“Indigenous
Culture //

Feminist fisting films

Isabelle Youssef watches feminist pornography with her mother.

shff-sign

shff-sign

There are some things that mothers and daughters should not do together. Watching pornography on a cinema-sized screen in Marrickville’s Red Rattler Theatre may well be one of them.

It was an experience my own mother and I awkwardly shared at the Seen and Heard Film Festival (SHFF), an annual festival showcasing the work of exclusively female directors and celebrating a diverse range of female issues and experiences. Festival Director Lucy Randall began the festival in 2009 in an attempt to combat the bias of distributors against female directors and producers in the mainstream film industry.

We were there that evening to see a discussion with Zahra Stardust, a self-professed feminist queer pornographer with a Masters in Gender and Cultural Studies, currently undertaking a PhD in the area of pornography laws. Stardust spoke to her personal experiences as a stripper and a porn star, and also made reference to extensive academic literature about pornography and feminism.

Several video excerpts produced by Stardust were screened, including a ten-minute film with a poem recital on politics and pornography overlaid with a video of her masturbating with a dildo and a vibrator; and a 15-minute film juxtaposing scenes of Stardust and her real-life girlfriend getting ready for their respective jobs (sex worker and gardener), with Stardust getting fisted by her girlfriend.

The audience reaction was mixed. Watching pornography in a communal setting, on a big screen, with loud audio was surreal. Some people looked away and then to the screen then away again, others watched on relaxed, a few went to the bar or the bathroom. As Stardust sat facing the audience, seemingly unfazed, it felt as if we were intruding on an intimate moment. At the end of the fisting film, Stardust puts on a pair of ripped black tights – the same tights that she was wearing at SHFF.

Stardust defended the legitimacy of sex work, arguing that women are able to choose when, where and how they are seen sexually. For her, the job is about control and boundaries. She spoke of camaraderie in the profession; talking about knowledge sharing in dressing rooms and the push to improve Occupational Health and Safety in the industry.

Stardust resisted the traditional feminist idea that all porn objectifies women by describing her work as “performing femininity”, which suggests performativity in all sexual encounters, whether on-screen or not.

Stardust’s first film shows how feminist pornography can cater to female fantasies. She talked about the power of receiving (as opposed to penetration) and the strength of women as they allow someone into their body. She argued that pornography is another arena in which to push for the representation of diversity; in physical appearances, race, sexual orientations, abilities, and so on. Due to the enormous body of pornography being produced, such a movement still seems to be in embryonic stages, meaning it will be a slow change.

As compelling as Stardust’s arguments were, I questioned where I stood on the issue. I, like a large part of society, do not know much about the industry and its potential to subvert heteronormative attitudes towards sexuality. You can’t help but consider Stardust a special case: a highly educated woman, she was pole dancing and stripping alongside a job in corporate law.

My hesitations aside, the political potential of pornography is exciting. Being directed and produced by women, it challenges negative representations of female sexuality. In this way, Stardust’s aims align perfectly with Randall’s as they both stress the need for diversity in representation: from body types and race, to sexual orientation and disability.

Both women face the same challenge: as long as male-directed films dominate the industry, it is difficult to reach a wide audience.