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Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: 'Great women’s pornography hasn’t materialised yet'

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Translation by:

Kelly Burt


Whether it's by watching it or directing it, women have discovered porn for themselves. Yet one German cultural researcher criticises the quality of the films, calling women's pornography an 'artistic genre'. In her book 'Porno, not PorNO - Female Pornographers on the Rise', she has analysed two porn films made by women. Interview Sabine, your main criticism of feminist pornography is that 'not everything that purports to be gender neutral is also of substantive quality.' What are the flaws of women’s porn?

'All About Anna' by Jessica Nilsson and 'Female Fantasies' by Etra JoySabine Lüdtke-Pilger: First, it must be said that predominantly flawed films or those of inferior quality can be found even in mainstream pornography. Pornography is for masturbation, so no one is looking for a cinematic masterpiece. But in the case of women’s pornography, before I see such a film I will have read a lot about it. That’s because there are great ideas there, like the goal of linking pornography with highbrow cinema or breaking down gender stereotypes. And then you’d think, wow! Once I actually watched the movie, though, that’s when I was very shocked as a media researcher. I was shocked because I applied the same criteria that I would have with a regular film analysis. And what came of it?

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: Many movies were of very low quality. The camera was bad, the lighting was bad, and so on. It was also very much oriented around mainstream porn. You would find that either just having sex didn’t work because you need a love story for female porn, or else someone had simply taken a mainstream porno and changed it: A little pink, a little soft focus, and no close-ups on the women. I was very disappointed with this. I had the feeling somehow that due to the lack of unique ideas, existing pornography was simply serving as a bad template. That may sound pretty bad, but it’s as if a woman (who at the most had studied a little at a film school) had simply watched a porn film and then thought to herself: 'This is terrible, I’m going to make a better porno.' Of course, there are also successful films. This has been done even in recent years. That’s not exactly impressive...

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: Yes, it’s like when students make a film. Even I made short films while I was a student - maybe not pornography, but you realise that it’s not as easy as it looks. You can have all the theory down, but a good film requires something more than that. Do you hold feminist porn to a different standard than you do mainstream porn?

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: Mainstream porn has never claimed to be art or the better variety of pornography. But if I as the pornographer make that claim, then I have to live with the fact that my work will be under closer scrutiny. I don’t want to give away too many details, but one director got in touch with me personally because she felt like she was under fire. For me it was never about attacking anyone, though; to the best of my knowledge I have only sought to scientifically investigate the phenomenon of female pornography. What advice would you give to women to improve their films?

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: Far be it from me to give anyone any advice. But if someone pretends to make something completely new and then the champagne flutes, glitter make-up and soft focus come out, that’s completely clichéd. However, in principle I think it’s great when someone says, I’m a feminist, I want new pornos that are gender inclusive in terms of the audience. Is it even possible to have gender-neutral pornos, or do they always need to be aimed at a certain target audience?

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: That is the question. Naturally, there is a masculine point of view as well as a feminine one. Of course I would react differently as a man seeing a close-up shot of female genitalia than I would as a woman - reproduction wouldn’t work if that wasn’t the case. Women don’t usually see their own genitals; such pictures really put them off and even make them feel a little exposed - a feeling that doesn’t always prove positive. I do think that a certain habituation can develop. There are also women who say, I absolutely do not believe that there must be pornography that is specifically aimed at women. Anyone who likes visuals can find plenty in mainstream pornography, and they can decide for themselves what works for them - for instance with couple pornos. Could you say that the bottom line is that there are good and bad examples of women’s pornography, just like there are in mainstream pornos?

Sabine Lüdtke-Pilger: Sure, you can’t lump all films together. There are individual women behind these productions who are responsible in part for the script and direction or for the editing and music. That’s a little like what we see in auteur film. That’s why the basic approaches are totally different. The films of Erika Lust from Barcelona, for instance, are technically well made and introduce unique perspectives. You can see a distinct aesthetic there that female pornographic films bring to the forefront. Still, even if great women’s porn hasn’t materialised yet and needs many more attempts before it will do so, there are nevertheless women who bring a ray of hope and from whom mainstream pornography could learn something. Eventually a formula for the perfect movie was developed, too. In spite of that, there are still successful and not-so-succesful movies.

Images:  (cc) Icanteachyouhowtodoit/ Flickr, © Frîa Hagen

Translated from Gut gedacht, schlecht gemacht: Frauenpornos in der Kritik