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April 5, 2007 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Pro-pornography writings by feminists?

I'm looking for any books/articles/what-have-you written by feminists that support pornography. For purposes of this question, the feminists must also be female.

The more prominent the feminist, the more she's done for the movement, the better. Ideal, for example, would be a woman who marched and protested for women's suffrage in the early 1900's, has written several books on the topic of equal rights, etc. Less ideal but still great is a woman who has written extensively on feminist issues. An article written by a random woman in cosmo does not qualify. She must have some kind of bona fides as an academic or social leader.

The writing itself should do more than just say porn is good (or at least not bad). It should give reasons, and/or refute common feminist reasons (see, e.g., Catharine MacKinnon) for disapproving porn. The more analytic, the better. Thanks!
posted by kingjoeshmoe to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nadine Strossen's Defending Pornography would be a good start.
posted by box at 1:48 PM on April 5, 2007


Do they need to be feminists who like porn or can they be porny types who are also feminists? In the latter case I'd point you to Annie Sprinkle and Susie Bright. There are a ton more links in Wikipedia's Sex Positive Feminism page. They also list Ellen Willis, Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Kathy Acker,Betty Dodson, Candida Royalle, Nina Hartley and Inga Muscio.
posted by jessamyn at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2007


Camille Paglia, for example.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2007


Emma Goldman won't use the exact words you're looking for (since we can't project our ways of thinking about this subject backwards in time) but she was arrested and (I believe) convicted for pornography, she was a proponant of free love and birth control, and had a lot of lovers.

There's millions of contemporary feminist porn fans. Susie Bright might not cut it for your purposes since she's known as a sex advocate rather than as a feminist, but she's going to have super articulate, well-reasoned words on why porn is in fact feminist. She's got a blog.
posted by serazin at 1:51 PM on April 5, 2007


Nevermind, jessamyn's got it.
posted by serazin at 1:51 PM on April 5, 2007


i have no idea if this fits your paradigm all that well, but camille paglia doing an interview with playboy. scroll down to the bottom of this salon article for another response. i'm really not that familiar with her "web presence" since it's been almost ten years since i read anything of hers, but i hope this helps.
posted by phaedon at 1:52 PM on April 5, 2007


Thanks guys, these are all great answers. Jessamyn, to answer your question, I'm looking for feminists who like porn, not the other way around, primarily because I'm not sure they have the bona fides I'm looking for. Also, blogs are helpful, but books or long form journal type articles are probably the best.

Thanks again, ten minutes in and I already have a pretty good list.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:03 PM on April 5, 2007


The problem is defining what a "feminist" is. Is a Feminist anyone who says they are? Or is it something that has to be acknowledged by consensus of other feminists?

There have been cases of "feminists" who have defended controversial positions such as this one, but have been condemned by other feminists who declare that they've betrayed the cause, and proved they're not real feminists after all because of what they said.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:13 PM on April 5, 2007


Lisa Palac?
(Agree with S--, feminist is a slippery word... but so is porn, I guess, "we'll know it if we see it" after all!)
posted by anaelith at 2:19 PM on April 5, 2007


But ooh, looking at the Camille Paglia interview, she is a bit too, what's the word, reviled and confrontational and Fox-Newsish to be helpful. I'm looking for someone who is a member of the feminist movement. That is, someone who is accepted by it.

Strossen's book seems to be right along the lines I'm looking for. In fact, I'm buying a copy now. Keep them coming.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:22 PM on April 5, 2007


Should've previewed. Steven C., if all they've done is "betray the movement", they're not helpful. But if they've laid a groundwork first, by writing earlier feminist writings that were accepted by feminists, they're good. I recognize the terms are slippery.

I guess I want something written by someone who a feminist could not immediately dismiss. Someone who has "earned the right" to be taken seriously even though she's arguing against the more common feminist position, whatever that means.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:31 PM on April 5, 2007


This should help
posted by A189Nut at 3:32 PM on April 5, 2007


Wendy McEldroy's Xxx: A Woman's Right to Pornography is a good resource, and I'm sure that Susan Faludi has had something to say on the matter but I don't have references at hand.
posted by mimi at 3:33 PM on April 5, 2007


As you may have seen already, this is a strongly generational issue, to the extent that most younger feminists would not, I'd venture to say, call sex-positive feminism "controversial."

Another angle is looking at writings by and interviews with feminist porn directors, as in the excellent documentary "Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography" (Becky Goldberg, 2003, USA, 37 minutes); the Feminist Porn Awards; and all the videos produced/released by Blowfish.com.
posted by allterrainbrain at 3:37 PM on April 5, 2007


Here's an excellent Salon article on "Scholars of Smut"

which I found via a Google search for (pornography academic feminism "sex-positive")
posted by allterrainbrain at 3:42 PM on April 5, 2007


Betty Friedan, cofounder of the National Organization for Women and one of the creators of second wave feminism, was until her death on the board of Feminists for Free Expression, a pro-porn feminist group, and she spoke out vehemently against those factions of the feminist movement that sought to restrict porn. I'm not sure to what extent she wrote about those views in her books, but she did an interview with Playboy (see page 102 here) in 1992 in which she described how antiporn laws are a slippery slope to other types of censorship. She didn't believe that porn is wonderful, but she definitely believed that the feminist arguments in favor of legal restrictions on it were far, far worse.

She said, "To introduce censorship in the U.S. in the guise of suppressing pornography is extremely dangerous to women... If antipornography legislation were passed, the first targets of it would be feminist books... giving women control of their own bodies."
posted by decathecting at 3:54 PM on April 5, 2007


If you can make it through her (IMO) clunky prose, Amanda Marcotte has described herself as a "porn liberal." You might even try emailing her directly, though don't tell her I called her prose clunky.

Feministing might be another good spot to find such resources.
posted by hifiparasol at 4:06 PM on April 5, 2007


Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America by Laura Kipnis is an excellent read.
She's an academic (and has tons of feminist cred within the academe) but I don't know if she ever engaged in much activism.
posted by chickletworks at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


After glancing over my bookshelves, I also remembered Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture by Nan Hunter and Lisa Duggan. It has one of the best rebuttals to the anti-porn MacKinnon camp that I've ever read.

Nan Hunter literally wrote the book on feminist jurisprudence.
posted by chickletworks at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2007


I can't search for it here while I'm at work, but the original book that blew the lid open on the feminist sex wars in the 1980s was Caught Looking, a collection of essays (and great shots from porn of all ages). More about sexuality general, but with some touching on porn, are the academic anthologies of the same era, Pleasure and Danger, and another one that had a hot pink cover and was called either The Power of Desire or The Politics of Desire. Start here for the history of the feminist sex wars.

I was a feminist at Barnard College in 1983, so this kind of stuff was a big deal (the Barnard Conference was the site of a big face-off between anti-porn radical feminists and a group of BDSM lesbians - I got there the year after that). It's weird to talk to gay/bi/BDSM women just 10 years younger than me who've never even heard of this stuff and take it for granted that they don't have to conform to some idealized vision of politically correct sexuality to be a feminist.
posted by matildaben at 5:27 PM on April 5, 2007


Thanks all. For the record, I bought both of the books mentioned by box and chickletworks. Matildaben, I had no idea there was a great feminist battle on this topic.

Best set of answers I've ever gotten to a question I asked on this site. (Except maybe for the zombie movie recommendations. It's a tossup.) You all rock.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:38 PM on April 5, 2007


Early 1900s - that would be Colette, and Anais Nin, and Emma Goldman. Margaret Sanger. (Her pamphlets on birth control were banned as pornography.) I'm not that familiar with the work of first-wave feminists, but I know many of them wrote some very powerful stuff about women's sexuality. Elizabeth Blackwell - not porn, I don't think, but she produced some impassioned pro-masturbation writing.

Anyone who promotes women's rights to control our own bodies and determine our own sexuality *is* a feminist. These are not two different questions, though not all feminists accept that pornography represents women's authentic desires for themselves and thus do not treat it the same way as they do other themes within feminism like the ability to control resources, earn an income, refuse a sexual partner, choose a sexual partner, enjoy sex, use birth control, participate in political processes, have access to recourse against violence, represent themselves in a court of law, earn an education, and so on. However, even those feminists sceptical of sex work as a means of empowering women have pretty consistently supported the women who do that work and supported the rights of women to talk about their experiences as sex workers.

If you meant the early 1980s (and the Sex Wars thereof) you really need to learn more about the history of feminism. That was the time that the second wave was giving way to the third wave, and the concept of "feminism" being a single entity that would bind all women together across class, race, national, religious and national barriers was crumbling. (See also the Combahee River Collective Statement. And, "All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of us are Brave.")

The feminists who were most vocal in support of women's participation in porn when Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller were condemning extreme and mundane forms of cumpulsory heterosexuality were mostly feminists who were doing their work specifically in the field of sexuality. (What was Betty Dodson doing?) That is where their field work was. You can't say "feminists who qualified as feminists in the 1980s by chaining themselves to fences to claim the vote." That just wasn't what was happening then. COYOTE was (is?) a feminist organisation.

Camille Paglia of course was completely derisive of Andrea Dworkin, but she is one of those postmodern third-wave representational "feminists" who I just can't get my head around. I admit that I don't understand her so perhaps she is a feminist, but from my perspective as a second-wave sex-positive feminist Ms. Paglia is yer basic sex-positive misogynist.

I don't think you'll have to look hard at all to find feminists who supported free speech at any time, in particular the freedom of women to exchange information about their own sexuality. You just might need to rethink your question to find them.
posted by kika at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Phew! Late to the show, and the coolest thing is you all beat me to my big favs on this topic. MeFi on Rocky Road vs. Vanilla, I'm impressed.
posted by kch at 8:54 PM on April 5, 2007


I would check out Susie Bright. Here are some relevant postings from her blog.
posted by nuclear_soup at 9:20 PM on April 5, 2007


Tales from the Clit especially if you're interested in personal essays and/or the UK-based perspective of Feminists Against Censorship.
posted by holgate at 11:01 PM on April 5, 2007


Here's the link for Caught Looking (a few copies for about $40 used), as well as an excerpt from a 1987 review from The Nation. I'm hanging on to my copy - paging through the pictures just now reminded me of how influential it was on my incipient 19-year-old sexuality.

A little bit more on the background to the feminist sex wars - it was a reaction against a certain influential strain of radical (mostly lesbian) feminism which, based on the mantra "the personal is political" and a poorly-understood appropriation of the Marxist idea of "false consciousness", combined with the heady enthusiasm of revolutionaries who believe that if they change the way people think they can change the world, believed that sexuality which involved penetration, "objectification", or anything which could be interpreted as involving inequality or domination, was a tool of the patriarchy and must be rejected - and that women who admitted enjoying these forms of sexuality must be tagged as counterrevolutionary and "not real feminists". Nowadays (especially thanks to the work of the pro-sex feminists of the time), we can see what BS that is, but at the time it was a pretty influential idea in some circles.
posted by matildaben at 7:37 AM on April 6, 2007


Susie Bright is, of course, also a great resource. She was definitely a trailblazer on the western front of the sex wars, starting the first lesbian porn magazine in San Francisco in the 1980s, and helping to bust open taboos in the lesbian community about dildos, BDSM, and bisexuality.

And I can't believe that no one has mentioned Pat Califia yet. Sapphistry is another founding text, as is the Coming to Power anthology, and Public Sex contains a lot of his (formerly her) seminal essays.
posted by matildaben at 7:46 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hi there, Jessamyn told me to check in over here, and I'm glad she did, because it's interesting to read your recommendations.

I'd like to make the frothing essentialist case for "Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography, and Censorship" edited by Jaker, Hunter, O'Dair, Ellis and Tallmer. THe ISBN is: 0942986121.

I spelled it out like that because there is another newer book of erotica with a similiar name that would really puzzle you if you tried to find any politics in it.

I read C.L. once every couple of years, and it still blows me away how fiercely original and bold it is; the quality of the thinking and writing is just superb. They were the first "East Coast" women, and group that included "straight women," who I ever met who were doing something about the absurd ways women were discussed vis a vis porn. I visited them in mid-production in the mid-80s and worked on some of the photography we included.

The one drawback the book has for me is that even though the photographs and graphics were as scrupulously selected and designed for the book as the prose, the printing is so bad that most of the reproductions are mud.

If I had the money, I'd reprint this book the way it should have been, in hardback, with great repro, in print forever. It's a classic, I don't know how anyone is teaching about porn or feminism in the academy without it.

I have a couple essays I wrote, that you might want to check out:

"The Prime of Miss Kitty MacKinnon"

And an obit for Andrea Dworkin

My feminist activism coincided with my puberty and sexual awareness. In the early 70s, feminism and sexual liberation were both part of radical, street-marching, gun-toting, c.r.-group-attending ideology. I never considered them seperate, before the "sex wars." And I devoured Emma Goldman at the time. What an inspiration for a 15 year old! I recommend her to every teenager!

Susie
posted by susiebright at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2007 [33 favorites]


Heather Corinna is pretty cool.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:57 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Susie,

It's awesome that you chipped into this conversation. Most of the comments so far recommended that the original poster read your work, so to have you appear to share your own suggestions was really a thrill.

I hope lots of folks find your comment - since this thread is a couple days old some folks might miss it.

PS - I loved your Dworkin obit. You did a fantastic job voicing what a lot of us felt at the time. Andrea Dworkin is still one of my favorite feminist authors - probably a lot of that is nostalgia for when I first read her and realized that there were a lot of ways of thinking about women and sexuality than I had ever considered, and also for the hard-coreness of her ideology that you talk about in your article - and I loved how you captured the complex set of feelings that a contemporary feminist with a sense of history feels towards Andrea.'

Anyhow, thanks!
posted by serazin at 1:40 PM on April 6, 2007


Nobody's mentioned Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick? I mean, if you're looking for intellectual bona fides. Of course her studies are in Queer Theory, but her work is still relevant to your question, I think.

A little bit more on the background to the feminist sex wars - it was a reaction against a certain influential strain of radical (mostly lesbian) feminism which, based on the mantra "the personal is political" and a poorly-understood appropriation of the Marxist idea of "false consciousness", combined with the heady enthusiasm of revolutionaries who believe that if they change the way people think they can change the world, believed that sexuality which involved penetration, "objectification", or anything which could be interpreted as involving inequality or domination, was a tool of the patriarchy and must be rejected - and that women who admitted enjoying these forms of sexuality must be tagged as counterrevolutionary and "not real feminists". Nowadays (especially thanks to the work of the pro-sex feminists of the time), we can see what BS that is, but at the time it was a pretty influential idea in some circles.

Not quite. The movement itself splintered-- and was already splintering by the 70s-- on class and race lines, not just on interpretations of sexual practice, and those battles had far more effect in changing the nature of 80s feminism than the sex wars did (though the porn battles got more media play). The fear that practices such as SM modelled the oppression found in society at large, rather than being a form of play with controllable content, were not illegitimate for those who, at first, had a hard time understanding that such activity was one in which women might participate willingly and pleasurably. The radical-lesbian feminism you refer to was not the trigger which started a sex-positive reaction (and I dislike the term, as there's nothing in feminism that's sex-negative), but the beginning of it. Mainstream, middle-class feminists, who were busy lobbying for the ERA and filing sexual discrimination lawsuits and trying to battle representations of women in the media were often taken aback by the radicals in all their variations (most of whom were still aligned with various flavours of for lack of a better term socialist/revolutionary politics). (The "personal is political" was a call from the very beginning of the movement in the 1960s, and is still relevant as an analytical tool, but we needn't go there.) The battles within the movement were perhaps best thought of as priorities: what's more important-- removal of female quotas from law and medical schools, or trying to control women's status and freedom by trying to control certain types of sexual representation, such as violent pornography? Dworkin's Right Wing Women argued that sexual expression was a lower priority, as a whole, than issues which she saw affected women cross-gender (patriarchy, children, financial autonomy). Also, a good part of the fight against censorship was a practical and historical one: that it would be feminist publications themselves, rather than mainstream porn, that would be targeted. This, of course, at least in Canada, turned out to be true. Many of the women arguing against censorship were not necessarily pro-porn; they were against restriction on the freedom of information.

I just don't think the debate over porn is over, personally. It's too huge an industry, too powerful a thing; and the original feminist insight that representations of women can largely determine women's self-regard and ambitions is still relevant. I think the question remains open; when you refer to having to "conform to some idealized vision of politically correct sexuality", what is worse: conforming to a sexuality that's defined by political ideals, or conforming to a physical ideal of porn, one both impossible and unrealistic (or rather hoping to conform and inevitably failing)? I don't think either is desirable.
posted by jokeefe at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


How about Linda Williams? Her 1990 book (2nd ed. 2000) Hard Core is pretty interesting. She's particularly useful in that she focuses precisely on the sort of porn that feminist critics found unredeemable: BDSM girl-on-the-bottom porn.
posted by LMGM at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2007


While not really answering the question, can I put in a good word here for 'The Other Hollywood: An oral history of the porn industry' by Legs McNeill and Jennifer Osborne. I don't remember reading another book that I enjoyed as much in the last twelve months.

It really portrays the growth of the industry in all its messy paradoxical complexity, and shows that women were often equal participants in creating the porn industry, and not just the passive victims that some commentators would have us believe.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2007


Thanks so much for stopping by, Susie.

I well recall your Andrea Dworkin obituary post. I've linked to it often and mentioned it here on MetaFilter a number of times. The response and discussion in the comments was very good, too, and I've linked to Nina Hartley's excellent comment a number of times.

jokeefe's comment above is important and insightful, I think. The situation is complex and the feminist criticism of pornography is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago when I first became a feminist. Indeed, it's more relevant as changing mores and the Internet make porn far more pervasive in our culture than it was then.

And yet—I describe myself as "sex-positive" and Susie is one of my heroes. I have to disagree with jokeefe as I think there definitely was a component of sex-negativism in the theoretical feminism of the early 80s. It seems to me that it's not an accident that this particular variety of feminism with its view of sex was a North American phenomenon. Our culture is so deeply drenched with its Puritanical baggage that an anti-sexuality view is found everywhere, all across the political spectrum. While I could not close my eyes and ignore the truths about how cultural sexism and misogyny play out in the realm of sexual activity and its representation, the dark and angry shroud cast over, seemingly, almost all sexuality by these theorists seemed also oppressive and life-denying. The theorists, in general, did not offer any sort of satisfactory alternative. But, in my opinion, sex-positive feminism did and does. And sex-positive feminist porn that celebrates carnality and freedom of sexual expression makes a very important statement about how things could be.

Sadly, to some degree that's a fantasy world. Sure, within some limited subcultures the sex-positive movement and the feminism related to it have carved out some areas where sexism and misogyny are much more rare and sexual expression in all its varieties celebrated. But I'm not sure how much advancement there is in the greater culture. For example, there's the current discussion about how, in the rough-and-tumble world of blogging, women are routinely sexually harassed and graphic descriptions of rape are used as a rhetorical device to silence them. Then, too, we have the burgeoning trend of Girls Gone Wild, which Susie and others have discussed. In the minds of many young women, sexual freedom just so happens to be almost identical to the desire of the male gaze. Is this advancement?

My sense is that in the coming ten years we'll see a return to the critique of conventional sexuality in feminist discourse. What I hope to see is a convergence of forces, with this (again) much-needed critique going hand-in-hand with the alternatives suggested by the sex-positivists. The two movements need to join forces and be more culturally aggressive. My intuition says this will happen because the cultural shifts we've seen in the last fifteen years demand it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:29 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine was part of Kiss and Tell in Canada (lesbian porn performance art group that did battle with government censors) -- their book might be of interest.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:29 AM on April 9, 2007


EB: Thanks for the props. (And I owe you an email in the worst way; I apologize.)

ClaudiaCenter: I know the women in Kiss and Tell also-- they've done some very interesting work.
posted by jokeefe at 11:41 AM on April 10, 2007


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