Feminizing porn: voyeurism, sexuality as seen in erotica


A Woman’s Place is in Politics


Thinking about pornography and femininity’s role in its proliferation often incites questions about the permanence of patriarchal culture within our bedrooms and sexual spaces. I have, as of late, been pondering whether sexual liberation in the presence of dichotomous (yet seemingly “consensual”) power relations can in fact theoretically function without contradiction. The opposite has crossed my mind –– whether sexual liberation must include the opportunity for dichotomous (and actually consensual) power relations. That is to ask, is fetishizing feminine subversion detrimental to the feminist movement as a whole? Or can fetishizing for purposes of pleasure rather than power exist within our conversations on “sexual liberation”? The question here is not whether the porn industry (or any “industry” of porn) could or would allow for this sort of sexual revolution in the realm of voyeurism. It is clear that given the porn industry’s capitalist incentive to exploit the images and functions of vulnerable bodies, it can never exist within any sort of revolution that carries the predicate “sexual.” The question, then, becomes –– In a domain of consent, interest, and desire, when does subversion cease to be subversive?

A few incidents have brought these questions to mind over the past few weeks. The first is the alarming demand on social media websites for the creation and proliferation of feminist pornography by people who think it can exist (a group that I certainly identity myself with). Among various working hypotheses, feminist pornography is often described as “recasting the dominant image of porn” through internal and external practices of consent, “positive representations” and better working conditions. Yet, there seems to be another layer of scrutiny that I would wish to add to the discourse on feminist porn. This brings me to the second incident that provoked my interest in so-called “subversion.” A few weeks ago, Lebanese porn star Mia Khalifa shocked the international public by launching a video in which another woman (seemingly of Arab descent) gave a porn dude a (very intense) blowjob while — wait for it — wearing a hijab. A hijab is the headscarf worn by many Muslim women as a sign of religiosity, which Muslim women and others adorn in order to show modesty. Not only is the presence of the hijab in a sexual situation an embarrassingly inaccurate representation of how hijabi Muslim women (to my knowledge) have sex (that is, without hijab), but it is also a blatant exploitation of a religious symbol for the purposes of sexual fetishism –– transforming the exploitation of piety, the f---ing of the “virgin,” into the sexual motif.

Mia Khalifa, even with her clear disinterest in the cognitive realm of feminism, claims her actions to be “subversive,” bringing us back to our original concerns with opening up spaces for subversion within feminist contentions. What is it to be both feminist and subjugated? Needless to say, I see Mia Khalifa’s appeal to “subversion” (of Islam, that is) as unworthy of any status within the realm of “feminism” and less within the realm of sexual liberation. It is fair to categorize the dissemination of a video in which a woman gives a blowjob while wearing a hijab a clear use of subjugated images for their further subjugation.

An interesting aspect of feminist pornography, and why I think it can exist, is that it seeks to reorder the way that we imagine gender and sexuality. Indeed, many feminist contentions in the past few decades have emphasized the need to acknowledge each individual’s role in constructing norms of gender and sexuality. In this way, it is quite possible for pornography to function as a repository of positive images, aiding those who flourish in voyeurism achieve a sense of comfort both throughout the duration of the program and afterwards, when the manifestations of the videos will necessarily impact the way they conduct their bodies and what they view as sexually desirable and more importantly, sexually acceptable. When the only pornography that is readily accessible is that which forces women (or “feminine” bodies) into positions of submission and inferiority (let alone into skinny, white, shaven bodies if they are to be considered “desirable”), the status of women in the sexual realm is diminished to the passive and necessary role of following command and doing it well.

Pornography (as it is) strips women and “feminine” bodies of their sexuality, making the only relevant actor he who has been given the role of dominator. Were these images to be transformed into our sexual spaces, it would take more than just newspaper columns and actively preaching feminists to configure ways to give women positive views of themselves. Equally as important is giving men positive views of women. Reversing the effect of repressive pornography would demand a reinvigoration of the way we imagine our sexual spaces, our power relations and our relationship with spaces and acts of voyeurism.

Margarita Rosario is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy. Her column, “A Woman’s Place is in Politics,” runs on alternate Tuesdays. 


Margarita Rosario

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