Imagine spending your whole life being told what you like and what you feel-and knowing that it isn't true. Doesn't take much imagination, does it? It's an experience we all go through. But until the late 1960s, women were expected to listen to what men told us about what all women felt, without replying. If we disagreed, there was something wrong with us, anyway. So women had consciousnessraising groups to talk about what we really felt. And now, women who call themselves feminists are trying to tell us that we all hate pornography, that no woman likes it, and that every woman wants to see it "off the shelf".
Feminists Against Censorship (FAC) was formed in April 1989 in response to other women who were claiming they could represent us all with this stereotype. We have spoken and written at some length now about the antipornography analysis, the research claims, the willingness to trust the state with decisions on what we should be able to see and say, and the misrepresentations that purport to support that claim. In Tales From the Clitoris, our fifth book, we have chosen to discuss our own, personal experiences of pornography. Strange as it may seem, precious little has been published in mainstream feminism from this perspective, particularly in Britain.
The political campaigning by antiporn feminists has made it harder for women to produce their own sexual materials. It provides an excuse for the police to raid any shop, or seize any publication, that doesn't look like conventional, mainstream porn -"top shelf" material. This can leave British buyers with no legal choice but the uninspiring (and sometimes sexist) pornographic media that is made for men and usually by men. Images of intercourse, erections, genital contact and anything imaginative or mutual go by the boards when we are reduced to little more than pinups and striptease with no substance.
Some feminists in this book do enjoy this stereotypical male heterosexual porn. However, women have varied tastes and there aren't enough products on the market to quench our feminine thirst. And just why is the erect penis taboo in Britain?
Oddly, though, many antiporn women
in the United Kingdom do not realize that it is the law and the
cops, and not something inherent in pornography or even in men's
tastes, that makes British pornography so one-sided. They say
they "don't like pornography" because there is nothing
here to like-anything that is likely to appeal to women is likely
to invite police raids or nondistribution by the major distributors.
Women and sexual minorities who attempt independent production
are the first real victims of antiporn campaigns. And, as
Arabella Melville shows within, the mainstream men's magazine
producers like it that way-you might say Campaign Against Pornography
keeps them In business.
Tales from the Clitoris' principal criticism of pornography itself is that most of it is about sex on men's terms. Until recently, almost all porn was aimed at men and even today much porn still is. Mainstream porn really excludes anyone who does not fit in with inviting, young stereotypes. However, we can't forget that this is true throughout most forms of media. Softcore pornography aimed at men plays it safe, by not showing erections or real sex, so that it can continue to be published, distributed, and sold.
Hardcore - that is, explicit material-is not legal in Britain's porn industry. Hardcore porn shows a variety of physical types, and as it tends to show people together, emphasizes that women can be assertive and in control, and not just young and passive blue-eyed blondes. One of our contributors, Jen Durbin from San Francisco, has studied the reality of hardcore porn in closeup, from a feminist perspective. Her experience in particular may be illuminating to those who fear having fewer restrictions on explicit sexual images.
Some feminists in this book enjoy fantasies and depictions of dominance and submission. These fantasies are rejected by many other feminists. Both lesbian and sub/dom porn are highly censored and publishers find it hard to get distributed. However, we all need to discuss our fantasies to help us understand the wide possibilities of female desire. Pornography has helped some feminists in this book to define themselves as sexual beings. Depictions of all types of women having all types of sex helps to clear away the mysteries surrounding female sexuality.
As well as criticizing the unbalanced maleness of porn, feminists are demanding a stronger position in the production of sexual imagery. Because of the lack of pornography for women, many of us have had to turn to other mediums for our arousal: inventing collages of stimulation from what sexual, and sometimes nonsexual, matter is available to us. Feminists want to see their fantasies on screen and read their desires in widely available magazines. The largest portion of essays in Tales from the Clitoris are from women who have never worked or had anything to do with the sex industry save their complete anticensorship stance. However, some feminists in this book have founded their own companies to produce and/or distribute feminist porn. Others supply stories and pose for various types of arousing material.
We want to emphasize the importance of publishing, as often as possible, the views of women who are more intimately involved with the sex industry-such as Linzi Drew-as well as of those who enjoy porn, since their voices are suppressed by the antiporn movement and not given much credence by mainstream media people. Antiporn women simply dismiss out of hand the testimony of women who disagree with them-if you aren't talking about how terrible pornography is, they don't want to hear it (and they may even accuse you of lying). But the media's approach isn't much better-women in the industry, no matter how bright and articulate, are treated as bimbos at best-purely a laughing matter. As feminists, we believe these women should be allowed to speak for themselves.
In sexist society, much of media, including pornography, is bound to contain sexism. Yet in this book, women from around the world, in all different circumstances, have found something positive to say about sexual imagery.
Pornography is one of the ways women in Tales from the Clitoris want to explore and evolve their sexuality. Many of the essays in this book elaborate on the way porn has helped women to see themselves as sexual beings, not victims, and empowered them to discuss desire. Other authors recount how, when growing up, most of their understanding of sex came from softcore magazines. FAC regrets that we all did not have a wider range of sex education material to learn from, and we do not want there to be even less of it for children growing up now.
Women especially need more sexual imagery, not more repression. Only through freedom from the guilt that we as women feel about our bodies can we become desirable to ourselves, not feeling as though we are "slurs" or "slags" for being sensual.
And let's remember that women's liberation
is about opening possibilities for women. Pornography represents
one of those possibilities-we should never participate in trying
to shut it down.
by Avedon Carol and Cherie Matrix