Are Women Coming Out on Top of the Porn Industry?

live nude girlsA recent prime time special about the economics of the porn industry got me thinking about feminist views on porn and what increased revenues mean for the position of women within the porn industry (pun totally intended).

Porn is Big Business
Pornography is a $13 billion dollar a year industry. According to the CNBC special “Porn: The Business of Pleasure,” the porn industry is so large that every second of every day

  • $3,075 is spent on it
  • More than 28,000 Internet users are viewing it
  • 372 Internet users are using search engines to find it
  • And every 39 minutes, a new porn video is being produced in the U.S.

However, the economic recession has caused DVD sales to decline by 50%.  And unfettered access to the internet means that movies are no longer the driving force behind the porn industry – internet videos are.  Anyone can make a video of themselves having sex, upload it to the internet, and then grant people access for free or for much less than the cost of a DVD.

Women on Top
One of the upsides of the recent trends in the porn industry is that women are starting to rise to the top. According to CNBC:

These days, women aren’t just in front of the camera. They’re behind the scenes running studios, directing films and starting the next generation of adult companies . . . Joy King is VP of Special Projects at Wicked Pictures. She started in porn 24 years ago as a single mother working for a company that distributed G-rated kids movies. She switched to the porn industry for the promise of higher pay. Today, King says she knows her audience and caters her movies more toward women. “I try and tell my directors I want a stronger female lead…I don’t want it to be all about the guy.”

Feminist Porn?
Despite the very credible feminist objections to pornography, the debate is far from settled. In fact, many feminists (such as myself) support smut. One documentary, called “Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography” profiles women who are committed to a feminist ethic of pornography that puts women in the driver’s seat.

Wendy McElroy, the author of XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography, sums up the feminist arguments for and against pornography.

Feminist positions on pornography currently break down into three rough categories. The most common one – at least, in academia – is that pornography is an expression of male culture through which women are commodified and exploited. A second view, the liberal position, combines a respect for free speech with the principle “a woman’s body, a woman’s right” and thus produces a defense of pornography along the lines of, “I don’t approve of it, but everyone has the right to consume or produce words and images.” A third view – a true defense of pornography – arises from feminists who have been labeled “pro-sex” and who argue that porn has benefits for women.

Little dialogue occurs between the three positions. Anti-pornography feminists treat women who disagree as either brainwashed dupes of patriarchy or as apologists for pornographers. In the anthology Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism (1990), editor Dorchen Leidholdt claims that feminists who believe women make their own choices about pornography are spreading “a felicitous lie” (p. 131). In the same work, Sheila Jeffreys argues that “pro-sex” feminists are “eroticizing dominance and subordination.” Wendy Stock accuses free speech feminists of identifying with their oppressors “much like … concentration camp prisoners with their jailors” (p. 150). Andrea Dworkin accuses them of running a “sex protection racket” (p. 136) and maintains that no one who defends pornography can be a feminist.

McElroy does a fantastic job of dissecting all of the arguments in great detail and ultimately concludes that “the issue at stake in the pornography debate is nothing less than the age-old conflict between individual freedom and social control.” I can agree that pornography that is controlled by men, for men has the tendency to degrade women. However, a wholesale refusal of pornography on the grounds that it objectifies women a) assumes that women are not sexual creatures, and b) denies that women want to be objectified sometimes. I personally think that smut that is produced by women for women has the propensity to embrace feminine sexuality. Because let’s face it, even the staunchest of feminists needs to get her groove on from time to time. A life without the “bom chicka wah wah” isn’t a life worth living in my opinion.

For more feminist views on pornography, check out these articles from one of my favorite bloggers, Greta Christina.
A Feminist’s Defense of “Girls Gone Wild”
Which Side Are You On? Anti-Porn & Pro-Porn Arguments

Who’s On Top?
This all brings me back to the original point of my post – are women finally coming out on top of the porn industry? Do increased revenues mean that women are actually exerting some modicum of control? And is the increasing visibility of female producers, actors, and consumers a positive sign? Or does it just mean that patriarchy will allow some women to have entry into the means of production without actually enacting any sort of structural changes?

I don’t have any answers to these questions. I’d love to hear your take on the subject. I’ll definitely be doing a follow up on this article at some point and will definitely be integrating your ideas into the piece.

Comments

  1. Mrs. Mastro says:

    Great post! I love that you present various takes on the same issue.

    Like anything designed for mass consumption, porn has pros and cons (puns also intended ;) There are aspects of the industry that are terrible for women and, in particular, government responses to the sex trade have, in general, only worsened the situation of women (arresting prostitutes, etc.).

    Feminist arguments against porn, al la Dworkin, fail to acknowledge something I think is hugely important: guys aren’t the only ones who consume porn. Women of all different stripes are buying/reading/watching/making it too. The popularity of porn among women–particularly women from a culture that consistently demonizes female sexuality (the “cougar” phenomenon or how Christina Aguilara was treated in the media vs. how Brittany Spears was treated during the peak of their careers, for example)–is not accidental. In some ways, it is an answer to the ways that female sexuality is censored and controlled.

  2. freewomyn says:

    @ Mrs. Mastro – Exactly! Women are sexual beings, plain and simple. And I’ll be damned if we don’t like smut, too. The difference is who is making the product and who they have in mind as their consumers.

  3. Good piece (and thanks for the links!).

    One of the things that I think it’s important to remember is this: Yes, a lot of porn is sexist, and a lot of porn production is still controlled by men. Especially mainstream porn. But that’s true for almost every other form of popular culture. Television, movies, magazine writing, pop music, video games… a lot of it is made and controlled by men, and a lot of it is sexist and oppressive to women. That doesn’t mean those media/ genres are inherently sexist. We live in a sexist society. A lot of our culture is sexist. Surprise, surprise.

  4. Good points, GC. If we wanted to eschew every sexist cultural product that’s out there, we could never leave the house!

  5. Leslie Griffith says:

    I worked as a stripper in Atlanta, Georgia for four years (1985-89)and it was a great job. That industry has changed considerably since then; at that time, strippers had much more autonomy. After twenty years, I still think it was no more or less sexist than anywhere else I ever worked with the exception of the Feminist Women’s Health Center.

    I made and saved enough money to have a paid off house (and it’s a nice house!), paid off truck, a rental property almost paid for, and other investments in the six figures.

    I was also involved in the pro-choice movement at the same time, and I gotta tell you, it really pissed me off to listen to the condescending assumptions of other feminists regarding my occupation. Ironically, they perpetuated what they wished to eradicate. I felt degraded and objectified when I was looked down on or pitied, when my opinions were outright dismissed.

    I respect honest debate; many of the women had valid, non-judgmental arguments. And the sex industry certainly has its issues. I’m very encouraged to see the diverse, mutually respectful opinions represented here and look forward to visiting this site again.

    Regards,

    Leslie Griffith

  6. freewomyn says:

    Leslie, thanks for sharing your experience with us, and for the positive feedback about the site. I think that you make a valid point – most jobs are sexist. To me feminism is about respecting and honoring women’s choices. And if somebody chooses to strip to support themselves, I say more power to them. Same for filming porn, working as an escort, doing phone sex work, etc.

  7. Serena,
    I stumbled upon this while doing research for a paper im writing, “Women Diversifying the film industry”
    I am trying to look at any type of film and how women have contributed to it.
    I would love to know what your opinion is if women are actually outshining men in what was originally there industry.

  8. freewomyn says:

    Kennara, if you judge the industry purely on salaries, women make way more than men in the porn industry. It’s one of the few professions where women out-earn their male counterparts. There were a few recent episodes of “Real Sex” on HBO that discussed this. And the CNBC special that I linked to in the story had some great statistics about the earning power of women in the industry.

  9. Jessica Metaneira says:

    I’ll admit I watch porn, lol. I don’t see why it should be labelled wrong so long as it isn’t demeaning to anyone.

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