Monday, 18 June 2007

Women and Pornography seminar

So last week I choked up some cash, took a day off and went to an open seminar on Women and Pornography over at Sunderland University. Apart from the excitement of catching a glimpse of a couple of never-seen-before northern cities (or is Sunderland a town?), I was pretty excited about the speakers and potential for really honest, open discussion. I don't know; when you know you've got hardcore anti-porns present, you're always on your guard, always having to backpeddle and clarify, often self-censoring to some extent. And there was none of that. Perhaps the lack of speakers with opposing views, again, kept people away, but anyway, debating whether porn should exist wasn't the point of the seminar.

I was supposed to meet DemRed of Backlash up there, but in the end she couldn't make it, so I prepared and reminded myself of a few word-for-word details of the 'extreme' porn proposals. I get tongue-tied sometimes and forget details in any kind of public speaking context, so I'm pretty glad I did.

It's quite nerveracking - walking into a place where you feel like a beginner in this game, like you don't quite know the language and will make obvious blundering errors that you know will show you off to be the tourist you are. But actually, it's easy to get over that in the company of 'fun' feminist academics, because they're often as informal as you about these things.

Plus, there were only twenty of us, or a few less, so it's hard to feel the same way I've done when asking what are probably dumbass questions in a huge auditorium.

The other thing that confused me was realising it was going to be a women-only space. I didn't really get that. If you're going to try and educate a male-dominated industry into budging a few inches, wouldn't it be good to have a few men in the room?

Anyway, it was hosted by Clarissa Smith, who caught me just as I was going to sneak off for a slightly illegal roll up round the corner, and was incredibly welcoming to me throughout the whole thing.

So we got the whole Backlash bit over with and I could relax. Most people there had been following the campaign to some degree and knew what we were about, so there weren't many questions, and I got a chance to talk about certain aspects of the legislation to prosecute against possession when it was relevant. All the talks prompted me to think more about what could/could not be perceived as 'serious violence' whether consensual or not. The law has not yet, as far as I'm aware, been passed. Though sometimes they slip these things through, apparently. So we shall see.

Feona Attwood presented her research on alt and independent porn. A few sites have been perved through. Mmm. A lot of stuff I knew about, and some I didn't. She talked about how many of the sites like nofauxxx or bellavendetta have proper manifestos of a kind - an aim to disrupt and transgress in some way. In some ways, I agreed with her, perhaps it's sad these pornmakers are putting out disclaimers about their work. Why is it necessary to spell out their politics when it's quite often obvious what their aim is in the imagery you see them use?

Later we heard from Anna Span, Britain's first female pornmaker, and watched a few of her clips. Interestingly, she told us that her background is quite academic, and she originally wanted to go into mainstream or indie feminist film making, and then decided that she liked sex and film, so she'd make some porn. And it's funny, clever porn, even though it's not quite what gets me off. It's not 'porn for women', quite, but porn from a female perspective. She showed us how she uses very different camera angles and shots from a lot of male made porn, how she pays attention to music and fashion, and the few lines of dialogue give some formation of character and wit, so her porn actors are kind of relateable humans. So, I don't know. Feminist porn? Who knows that's supposed to mean. Humanist porn, absolutely. So, um, yeah, apparently that's not for me. Not sure how I feel about that admission. I've been thinking a little about my own porn consumption, too. I do watch quite a lot of porn, mostly because I find watching people playing and fucking in various ways, by various means, interesting. And then there's the stuff I could never just show at a seminar or conference because I know I'd end up a puddle on the floor.

Anyway, went for a much needed cig break. I went trundling into the bogland again, but fortunately the other smokers had found another sneaky patch of hiding, so I went over and tried not to be a blundering idiot. And it was good! Talked a bit about queer SM, psychosexual therapy, psychiatry, painful looking porn orgasms and other such joys. Was not too blundering. All was well.

Clarissa ended the day with a talk on women who watch porn, and the body vs. mind. We all noticed that women tend to have more of a speech prepared about why they watch porn, as if there's some disclaimer to be made. Sort of like the indie pornmakers, really. We all have our own little defensive speech prepared. We have to justify why it's a valuable use of our time. Well, fuck that in the ear. It's got boring justifying why it really is okay that women watch porn. We're not going to turn into the evil jezebels people imagine. Or at least, those of us who didn't have jezebel-like tendencies already. I suppose it's just the madonna/whore thing. I do know a few women who really enjoy sex but are incredibly secretive about that fact. Where does that get them?

Perhaps there's STILL a danger that a sexually upfront woman is just a weeny bit too scary. Perhaps the women in Clarissa's survey preferred their interest in porn to be a secret. But my female friends? Jeez, we talk sex pretty openly. Three of us in a house of four owned porn and watched it quite often. Most of my friends at least read erotica. But, I don't know, there seems to be a reluctance to talk about the experience of watching porn - the physical experience, perhaps. I'd love that to change.

Glad I went.


The Falconer said...

But, I don't know, there seems to be a reluctance to talk about the experience of watching porn - the physical experience, perhaps. I'd love that to change.

Isn't that just as true of men, though? Maybe it's different in some circles, but I can't imagine any of my male friends being any more specific that a vague confirmation that they might have watched some porn.

But then, I don't actually watch any myself, so maybe I just move in different circles!

verte said...

You're right, perhaps even more so. I'd be interested to ask some vanilla male friends why they watch porn and what they get out of it. I suppose I just meant her survey seemed to indicate that a lot of women who watch porn don't quite feel able to say 'well, it's horny and it gets me off'. They seemed to feel they had to give reasons other than that - pathologise it, in a way.

thene said...

Perhaps I just know some really crazy men, or maybe I only hear these things because I play the butch card, but at least a half-dozen of my male friends have spoken to me about the porn they watch - about specific films, about their porny social circle (the people they share porn with, either online or offline), about how to hack into members-only porn sites, etc.

I think the 'I like porn' disclaimer may be somewhat situational; in fandom, I've seen far more of the converse - women defensively justifying why they don't read sex, write sex, or why they don't do slash or other semi-sexual stuff. The occasional 'I like porn' fan-declarations tend to be far from defensive (<3 Paxnirvana). I guess the expectations of a sex-positive, 90% female community are different to those you find in the real world.

verte said...

Oh, men will talk to me about what kind of porn they watch, give recommendations, etc, they just seem to shrug off the 'whys'. Do you play the butch card? Have I seen the butch card? As a matter of fact, though, I've had people call me butch, which is confusing in a way.

The women I know watch porn with some degree of guilt, including me sometimes, to be honest. Perhaps it's because women are more vocal about why they don't watch porn that we feel the need to justify it? I don't know.

D.B. said...

Sunderland is a city, not a town. I prefer Newcastle or Middlesbrough...

Gosh it's a small world. You were on my LJ friends list about six or seven years ago, part of a select group which included Mark, Hannie and Elizabeth. (I've kept in touch with Mark, was supposed to be seeing the Manics in Brighton with him recently.) I found this blog through the Socialist Unity blog. I'm David, you may or may not remember me as a keen football fan and a Smiths fan!

This sounds like a very interesting conference, glad you enjoyed it ... Everyone at the Cultural Studies centre at Sunderland is very friendly and laid back and it always seems to be a welcoming atmosphere. No pretence or intimidation. I've been an undergraduate and a postgraduate there (possibly soon to be a research student), so I know Clarissa Smith and her work. She's a very nice lady. Was Angela Werndly there as well? They run a great module on the MA course about this kind of stuff. Clarissa's article is available here:

Anyway, keep up the good work with your blog and BDSM stuff. I've read up on your struggles and it's very interesting. Don't let the bastards grind ya down.