What IS feminist porn? An Interview with Jackie Strano
What is "Feminist Porn"?
My definition: Feminist Porn is when the partner getting penetrated has a fully embodied orgasm and experiences intense pleasure onscreen in a non-traditional/industry-type formulaic cookie-cutter scripted way. Feminist porn usually stands apart because it showcases diversity in performers with all gender, ethnicities, and sexual orientations included and/or featured. Feminist porn portrays sex in a way that in my opinion is generally focused more on authentic, raw, and sometimes more intimate sex and ethically minded production crews and sets. Another highlight of feminist porn is that it's often produced by independent videographers though some movie-makers work with established industry production houses to produce alternative images as well.
Who started feminist porn, if one person or group did? How did it get popular? How long has it been around?
There is a long thread of history here. Feminist Porn didn't just burst from the clam shell like Venus but there were some pioneers and trailblazers who paved the way. I would suggest checking out Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography, a documentary by Becky Goldberg released in 2003. From a queer historical perspective I co-produced and curated a clip show with my partner, Shar Rednour, that debuted in San Francisco several years ago and some clips of feminist made erotic imagery dates back to the late 60's. Our show is called Lesbo Retro and the focus is on lesbian and queer identified filmmakers and images and all were independently produced. It must be made clear that Feminist porn is not exclusively queer identified though proportionally there are more queer identified filmmakers and performers in this genre. Some pioneers and trailblazers from the 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's are Honey Lee Cottrell, Tee Corinne, Nan Kinney, Deborah Sundahl, Candida Royale, Nina Hartley, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright, Carol Queen, Shar Rednour and myself and Tristan Taormino.
When Shar and I won an AVN award in 2001, our movies were called 'Nueva Porn' by the industry... we called ourselves feminists but the F word wasn't being used by the mainstream yet... then a few years later starting in the mid to later 2000's, movie makers like Shine Louise Houston, Good Vibrations' Sex Positive Productions, Erika Lust, Madison Young, Courtney Trouble, and others came along to add to the burgeoning movement and help fuel the "queer porn" revolution though once again not every movie or movie maker identified as queer but the common thread was self-identifying or being branded by others as a Feminist Pornographer. I would like to acknowledge some performers who have also challenged the norm in alternative movies or by appearing in mainstream features, folks like Jiz Lee, April Flores, Dylan Ryan, Billy Castro, Sophia St. James, Buck Angel as well as trans-identified movie makers and performers who make the political very personal. The Feminist Porn Awards started in 2006 by Toronto retailer Good For Her to award current titles at the time for their showcasing of diversity and feminist-centric perspectives. It should be noted that several feminist pornographers have worked independently outside of the industry and in true feminist spirit, funded and produced their own images out of political reasons to showcase diverse sexualities and gender representation far from the industry norm. Several directors and stars have also worked within the industry to help create new alternatives especially around sex education. Good Vibrations once again continues the tradition with their production arm, Good Releasing and their imprint of Pleasure-Ed explicit sex education movies continues the tradition.
A documentary, Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography by Becky Goldberg was released in 2003. The film "takes a rare and empowering look into the pornography industry and feminist community to see how they intertwine within the politics and poetics of female sexuality. It shows women who are committed to making and supporting pornography that includes their feminist values and will go up against an entire industry, stereotypes, and sexism to get what they want."
What would you say to critics who argue that porn is sexist and degrading to women?
Personally I think a huge and vast majority of porn is very sexist and degrading but not ALL. You can't just lump it all together. That's too easy to do and is a cop-out when trying to justify silencing people for expressing their desires. It's just not a factual statement to say all porn is degrading. Some porn is actually produced by people who can't find or don't see their sexuality, ethnicity, body type, gender or sexual identity expressed anywhere else and they are empowered by making images of either themselves or their friends having authentic expressions of desire. At Good Vibrations, we have filtered through quite a lot of movies to help guide you on a quest for more feminist porn. We have always supported independent movie makers.
Why do you think feminist porn is a good thing?
To showcase a viable alternative and to feature authentic pleasure. If more consumers of porn came out of the closet about watching and buying porn and demanded more alternatives and better quality then it's my belief that we would see more feminist type images out there. I always thought you had to educate a little before you are allowed to entertain but thankfully some of the tide is changing and we hear from customers directly about what they would like to see. The recent "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon is a good example of how one thing can spark a conversation or give you permission to explore and say out loud what you really want. Watching movies together that you both feel good about can help you and your partner communicate about sex, your desire, shared experiences, and help broaden your sexual repertoire.
Do you think EVERYONE could benefit from watching feminist porn? If so, why? Or, who, in particular, might benefit?
Oh I don't know about everyone... obviously we are talking about consenting adults here but I think that the critics who rail against the evils of porn need to see a better cross-sample before they damn us all to hell for watching a woman have a real orgasm in a way that she wants to have one. Anti-porn activists and self-proclaimed feminists who seek to liberate women from the chains of patriarchy focus on hot button issues like porn that depict women in degrading ways. Porn is a very easy target to demonstrate how we all must 'protect' women. A lot of porn is just too easy to single out because it relies on sexual shame for its context. Also, not every performer is willing to stand up and say I make sex movies for a living because they know they might be put in jail, lose their children, or be rejected by family and friends. Not every porn performer is in the industry for a revolutionary or political act. Not every porn producer is thinking about changing the world or educating the masses. Wouldn't it be great if we all could say we love watching porn or explicit sex movies and scenes without having any retribution? Wouldn't it be great if performers were paid really well and always treated superbly? Religions and politics usually rely on sexual shaming to keep people in check especially around sexuality. Feminist pornographers seek to showcase images of lovers releasing themselves and each other from shame.
How is feminist porn in keeping with Good Vibrations' larger mission?
Good Vibrations believes that Pleasure Is Your Birthright -- it's been our mantra since 1977, and our other slogan is Promoting Sexual Health and Pleasure. It's a revolutionary act to use a vibrator and have an orgasm especially for the first time whether you are 22 or 82. It's not all about couples sex. I want to add that feminist porn strives to help educate different communities and is also very beneficial in showing safe ways to have sex… for example, gay men learn a lot about gay sex via porn which stereotypically does not showcase communication, lubrication, and condom use which are essential ingredients to safe anal play and not all gay men always engage in anal play either. We want to educate and entertain. We want to help people find their true authentic self when it comes to sexual expression and identity. Feminist porn echoes or emphasizes that sentiment.
Why is feminist porn important in today's world/today's culture?
At the very least feminist porn in of itself demands an acknowledgement of other sexualities, identities, power paradigms, orientations, and depictions of authentic sexual desire. I am not just talking about queer porn, I am talking about hetero-normative depictions too but maybe things get flipped a little. Maybe he's the one penetrated instead. I have always thought that maybe the world will change just a little bit... maybe the axis will shift ever so slightly and the power paradigm will balance just a little more if more men experienced penetration and more women could ejaculate. Just saying.
Jackie Strano is the Executive Vice President of Good Vibrations. She and partner Shar Rednour founded S.I.R. Video Productions in the 90's and debuted their production company with the creation of the critically acclaimed, best-selling, and pop culture influencing Bend Over Boyfriend series. Their ode to Butch/Femme desire (Hard Love & How to Fuck In High Heels) won an AVN Best Feature Award in 2001. Strano and Rednour guest-directed scenes in Pleasure-Ed Series' GUSH: The Official Guide to Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot. They have been featured in mainstream publications including COSMO and Playboy and in documentaries including HBO's series: Pornocopia: Down in the Valley, UK's Channel 4's documentary, The Truth About Lesbian Sex, Hot & Bothered: Feminist Pornography, and KRON TV's The History of Sex in San Francisco among others. Shar is featured on audible.com and on Swirl Radio.