SKIN_still_2

Towards Egalitarian Porn

INTERVIEW ESSAY

Feminist Porn taught me a lesson

Words by Francesca Ponzini & photos by Elin Magnusson


The other night I had a guy staying over at my place. We did it. I mean we had sex. It was decent, but it followed a conventional path, which I cannot stand anymore. Long kisses, a bit of touching and in less than five minutes he moved on top of me. Bang!  By that time I – a woman with a presumably normal sexual desire – am supposed to be excited and ready for action.

Well, I am not excited. We don’t work like this. We are not on Pornhub. I am not going to scream like an eagle the second he touches my sex. And I am not talking about the fact that I did not fancy the aforementioned guy. Not at all.

So I just stopped there, and thought where does this all come from?

We are not as open as we think we are. Sexuality might have been “liberated”: we can enjoy it, we can speak about it, no harm in saying that you watch porn or masturbate and yet, which kind of idea of sexual excitement are we mainly exposed to?

Our culture and sexual sphere are dominated by a male gaze – not to say a totally misogynistic one. Pleasure and the right of expressing their own excitement is constantly denied to women, which are there only to satisfy every single male sexual caprice. While the spectrum of what gets a man excited has been largely investigated and fully explored with tons of categories specifically crafted, we still have very little knowledge of what gets women excited. No wonder Lesbians refrain from watching mainstream Lesbian Porn at all costs .

But porn still plays a major role in our sexual education and we can’t help it. So I wonder, would having better porn help us to achieve better sexual lives? Is this what we have to look for to unlock our sexual imagination?

Well, my answer is probably yes.

I started looking at what fairly recently (it was 2009) the Swedish Film Institute decided to fund: The Dirty Diaries project by filmmaker and producer Mia Engberg. The project is a collection of 12 feminist porn shorts directed by female-identified directors, ranging from hard-core action to vanilla sex, provocation and poetry. It has been a huge success and has opened up a path in Europe with similar projects happening in Spain (Erika Lust, Lust Cinema) and France (Emilie Jouvet) and one coming up in Italy (Le Ragazze del Porno).

Feminist porn is not just porn for women and, surely, does not mean soft lighting, a sentimental soundtrack and rigorously vanilla sex. On the contrary, it tries to unsettle the conventional definition of sex and expand its language as an expression of identity in the hope of overcoming the mainstream male gaze that is now dominant. It also strives to guarantee ethical and healthy working conditions.

I am under the impression that something is changing and a brief conversation I had with Elin Magnusson, Swedish visual artist and director of the film ‘Skin’, is yet another confirmation that there are still many sexual conversations people need to have.

How did you get involved with the Diary Diaries project? And where did the inspiration for Skin come from?

I was hanging out with my best friend and the director of ‘On you back woman’, at her parents’ house and we were drinking whiskey. This was 2008 and she told me about a project she was starting. Mia, the producer of Dirty Diaries, had contacted her and asked her if she wanted to take part in the project.

At that time I was extremely interested as I was already thinking about those questions regarding sexuality, identity, closed/open relationships and family. So I contacted Mia and I asked her if I could take part in the project. She said that I could make a contribution and then we would see if it would fit. So I did, creating ‘Get Off’, a short film shot with a mobile camera. Unfortunately, it ended up being too similar to another film in the project and therefore was rejected.

By then, I only had two months to come up with a new idea, produce, film and edit it. My passion for coloured fabric inspired the idea for ‘Skin’. I love skin coloured fabric, I love sewing, making costumes and working with performers so the film incorporates all these aspects. ‘Skin’ ended up being something visually beautiful with genderless bodies who meet for the first time on equal terms. It’s like a fairy tale.

‘Skin’ is one of the most graceful yet powerful short film of the series. What was the most urgent message you wanted to convey?

I wanted to represent an equal meeting that was sensual yet explicit. Badly healed wounds and negative experiences from the past have turned the characters’ skin in to hard thick layers that totally cover their bodies, and make them unable to feel. But after a while they start undressing each other with a pair of scissors. And for the first time they are naked, one in front of the other. Expected gender roles were removed when the two characters were naked, sensitised towards one another and therefore equal. For me, this is what mattered. I also wanted to have this big dick. I like it and I think there is nothing bad in it, but I also wanted to capture her gaze. It’s her deciding when and where to cut holes for her eyes to see. She was more empowered in the small details, in making choices. And that was important for me. It was a kind of utopian meeting between man and woman, sexually. An equal sexual act on film. You can see the man gaze so heavily in lots of commercial porn films. However, I didn’t want to have a ‘female gaze’ either, only a horny gaze – a kind of a queer, neutral, observing gaze.

To which extent were you concerned about raising excitement in the viewers? And were you addressing to a specific gender?

Both the men and women I heard from liked the film. I didn’t make it for only women necessarily. I did it for everyone. At some point, a thought crossed my mind: there might be a nasty man masturbating to my film, to my friends. But I moved away very quickly from that thought. Jesus Christ: it’s better if this man masturbates to this than to some typical images created for the big industry. If I can give you something that you haven’t seen before and I can change a tiny, tiny bit of the way you look at sex or at your wife or partner, that’s good. I felt ashamed of that thought, as if I had been very judgmental. The reason I made ‘Skin’ was to reveal another picture of pleasure.

What is feminist porn for you? And what does ‘Skin’ represent for you?

Feminist porn can be a lot of different things. What I wanted to do with ‘Skin’ was to add a missing picture. I wanted to add something new to sexuality and to art too, I guess. I didn’t want to take away or censor the porn that already exists. You can’t do it; it’s out there. I can’t be the one that judges what you like. Maybe I want to see different stuff. With ‘Skin’, I wanted to get a broader picture: what sex is and what it can be. But it’s not necessarily feminist porn because you do something that hasn’t been done.

Feminist porn is definitively about respect in front and behind the camera. I think here is where the money issue becomes also important. There is a lot of power in money. When we did ‘Skin’, we had very little money. I paid the cinematographer (Ester-Martin Bergsmark), but I didn’t get any money and neither did my actors. Afterwards we sold some DVDs and I got some money. I paid my actors even if I almost had to force them to accept, because they just wanted to be part of my project.

I don’t know if I would be able to make a film where my actors and I get a lot of money because I wouldn’t really be sure they were in it because they want to be or because they are selling their bodies. I can’t say that you can’t earn money because it’s feminist porn, because I totally think you should be able to do that. I would not feel comfortable, but that’s me.

Is there such a thing as egalitarian porn in your opinion? Women and men have different paces of excitement and orgasm, is it possible to have common porn that demystifies women’s sexuality without taking the quick and easy aspect of mainstream porn and what would that look like?

My wish is that porn will be more gender fluid and that male and female gaze would converge. We need to work together to bring more female perspectives, especially in porn films. But I don’t really know what the female gaze is. Who knows what a female/male gaze is? I would prefer to work beyond that, aiming to show diversity, not focussing on one thing only. We need a mix of everything: in gender, in colour, in age and we surely need to have a lot of respect. Maybe we need to have an overload of female gaze that can settle and then we can meet in the middle and develop something together.

*

After the conversation I had with Elin I felt a bit lost, leaving with many of unsolved questions. I wondered how many times I stopped a guy while performing some ‘moves’ I wasn’t really enjoying, unable to explain clearly why it was all wrong for me. I also realised I know very little about women’s sexuality from our conversation.

Glancing at the statistics from Pornhub, I got even more convinced that it is still very much unclear what is that excites women when it comes to pleasure and sexual fantasies . However, I believe that something is moving and experiments like The Dirty Diaries should be promoted.

Where governments are not be able or simply not ready to give funding to these types of projects, we can still rely on crowd funding and open ourselves up to having a less conventional approach to sex. As Elin pointed out, it is not about censoring the porn that already exists, it is about exploring something different that may encompass all sexual identities, offering a plurality of points of view without taking anything for granted.

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