5 min

Emma would be proud

The first-ever feminist porn awards

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE. Chanelle Gallant's not giving the winners away... yet. Credit: Christine Ablett

Scooping San Francisco on what surely should have been thought up a decade ago by some collective of sex radical grrrlz on the west coast, Toronto sex shop Good For Her has announced the inception of the Emmas, the first porn awards celebrating feminist porn and female adult film directors.

“As far as I know we’re the first ones,” says Good For Her manager Chanelle Gallant. “I couldn’t believe it…. When I first thought it up I thought, ‘I’ll Google this and see ’cause someone else must have thought of this.’ Nobody ever. We’re it. And I thought, ‘wow’, ’cause there’s a lot of feminist-oriented sex culture out there. So we’re very proud that Good For Her is the first one to do it.”

The Emmas, to be awarded on Thu, Jun 1 at the Gladstone as part of the event Vixens And Visionaries: Female Erotic Directors Revolutionizing Porn, were named in honour of anarchist feminist Emma Goldman.

“We named them after Emma Goldman because she was a radical and revolutionary, but she was also someone who saw there was a place for sex and love in the revolution,” says Gallant. “She didn’t actually say it, but she’s attributed with that quote, ‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of the revolution.’ Well, our thinking is if I can’t come I don’t want to be part of your revolution. I think if she were alive today Emma would absolutely be a pro-sex radical feminist.”

For many young dykes (and many older fags, for that matter) it may be hard to believe that the question of pornography once divided feminists, that activists and academics alike argued for more than a decade over whether porn could be anything but a tool of the patriarchy.

“I started out as an antiporn feminist years and years back,” admits Gallant. “We are the transition generation, because the kids these days, they don’t even know what the problem is. Which is fine, but it’s important for them to know that, please, it’s not just all Girls Gone Wild, you know?”

How do you explain to the baby dykes why porn was once considered so problematic?

“Oh no, trying to encapsulate thousands and thousands of pages of feminist theory!” Gallant laughs. “Well, there’s the issue of objectification, the issue of stereotyping, the issue that those things combined allow men to see us as less than full citizens and not as entitled to the same rights of citizenship and political and economic agency as men and that porno-graphy actually contributes to that, that it reduces women to their sexuality and that it misrepresents them.

“Then there’s other things coming out of it, like the issue of consent and whether or not women can really consent to sex work, which I think is a really insulting argument… it’s an outrage, that sex workers and women in adult films are often assumed not to be able to fully consent to their work.”

What was the turning point for Gallant?

“The moment when I stopped being an antiporn feminist? Yeah, I can tell you the moment. The moment I came out and decided I wanted to see naked girls. As soon as I came out as bisexual and realized that all the material I found erotic was being censored based on the Butler decision [A Supreme Court decision that outlined tests for obscenity; see timeline below] that was it. I was like, ‘Oh wait a sec, fuck you! Are you kidding me? You mean the shit I want to see? You mean lesbian stuff made by dykes is what is gonna be treated as obscene? No!’

“That’s when I decided there had to be a different way… that trying to turn your back on erotic representation completely couldn’t be the way. I decided the other way was to be conscious about what you’re consuming and to make alternative stuff.”

Now as a buyer for a store that caters to women, Gallant says she looks for adult film companies with a reputation for treating their workers fairly.

“It’s no different than knowing whether or not the T-shirts I bought in El Salvador were made under good conditions,” she says. “It’s workers who are being paid fairly, who are being treated fairly in their work, not working under duress.”

As a viewer, she looks for films where the women look like they’re enjoying themselves.

“What a viewer can do is ask, ‘Do the women appear to be having fun and are the women having orgasms?’ because if a woman has an orgasm that’s kind of a stamp of approval.”

As it turns out “earth-shattering orgasm” is just one of the award categories at the Emmas this year. Others include “best vixen next door,” “best butt scene” and “best muffdiving scene,” the dearth of which is a pet peeve of Gallant’s.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Sometimes I think about it as I’m going down on someone…. If you can find a way to represent the freaking Holocaust on film, you can find a way to film good muffdiving. Hey, they call that unfilm-able. There are all kinds of incredibly complex social issues that creative minds have tackled visually. They just haven’t done it because it’s sex.

“They say it’s less filmable [than fellatio] but I don’t believe it and we’re putting it out there as a challenge to filmmakers to create the best cunnilingus scenes.”

Will each Emma award-winner be receiving a cute little statuette?

“Yes, but I’m not telling what it is,” says Gallant. “I’m gonna say it’s an equal opportunity sex toy. It could be functional, yes.”

The evolution of feminist porn

Deep Throat is released in many mainstream movie theatres across North America. Star Linda Lovelace later leaves the adult film industry and becomes an antipornography spokesperson.

Good Vibrations, credited with being the first female-oriented sex shop in North America, opens its first location in San Francisco.

The first issue of On Our Backs is published. A play on the name of a feminist newspaper at that time, Off Our Backs, it was launched “in part as a response to the antipornography platform of most lesbian and feminist organizations and media at the time.”

Porn star and feminist Candida Royalle launches Femme Productions with a film of the same name. The first “woman-friendly” het film, it skips the genital close-ups and cum shots.

Porn star Criss Cassidy launches Tigress Productions with the film Erotic In Nature. “We won’t pretend that this new phenomenon isn’t controversial,” writes one reviewer, “but sex videos made by lesbians for lesbian audiences have finally arrived.”

On Our Backs cofounders Nan Kinney and Debi Sundahl launch into film with Private Pleasures and Shadows, two videos featuring real-life lesbian lovers. It’s the first sexually explicit video made by and for lesbians.

The US Attorney General’s Commission On Porno-graphy releases the final draft of its 2,000-page report, which links hard-core porn to sex crimes.

Feminists For Free Expression is founded by a group of women including porn star Candida Royalle. “Censorship traditionally has been used to silence women and stifle feminist social change,” says their mission statement. “It never has reduced violence.”

The Supreme Court Of Canada rules in the case of Donald Butler, a Manitoba video-store owner charged with selling obscene material. The decision, referred to as the Butler decision, upholds existing obscenity laws and also sets out new tests for determining what is obscene.

A group of former and active porn stars (Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle, Gloria Leonard and Veronica Hart) form Club 90, culminating in the performance of Deep Inside Porn Stars.

The lesbian smut zine Bad Attitude becomes one of the first victims of the Butler decision when it’s deemed “materials which potentially victimize women.”

An academic critique of state censorship, Bad Attitude/s On Trial: Pornography, Feminism And The Butler Decision, is published. In its introduction Brenda Cossman and Shannon Bell write: “We share the concerns of the sex radicals, who saw in the censorship laws the denial of women’s sexual agency and pleasure.”

SIR Video launches with the double bill Hard Love and How To Fuck In High Heels, signalling the start of the second wave of dyke-made porn.

Good Vibration’s film venture, Sexpositive Productions, produces its first full-length video, Slide Bi Me, the story of an insurance company picnic turned bisexual orgy.

The Emmas, the first-ever feminist porn awards, takes place at the Gladstone Hotel, presented by Toronto sex shop Good For Her.