact that when James Deen and Stoya have straight, vanilla sex… I still find it fucking hot. So. So much for my political porn habit.)

– When I say “cis*” I am including cissexual and cisgender. Cisgender meaning having a gender performance that matches the biological sex you were assigned at birth. And cissexual meaning the sex you were assigned at birth being the right one for you. (For example, crossdressers may be cissexual but not cisgender.) Here is some information on the topic (link is, shockingly, safe for work).

Works Cited:

Juffer, Jane. “There’s No Place Like Home.” More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography and Power. Ed. Pamela Church Gibson. London: British Film Institute, 2004. 45-58. Print.