World / Social Issues

Feminist filmmakers tackle machismo in porn industry


Ethical, diverse and not a silicone breast in sight — feminist filmmakers are standing up to mass-market porn with adult movies that are free of male domination and gender stereotypes.

Their films aim to show realistic, consent-based and egalitarian sex instead of the superhuman bedroom exploits of macho studs and submissive women.

“Feminist porn is part of a fight against misogyny, on the same territory and with the same weapons as the sex movie mainstream,” French filmmaker Ovidie, 38, said at a recent film festival on the subject in Berlin.

The first attempts at feminist pornography date back to the 1980s in the United States, but the movement has received a new lease on life in response to the flood of free online porn that has become available in the internet age.

The easy access to even hard-core porn online has raised concerns that a generation of young people is being exposed to material that could warp their sexual attitudes and expectations.

To counter this effect, Berlin’s center-left Social Democrats, who govern the city-state in a coalition with the Greens, are proposing to use feminist adult films in sex education programs.

Traditional adult films “always follow the same kind of choreography. . . . Men dominate women,” said Ovidie, who is spearheading the “femporn” movement in France.

In her “Stories of Sex(es)” and “X-Girl vs. Supermacho,” women are no longer reduced to objects. On the contrary, they are in charge.

To be truly “feminist,” explained Laura Meritt, a German linguist and specialist on the movement, the productions must meet several criteria.

In addition to portraying the desires “of all genders” — including men, who in most porn movies are “merely reduced to their penis” — the cast must be “varied physically and culturally” and not be of uniformly perfect physique, she said. Condom use is a must, and so are ethical “working conditions, based on consent, where everyone has the choice to take part in certain practices or not,” Meritt said.

An actress who goes by the name of Misungui Bordelle said that the sex scenes are usually shot with “the least possible” interruption, rather than through the mainstream industry’s “methodical execution . . . with many takes.”

The American director Jennifer Lyon Bell, a 49-year-old Harvard graduate, in 2004 launched her company Blue Artichoke Films, specializing in movies that “portray sexuality in an emotionally realistic way.”

She sees her work as part of “sex-positive feminism” that, rather than seeking to abolish pornography, sees sexuality as the arena in which women must win their emancipation.

In 2006, Toronto hosted what organizers billed as the world’s first Feminist Porn Awards at its adult film festival. Similar events followed in Lausanne, Lisbon and Sydney.

In Europe, the biggest festival is organized annually in Berlin, attracting 10,000 visitors this autumn.

Despite this, feminist pornography is far from breaking into the mainstream.

“I have very little relationship with the mainstream industry. The festivals and modes of income are different. These are circles that rarely intersect,” said French director Lucie Blush, 30.

It is a view reflected in the global sex movie industry, where many have yet to see this type of film-making as competition, said Gregory Dorcel, manager at Marc Dorcel, one of the leading porn media groups.

These “ethical” productions remain “a drop in the ocean of porn” online, said Camille Emmanuelle, a writer specialized in issues of sexuality.

Lacking broad distribution channels, the business model is based on subscription systems — a limiting factor because “people, especially young people, are now used to free porn.”

The Swedish Film Institute in 2009 pioneered a series of 12 short films directed by feminists and produced by Mia Engberg.

Inspired by Sweden’s example, the proposals by Berlin’s Social Democrats to use such films in sex education may make them eligible for state funding.

The party’s Ferike Thom said, “It would be great if this alternative porn, which portrays sex differently, could be as easily and freely accessible as the classic sex movies.”