Women and Porn: A Discussion

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In late March, I hosted and event on Women and the Porn Industry at the Leather Archives in Chicago.

We viewed Becky Goldberg's documentary, "Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography" and then I hosted a panel discussion with erotic filmmakers Jack Hafferkamp of Libido Films and Carolyn Caizzi of Early to Bed Productions, as well as director Becky Goldberg. Here are the transcripts of the night's speeches and discussion.

(You can read my review of Becky's film "Hot and Bothered:Feminist Pornography" here.)

Women and the Porn Industry Following the documentary screening, our first speaker was Jack Hafferkamp of Libido Films. As many of you SK readers know, Jack and his partner Marianna produce fabulous couples and women friendly porn and are the former editors of Libido: The Journal of Sex and Sensibility. Currently Jack is putting the finishing touches on their new release, "Stories of OH! Part 2" and revamping the Libido website so all of their titles will be available for viewing online.

Jack Hafferkamp: What was interesting for us when we started making movies as well as when we started making the magazine is that we didn't want it to be next to Hustler on the shelves because ours was this construction paper art thing...it was black and white...so we wanted initially to make sure it was in the literary section of the book stores, which we succeeded at, but also meant that nobody ever saw it. Although we had a 12 year run with the magazine, which was great because we were at the pretty early stages of the desktop publishing world, we realized we could have the opportunity to slip into a world that normally is not that receptive. Similarly, when we started doing films, it was with the notion that we realized early on that with digital technology we could, that it gave us the chance. What I want to say to you all is one of the interesting things about it that we've arrived in a moment that if you don't like the porn that you see, make your own, you can do it.

For all of the changes in the business and the recognition of another way of doing this, so that it's not male oriented, it's getting harder and harder to get it out there. In part I think it's because there are so many sex toy outlet possibilities that the places in the beginning that were receptive to our work and helped us along-Good Vibrations, Babeland-now are all struggling to stay alive. One of the ways that they realized that they could stay alive is to sell more and more of the stuff that sells more of it. So rather than take the time to push an independent thing like our "Urban Friction", it's a lot easier for them to push the names that are recognized. So in that sense it's getting harder. Our way of dealing with it is to make our website a place that people can go and download the movies directly so we can skip that whole process. That's sort of what we're up to.

We have been accepted as feminist filmmakers because women were always the center of the action. If most porn is about men getting off watching other men get off...that's kind of interesting. (laughs) We always put women at the center. The key for us is showing authentic female arousal thinking that if you don't see that in other stuff, that would be interesting. So that's what we've attempted to do.

One thing I will toss back at you, so when we have the discussion I'd like to get your thoughts about this. When we talked a little about what they want to see in porn, we hear, "we don't want to see wall to wall fucking", "we don't want to see impossible bodies that we heard about there", and "what we want is a story, and we want real arousal and we want real bodies." Interestingly enough, in our last feature called "Trial Run", which is all about women's attempt to find love and romance in the big city, we chose a woman who is in her early 30's, attractive, recently had a baby and was voluptuous. The first showings we had of the movie, the response we got from women was, "well how come you used that chubby woman?" So I ask sometimes if whether or not the response is kind of genuine and if you hear what people want, or what they say they want because they think they're supposed to say it, as opposed to what they really want. So I would ask you your thoughts on this with me.

Our second speaker, Carolyn Caizzi, is a queer pornographer, filmmaker, and sex educator whose work has been shown in both national and international film festivals. Her first adult film, 2003's "Turn Me Up, Over and On" won Fatale Media's Real Lesbian Sex contest and is distributed worldwide. In 2005, she co-founded Early to Bed Productions with Searah Deysach and they produced their first release, "Coming Home", a series of vignettes featuring real-life lesbian couples. Early this year, they released their second E2B production, "Special Delivery" (in which yours truly, Libby, was a crewmember on!). Carolyn's films, featuring real-life queer lovers of diverse races, ages, and body types, specifically aim to dismantle the unrealistic representations of lesbians in mainstream adult films.

Carolyn Caizzi: I make movies with Searah from Early to Bed. Basically, it's queer porn and it features real-life couples. I'd never put two people together who've never had sex before in any of the movies I've made and I probably will never do that because I don't feel comfortable doing that.

Audience question and answer session with Jack Hafferkamp, Carolyn Caizzi, and Becky Goldberg

Woman- (Asks question about anti-porn feminists who criticize the porn industry)

Carolyn: I'm not going to lie...sex and pornography is a commodity. I think the interesting thing about pornography is it's at once on the edges of society in the sense that people still think of pornography as dirty, though it's becoming more and more mainstream, but it's still not in the local Wal-Mart. So, but it's also a multi-billion dollar industry and it's one of the biggest industries in the world. I think yes, it's a commodity. Yes, there is a camera in the room and there is a certain distancing but I think they're sharing a very intimate part of themselves with me and I'm really grateful for that. I feel like I respect that a lot and when I'm filming them I'm very concerned about if they're comfortable and if they're not comfortable, we don't film. I've actually put $3000 of my own money into a porn once, it was for school, but the actresses in it told me after how uncomfortable they felt. So I didn't do anything with it, except for my class requirements. So I feel like that happens and I'm respectful of it.

Jack: I think you're right about the fact that if you do it right, if you film it right and create the right environment so that the people involved in being filmed are comfortable and are doing it for reasons that aren't entirely economic, but are doing it because...and you'd be suprised at how many people do this because there's an urge to share...and it's sharing the intimacy. If it's done well, it's shared intimacy which you can project across a TV screen. That seems to me to be the point.

Becky: Well I think that what she's saying has merit in that you two (Jack and Carolyn) are unique. 95% of what's being made is being made carelessly and it isn't intimacy, it's someone's day job. So I think that their perception of what pornography is definitely meets what they're saying. It is that. I think that's the dividing line. People have a very narrow idea of what pornography is. Just because someone doesn't see it as intimacy onscreen doesn't mean that it doesn't create intimacy for whomever's watching it. I think that pornography is not what we have been told it is. It has so many more intimate possibilities to become an educational tool, sexual aid for so many different possibilities than originally imagined.

Jack: I think that part of the problem is that most porn is really kind of stupid, sexist, and demeaning. I mean, we know that. So is the solution to shut it down or do better stuff? I think clearly the answer is to do better stuff. Where do American males get their sex education? It's there, so why not make it material that actually provides useful information? It seems to me to be the way to go rather than say don't do it at all.

Can I just say one thing? I forgot to mention when I was standing up here to acknowledge the brains of our operation, which is my partner, Marianna Beck.

I've always been worried about people who say "nyah, nyah, nyah, don't do that." It always makes me find out what it is.

Carolyn: The porn industry isn't going to go anywhere. I mean hopefully, it won't go anywhere.

Becky: The same idea can be applied to feminism or woman-friendly images. Rather than ignoring it and saying "ladies, don't go there, just pass go for $100." I think it's the only way for women to change feminism is to go where it wasn't once welcomed and start making their own images that can represent them rather than ignoring it completely. I think that it's an advancement for all to change those images, to make right what is wrong.

Woman: Do any of you identify as a sex worker?

Jack: Sometimes, it does cross my mind that in fact I am. I offer sex as a commodity and people buy it so I guess that makes me a sex worker.

Carolyn: I worked at Early to bed for five years. Before that I worked in another sex toy shop. This older woman, who's my mentor, she definitely identified herself as a sex worker and I did sometimes. I'm a librarian/sex worker. (laughs)

Becky: No, that's not what my taxes say. I say that I'm a filmmaker. I'm a documentary filmmaker, I made a doc that involves sex work, but I can't say that there were any transactions that would qualify as work.

Woman: I'm back in school at DePaul, working a lot with anthropology and the idea of sex and how it empowers women, etc. Basically, answering this lady in asking you, I guess, the idea of sex, anthropologically speaking, is a power dynamic and there are many women whose agenda has been to, because they felt wounded, because they had felt raped or pillaged or whatever we go through in our society, that sex is kinda scary. So I think what you are up against is a bunch of fear from this society that's been told that the power dynamic is really that and you're trying to say "trust"-that the power dynamic can be really healthy and it can be good and so what if there's somebody in bed that's stronger, one weaker, what the gap is. How do you guys feel about that?

Becky: I think it's partly an uneducation or an unsocialization and I think that really in our society, porn might not be fully accepted. I think that's how it is. But I definitely think the communication needs to happen, more so than it does now in our culture. I think that the communication between parents and their children needs to be more open, the sex education that happens in the schools. People on a base level need to be more comfortable with their sexuality, in general. Before you get to whether or not you want to watch porn, it's like you have to be OK with who you are, OK with your body. From my perspective, I think one of the common problems feminist pornography has from getting out there is that women don't even think that they can watch pornography and that it's not even made for them, so why would they even go there? So I think, though, at its base, it has to do with education.

Jack: Yeah, I think you've plugged into a larger question. Sex is like the flashpoint for that issue, which is larger than just sex. It's about women's place. Porn, if it's feminist porn, is actually a useful tool in that sense for opening up the larger set of possibilities for women in general because it's another way in which women can claim a turf. It's a way of confronting the world in which sex becomes just another way in the creation of equality. It's really just compressed history-wise, if you think about it, when did women vote first? I think this particular subject makes people nervous because it's a subject that makes people nervous in general and especially with the notion of women claiming sexuality and demonstration sexuality and making it visible. Well, that is unnerving for not only men but women too.

Man: One of the ways that I view pornography is that healthy pornography, good pornography, celebrates sexuality. Bad pornography exploits sexuality and I think that the key dynamic is that when people in the sex work industry or the pornography industry can make a living wage, when people actually in the films, everybody, can make a legitimate living out of this, I think a lot of the exploitation is going to go away and I think we can start to celebrate a healthy sexuality. What are your viewpoints on that?

Carolyn: I think there are a lot of misconceptions about porn, too. When I think about mainstream porn, I think about LA, I think about the big, big businesses-VCA, Vivid-and those women get paid a lot of money to do what they do and I feel like the women in those types of porn films are making more than minimum wage, more than me with all my degrees. The stars themselves and the people making it make more money. I think that with the Internet, there's a lot more bad porn, in the sense that it's easier to pickup your digital video camera and have sex with someone who doesn't even know it, post it on the Internet, on your site, and make money off it. I think these filmmakers like Jack and myself that make films but don't have a lot of money so they're good in the sense that they have good values, but you know, it's just me in front of my little G4 editing this movie and then I look at it on the big screen and I'm like, "Oh my god, it looks bad." I think there's a lot of good and bad. Technically, I don't have a crew because I don't have the money, but maybe I'm making good films. Am I? (laughs) We're paying people in our films a little bit, but yeah, they can't make a living off that. I honestly think that if you have a lot of power and a lot of money, you don't know if you'd be able to make good films.

Becky: Well, I think one, is that it's economic. The industry is economic and whatever makes the most money is going to be what gets made over and over. So if you go to the video store and you rent the midget video, that sends a message to the industry, "they like this midget video, let's make 300 more of these," they'll make 300 more of the midget videos because it seems like it's making a lot of money. So I think that's when consumer activism plays a part. If more people are knowledgeable about what they're buying and they buy good stuff so that they can support (it). The mainstream industry, which sells the most videos, is going to catch wind of that and be like "you know what I think midget videos is a bad idea, let's try something else." They'll start making different images that are more woman-friendly and more sex-positive. They'll think that's where the money is. Eventually those guys are going to die. (laughs) Then woman can take the reigns and that'll be great, but until that time comes, I think people need to be smart about how they spend their money.

Jack: I think you're right about that. The opposite end of the high ended Vivid and Wicked girls is the horror stories about people getting off the bus from Oklahoma and being sucked up and sent off to some place in Idaho where there is the famous doctor who does noses, breasts, and hips just like that (snaps fingers) and sends them back so they can make a couple of movies and when the silicone shifts, they all get shown the door. There is that. There's no doubt about it. But why do people do that? Because they're desperate for the money, the attention, whatever.Becky- And people want to see that type of body.

Jack: So can I ask the question of you all, what do you want to see?

Woman: Can I tell you that I've never been interested in porn because it's always been really boring? The only time I've ever seen it is when a guy's saying, "oh look what I've got". I have female friends now that have it. And these two films (Jack and Carolyn's) were totally different to me, especially the tango one (Trial Run). I had no idea, before tonight that these kinds of images existed. Like I said, porn in general was boring before, so good job.

Me: To Jack and Carolyn, how do your films differ from the mainstream porn that we see and talk about the female perspective in them. How do they differ from typical male-oriented porn?

Carolyn: I make movies for dykes, but it could be for anyone. That's the thing, you make something and anyone could watch it. In the sense of the mainstream porn industry, it's the long hair, the silicone boobs, the long nails and it's "girl-girl". There are no really real orgasms. It's usually part of a bigger film that has men in it so they're usually the interlude and then "now there's the cock, so we can move on." It's really hard because I want very much to differentiate my films from those films, but to some degree they're similar. They're made differently. Mine ends with an orgasm, but it's a real orgasm so hopefully the audience can tell that. I only work with people who are couples, they come to us, we say "great", but I do have a degree of control. They've never been in that location before, there are lights, there are two cameras, there's a crew of about four or five of us, they tell me what types of sex they're comfortable doing, they want to do and I place them, they do what they want to do, and maybe "move to the couch." Once they get going, I am very hands off. I want them to have a real orgasm. I'm not upset if it doesn't always happen.

Jack: I think that's the difference trying to capture an authentic moment as opposed to a faux moment. We both work in a way that emphasize the reality of people being focused on one another. When we were making our first movie and we didn't really know quite what we were doing, we were presented with a female director who took great pains to tell us she was a feminist. We were shooting and we wanted the scene to proceed to an actual female orgasm and it was taking awhile. The director wanted to hurry us along because it was taking too long so we said, "no, keep shooting until we get the real thing." And her answer was, "why would you want that? The women just get all ugly and contorted, we can shoot something that's really pretty. Isn't that what you want?" And I think that that really is sort of the fundamental difference. We say, no, keep shooting until we get what we want. In the end, that's what we got, but it was a struggle because the female director actually didn't want to have that female orgasm. She wanted that money shot. We're aiming for an authentic moment, that's what comes through on the other end.

Woman: Something that popped out at me was that women filmmakers kind of have a universal idea of women's sexuality. How are they addressing different ethnic groups and communities?

Becky: What I endured making my film, looking for people to interview, I noticed there's a lot of whities. (laughs) It's a fact. I think part of that comes from women, minority women, don't stick around for along time in this business because they are put into a corner and they are seen as the "hot Latin Mama" or this "sex crazed black woman". There's these molds that minority women are put into and I'm sure it burns you out pretty quickly. You make "Hot Latin Woman 26" and then you're gone. You don't have a lot of staying power because you can't make a name for yourself other than what you're race is. So I think there is a huge problem within the industry just of that, especially for actresses coming in and just making a name for themselves as just a woman, not a skin color.

Jack: One of the things that happens is that everything is sort of narrowcast now. It'll all be twenty-six episodes of the same thing happening in each one, but it will also be divided by race as opposed to act these days. They never cross genres at all; it's broken down into these categories which just remain problematic for that very reason.Becky: I think that plagues the industry. They don't see it as a problem. I think they see it as just "specialization." I think with feminist porn that's changing. It's becoming "women as women", not as a category.

Woman: I'm always thrilled to see porn being made for women, to see queer porn that's actually queer, but what the most important lesson I've learned as a sex worker is the most boring, unpoliticized straight guys have really vibrant sexualities, really unique and wonderful ideas of what they want sexually and how they relate to women sexually that's not at all reflected in this huge porn industry that's made for them. Not that we need to be catering to every need of heterosexual men and all that, certainly. I do want to see indie feminist porn being made for straight men.

Carolyn: I think sometimes this idea of feminist porn shuts down masculinity in a way and I think masculinity is the most interesting thing in feminism. I do think especially in mainstream porn, it's all about the cock. OK, there's so much more to a guy sexually. You never see above the waist, you really only see below the waist. You never see their faces and you don't wanna see their faces.

Woman: In my lifestyle, what I'm looking for, honestly, is a plotline. I know what it's there for and it's there for our stimulus, in my case, along with my partner's, but you're also looking for something you can also enjoy and maybe even get a chuckle out of it or something like that. Sometimes that helps.

Man: I'm a heterosexual man and what I want is definitely what you're doing. I saw "Trial Run" and it was the first time I'd actually seen a man in a pornographic movie that didn't scare the shit out of me. (laughs) The guy-his name escapes me-he's having sex, and it's sexy, and he looks normal and human shaped and he's...pudgy. Wow, it's so comforting and the sex was hot. I'm also a librarian and the most frequently stolen book at the library where I worked was "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" by Jenna Jameson, which was really strange. How do you as filmmakers educate a younger generation about sex without giving them strange ideas?

Jack: Mostly what I say is that you people are educating me. I think the Online Child Protection Act dying will make it easier for people to find more stuff. I don't know that we have any reach for teaching anything to any number of people that make any significant difference because we're up against so much. How many of you saw the controversy recently in some high school? The health teacher started talking about oral sex and masturbation in class and it caused such a furor that he's not teaching there any more. The parents complained "my daughter was grossed out" and therefore...you (the teacher) have to go. My answer at this point is, I can wait until they're 21.

Becky: The problem is that when someone sees these videos and they're like, "oh, that's how you do it, that's where it goes." The problem is there's no voice there to tell them to put it in perspective. There's no one there saying, "well Timmy, let me tell you something about the birds and the bees." I think the discussion needs to be open about what's real, what happens, how it works, what's the right time. It gets very longsighted. Because it's so easy to get your hands on some of these pieces of crap from somebody's dad down the street. If the discussions not there and the parents are in complete denial, I think it's really where the problem lies.

Me: One final question, what's it like to make porn in Chicago? What are the difficulties involved in making porn in a midwestern city like this?

Jack: It's tough here. Chicago's the kind of city where people go because they think they're going to have a career. Once you've worked you're way through school by being in someone's movie and you think you're going to get a job as a schoolteacher, it's tough because it will bite you in the ass. What we find often is people say "oh yeah, let's shoot", and then the day of or day before, they don't show up. That happens a lot. We've been known also to talk people out of it for various reasons..."oh you think you're going to have a career as a kindergarten teacher after you've been in this feature, I don't think so."

Carolyn: I agree. It's hard to find people who want to be in porn here. Especially, you have to be a couple, somewhat queer.

Jack: Anybody in the audience curious?

Woman: What is it about Chicago that makes it so hard?

Man: Conservatism.

Jack: What happens in New York and Los Angeles is people got there casting their fate to the wind and that doesn't happen quite so much here.

Libby

 

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