The Dusk Channel and the Sunrise of Ladyporn
It’s recently come to worldwide attention that a television channel featuring only porn aimed at women “ Dusk “ is thriving in The Netherlands, and has been for three years. The channel features the work of prominent female porn directors such as Erika Lust and Jennifer Lyon Bell, and a range of other explicit adult films aimed at women.
Simply asking women
To help make sure they’re hitting the mark for their female audience, fans can make comments and suggestions in a forum on the channel’s website. But Dusk has already done the ground work around the complex and nebulous site of what women want, or perhaps more correctly, what women want that’s not already available on the market of porn largely aimed at men. One key quality Dusk have found that women seek is authenticity. It seems possible that they’re onto something, because sex differences in perception of reality in television and film do seem to pop up frequently in research, for example, this study finding men more likely to perceive sex on television as realistic, while women were more likely to perceive love on television as realistic. A desire for authenticity in erotica popped up all the time as I asked women what they wanted in forming where to go with the magazine I publish, Filament: fake tan, body oil and gym bodies were out, real locations and everyday attractive guys were in. Filament goes on sale for the first time at Good Vibes this week, and I’m looking forward to hearing whether the women who check it out think we’re heading in the right direction.
Beyond stereotypes and window dressing
As a female consumer of porn, the success of the Dusk channel doesn’t surprise me. If I lived in the Netherlands, I’d at least watch out of curiosity as to what sort of porn people are making with women as its intended audience. But I might not be representative, as from many conversations I’ve found that women often write off ladyporn as ˜soft’ or ˜dull’ without ever having seen it. Some of our readers speak of drawn-out efforts to get female friends to even look at the magazine, so convinced are they that they won’t like it. Thankfully, once they’ve finally relented and had a look, we can often count these women among our most ardent fans.
This is the biggest struggle of making porn for women: in the past, making anything for women has largely meant taking the men’s version, putting it in pink packaging and adding a chick lit-inspired title font. Even nowadays, some websites and magazines still say they’re for women but repackage porn designed for and by men.
There’s not just the repackaging of men’s porn as ˜porn for women’ that we’ve been insulted with. There’s also the screed of made-up assumptions about what appeals to a wide range of women. If you consult any major textbook on erotic photography, you’ll be told that erotic photography of men should be harshly lit and avoid showing the model’s face, and the model should be oiled, waxed and highly muscled. What channels like Dusk have found, as well as other ladyporn producers like Filament who’ve bothered to ask a wide range of women what they find erotic, is that the lion’s share of female desire doesn’t seem to reside in such fake and inhuman presentations of the body, although there are women who like that.
Encountering such material seems to have put many women off ladyporn completely: we’re sick of attempts to accommodate female sexual desire that don’t actually attempt to accommodate female desire, so it seems like less effort to laugh off the idea of ladyporn entirely.
Porn is not a special snowflake in its hamfisted approach to female audiences. The same thing appears to go on in every male-dominated industry: catering to women means reaching for the stereotypes and window dressing. In an article in Filament Issue 4, games designer Hannah Crosby explained how attempts to cater to female gamers have lead to games with less violence and gore. Meanwhile observing women’s gaming habits suggests that we love gore and violence as much as male gamers do. Really asking women what they feel is lacking for them in games doesn’t seem to be on the cards just yet.
The difference between having and designing for female customers
Reading about the Dusk channel and placing it alongside other movements in porn for women like the Feminist Porn Awards, the growing number of female porn directors and erotic mags aimed at women like Filament, Syzygy, Poolboy and Candy Rain suggests there is a genuine female audience for ladyporn. The only thing you have to do is take women seriously as an audience instead of feeding us material designed for men. Why has it taken us so long to realize this?
One reason is that it’s easy to get confused about the issue of who something is aimed at “ it’s a concept that rings very large for any business owner or marketeer, but consumers tend not to notice that they respond to it. Some people might read what I’m saying as suggesting that many women don’t genuinely enjoy porn that’s aimed at men “ gay porn, girl-on-girl, ˜straight’ porn or what have you. The fact that many women do happily consume porn for men highlights my point: there certainly isn’t any point repackaging men’s porn as ˜porn for women’ because women are already watching that when it’s what they like.
We’ve also become blind to the fact that almost all porn is aimed at men, perhaps because we’re frequently told that women and men have all the equality we could possibly want. I recently suggested in a conversation with a friend that Suicide Girls is aimed at men, and the response was, ‘But I know loads of women who have subscriptions to it’. I don’t know who Suicide Girls see as their core audience, but having women buy your product does not mean it was originally intended for them. Large numbers of women are embracing the Playboy brand, but anyone who’s seen a recent issue will notice that the magazine looks more like it’s aimed at men than ever before.
Differentiating for women
Outside of the world of porn there are some great examples of how products have acquired female audiences by doing things differently, either by accident or by design. No sci-fi fan could’ve missed the massive growth in female audiences that came with the advent of character-driven dramas like Firefly, Battlestar Gallactica and Stargate, and any woman who has experienced the difference between riding with a men’s bicycle seat and a women’s bicycle seat knows how much more enjoyable bike-riding is if your seat fits your hind quarters. All sorts of things are now being thoughtfully customized for women, including archaeology trowels and camera straps, recognizing that women’s hands are smaller and we have breasts. Then there’s the classic example of early vibrators aiming to look as cock-like as possible. Did no one think of asking women whether this was the best shape to get them off, or even an object they’d feel comfortable putting in their bedside drawer? Looking at the best-selling vibrators of today, it would seem not.
There are those who argue that there’s something sexist in suggesting that women and men, on average, might like different types of porn. I’m not sure I’m actually suggesting that, more that if you’re going to make porn for women, your decisions should start and end with women, and repackaging men’s porn in a pink sparkly box never has, and never will cut it. Similarly, it’s not sexist to say that gender exists in our society, that is to say, to whatever extent, we’re socially guided towards different tastes and values depending on whether we’re male or female. It probably would be sexist though, to claim that these differences are here forever and exist because men and women have inherently different brains and ways of communicating – as some brilliant women are pointing out, these claims are simply bad science bent around bad ideas.
The best way to find an audience is to include them
I come back to Suicide Girls. Once upon a time people would’ve laughed at the idea that there was a genuine market for pictures of pale girls with tattoos, piercings and luridly colored hair, but they were wrong, perhaps chiefly because Suicide Girls has a strong editorial vision, cutting-edge design and their product is crafted by the market they’re targeting through members voting on which photoshoots should become part of the site’s offering. There are many ways that I wouldn’t sing Suicide Girls’ praises, but they certainly know how to forge a market for a new type of erotica.
The success of The Netherlands’ Dusk channel demonstrates the same kind of thinking. They’re clearly committed to women as an audience, asking women what they want and embracing women as both produces of porn and consumers of porn. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s what differentiates the leading porn for women of today from the kind of thing that we often imagine it might be, and sadly often has been: some guy holding the purse strings telling women how to make porn for women, and not listening to a word we have to say. The changing world of porn for women indicates that if women aren’t increasingly holding the purse strings and calling the shots ourselves, we’re at least starting to be involved far more in the design and production of that which targets us as consumers.
For more great posts about Ladyporn Day, check Rabbit Write’s page out.