In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home, held captive in the mountains, and raped repeatedly for nine months.* Since her escape, she has emerged as an advocate for human trafficking victims—and recently, a critic of abstinence-only sex education. When Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins University panel last week, she explained one of the factors deterring her from escaping her attacker: She felt so worthless after being raped that she felt unfit to return to her society, which had communicated some hard and fast rules about premarital sexual contact.
“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence,” Smart told the panel. “And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”
Just what exactly is feminist porn? Rachel Kramer Bussel attends the Feminist Porn Awards to find a new generation of erotic performers and producers with a mission.
Feminism has come a long way since Robin Morgan wrote in 1974, “Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice,”—so far, in fact, that this past weekend saw the eighth-annual Feminist Porn Awards and first Feminist Porn Conference, an offshoot of the just-published The Feminist Porn Book, in Toronto. The mood was celebratory, political, and inquisitive, showcasing a sex-positive feminism that’s about far more than leaning in, or even leaning back.
Yet as far as we’ve come, I still got asked on Facebook when posting about attending, “Is this a joke?” For Toronto sex-toy store Good for Her, organizers of the FPAs, far from it—it’s a selling point. While browsing there, I overheard a staffer touting a film by Erika Lust to a middle-aged male customer as an FPA winner. The seven jurors take their work of judging 110 submissions seriously—but not too seriously, considering they award trophies topped with a crystal butt plug for categories such as Golden Beaver (Canadian content) and Smutty Schoolteacher (sex ed), and the event expanded to a new venue to hold the approximately 550 attendees.
The very act of defining “feminist porn” is one that’s still up in the air. Certainly it’s not the Sheryl Sandberg–endorsed book Porn for Women, with its wink-wink photos of hunky topless guys doing housework, which was exquisitely skewered by online comic xkcd, nor is it “a man and a woman meet at Planet Organic after a gender studies lecture, discuss intersectionality over vegetarian food, and then go back to her flat to bone on last Sunday’s Observer,” jokingly offered up by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter in The New Statesman. Differing definitions were offered by the awards and by the book’s authors, but all agree that a focus on genuine female pleasure plays a role. Conference organizer Tristan Taormino insisted that porn is “absolutely” the right word (instead of “erotica”). “By not using the term porn, we’re caving in to this idea that porn is low class, for men, not by us or for us.” She calls her own porn, such as FPA winner The Ultimate Guide to Pegging, “organic, free-trade porn,” and urged consumers and creators to take a page from the organic-food movement. “We have to make connections between fair labor practices even when the labor being performed is sex. If you care about the conditions under which your food was made and the conditions under which your jeans were made, then you should care about the conditions under which your pornography is made. You should be willing to pay a little more.”
The use of “feminist” was a bit more controversial.
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4 Videos Below-Readings are only recorded at the request of the presenter.
Monica Day performance/reading two poems: The Fifth Year and This is My Body for January 2013 Erotic Literary Salon
M. Dante reading SKIN dedicated to the art and inspiration of Heide Hatry for December 2013 Erotic Literary Salon
Frances' reading,“Go the Fok to Sleep”
Dr. Susana Mayer’s NBC10 interview of “50 Shades of Grey”