The Good for Her Feminist Porn Awards are this weekend. The fabulous Nica Noelle, who is nominated for a million of them and whose films you should start watching immediately, has a post on the Huffington Post explaining why she is not actually, as she is often taken to be, a feminist pornographer. Now in general artists should be free to decide how they should be described and what genre they belong to, and it is not really anyone’s place to tell them their wrong.
But I don’t care. I’m going to tell Ms Noelle she’s wrong. She’s a feminist pornographer whether she likes it or not.
In essence, Ms Noelle’s argument is this: feminism is a term describing a female-centred political movement devoted to certain specific ideals, promoting a certain conception of women’s identity and their position in society. But “feminist porn” doesn’t actually make any kind of political statement, the people who make it may not believe in all of those ideals, and its audience is not predominantly or even primarily women. Therefore the term is a misnomer.
If we take the term literally, that may be true. But should we? The term feminist porn has become an easy shorthand. It may be a little hard to define what it is. Tristan Taormino defines it as porn that’s produced a certain way. But the average viewer doesn’t know anything about how a particular film is made, and anyway a porn film could be degrading in its content and still treat the performers well and have great snacks. I would suggest that for most people, the term means something like “porn that features real sex and doesn’t degrade women”. And if most people who hear the term know what it refers to, more or less, then it is a helpful term of classification, quite apart from what a literal analysis of the words themselves might suggest.
I see it as sort of like “alternative rock”. When I was a kid, that term meant something distinct — music that was too hard, too rough to get played on the radio, and which it was assumed no one besides a few pothead punks like me and my friends would listen to. Now it basically means any music that isn’t churned out by the soulless corporate hit machine. I have satellite radio and there are two hundred channels. The programmers need an easy way of telling me what station to listen to. Bands always complain about being classified — I’ve read a million interviews where some band will complain how much they hate being categorised. But in a world of a zillion albums there needs to be a quick way of saying: “If you like this music, you will probably also like this…” So the music I like gets called “alternative”, even though, in a world of rap, dance, folk, etc, it isn’t really an alternative to anything.
The term feminism is also one I, like a lot of people, attach positive connotations to. Not everyone does – an issue that is too complicated to get into here. (I think most of the things people think they hate about feminists are just things that the anti-feminists have managed to associate feminism with. But never mind.) The point is, the people who don’t like the term are probably going to mostly be the people who will hate feminist pornography. So the term is annoying exactly the right people. And given the term’s mostly-positive connotations, “feminist porn” is sort of like Corinthian leather. There isn’t any actual leather made in Corinth – it’s made in Newark – but Chrysler invented the term to make people want to buy the cars that used it.
In short, it’s a brand. But it’s a good brand, that Ms Noelle would have had to pay a marketing firm a lot of money to create and associate with her work. So my advice (which she didn’t ask for) is: embrace it. And of course good luck at the awards. She will probably clean up.
Image: A still from His Mother’s Lover (2012), a film by Nica Noelle