If you haven’t yet heard of Rabbit White’s latest project, Lady Porn Day, you probably will soon. She’s apparently discussing it with Dan Savage, Cindy Gallop of “Make Love Not Porn” fame has been pimping it on Twitter, and she’s been sending pseudo-press releases out via email (which I know because I got one). While I generally like Rabbit’s work a lot, and I had a great time when she joined me on an episode of Kink On Tap, I was disappointed (to put it mildly) by this latest endeavor of hers.

According to Rabbit, Lady Porn Day is “about celebrating pornography and masturbation. It is an opportunity for ladies of all genders (or however you identify) to open up a dialog.” All right, I’m thinking, I can totally support that. So I click on over to her project page and, sadly, my heart deflates.

What happened? I was greeted by this:

A skinny white woman wearing nothing but a white fur-lined coat with big blonde hair and big glasses baring it all in a public venue. It’s a digital flyer for Lady Porn Day, the text of the advert itself serving double-duty as publicity and censor. This is Lady Porn Day?

While this may certainly be a “celebration of pornography,” the loudest dialogue I can see predictably coming out of it is more of the sex-positive community’s lies. Yes, we tell lies, too. As Madame Thursday wrote in her excellent post, “Sex-Positivity and other lies on Tumblr“:

People have been celebrating the sexualities of attractive white people for centuries. In fact, I’d say if there were ever a time when people’s discomfort towards sex dissipates and they’re willing to accept, tolerate, and engage with sexual content is WHEN it comes in the form of these bodies, these pre-approved forms.

[…]

I looked and looked in those sex positivity blogs and sites, in their pictures and stories and I didn’t find a lot of fat people (male or female), people of color, queer people. I have yet to find a mainstream sex positivity site (yes, this movement has a mainstream) that features transgendered people in all their beauty. Forget seeing disabled people displaying their various modes of sexuality. Forget seeing their bodies displayed as revolutionary and world-changing and an example of how sex is really, really awesome.

I learned soon enough that most sex positivity is actually White Straight Thin Able Cisgendered Cissexual Positivity.

And the world is already positive enough on those traits, thank you very much.

But maybe Rabbit’s White Straight Thin Able Cisgendered Cissexual “celebration of porn” poster is a fluke. Maybe I should just scroll down the page a little bit, right? Well, down the page there are 11 other flyers for Lady Porn Day. Predictably, however, they’re all like the first:

Of these 12 “fantastic official Lady Porn Day banners,” which Rabbit (perhaps unsurprisingly at this point) says were sourced from Tumblr, female bodies feature in a grand total of 11 of them. Male bodies feature in a total of 3. Of those three, 1 banner shows only male bodies, while the other 2 both show a heterosexual pairing. Of those 2 with a heterosexual pairing, you can see the woman’s face in both photos while the man’s face is visible in only 1.

And for those keeping score on the racial and body size fronts, there is only 1 dark-skinned model in the entire collection, and 1 model even remotely approaching “plus” size. But at least they are token-included. There are, of course, zero submissively-depicted men.

That’s why I feel neither inspired nor impressed by the supposed discussion this project purports to be hawking the blogosphere’s way. Far from being something novel, the homogeneity of these images are simply another all-too-obvious “hidden” standard: a male gaze coming from a woman’s eyes.

Admittedly, this is a topic I am touchy about. So I asked some lady friends for a sanity check. Clarisse Thorn, in her careful, gentle style, offered her own take:

When Rabbit recruited me for Lady Porn Day, I didn’t feel like her initial images were very diverse, so I suggested that she include different races and body types. She took the tip with good grace and added a couple of new images immediately, which I think shows her openness to having this conversation. It is definitely an ongoing conversation though—one where there are plenty more points to be made about diversity of body types and sexualities and what the “male gaze” versus “female gaze” really means—and one that I hope the bloggers and pornographers involved in Lady Porn Day will take seriously.

So, this is how Lady Porn Day’s publicity is easily perceived, at least by others sensitive to this issue. The only perceptible novelty I see in Lady Porn Day is that the male gaze is being proffered by a skinny white woman.

But don’t take my word for it. Take Rabbit’s:

It’s tough trying to explore porn as a girl. There just isn’t much lady-friendly stag.

That seems a funny statement coming from someone who asserted these overwhelmingly abundant and stereotypical images are her own masturbatory fodder:

the flyers are from my porn files, things I find hot!

The only way I see to make sense of her statement is to posit that, in her mind, the flyers are neither “what counts” about the project nor, presumably, are they (collectively) male-gazey precisely because she is a woman, which would at best betray a grave misunderstanding of the concept.

I am no woman, but my gaze skews far more “female” than Rabbit’s. If I exist this way, then surely it is not merely possible but acceptable for her to have a male gaze (regardless of how uncomfortable she may be with that fact). Hell, I even find women with male gazes attractive in their own right.

More to the point, however, which position is more sex-positive, even pro-porn? A position that essentializes one’s gaze based on one’s gender (e.g., women can’t have a male gaze because they are women) or a position that individuates both one’s body and one’s desires?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no beef (pun intended) with Rabbit’s personal preferences. And I think Rabbit’s goals, which she articulated quite well, are noble:

Girls aren’t encouraged to talk to each other about porn– the same way we aren’t encouraged to talk to each other about masturbation. In girl-world, too often we expect our first orgasm to come from a partner. Then we expect our Sex-and-The-City approved hitachi-orgasms to come from, well, our closed eyes. But porn is just another tool for your sexual growth. And according to statistics more women are watching porn than ever, growing stronger in our silence apparently.

[…]

At it’s heart, this is about celebrating pornography and masturbation. It is an opportunity for ladies of all genders (or however you identify) to open up a dialog: What is feminist porn? What is your history with porn? What do you find hot?

And ultimately it’s a dare to share your hot links. Because the more we can openly talk about porn and what we like, the more likely it is that porn for women will continue being made. And really guys have been sharing and recommending porn for ages! So help a sister out.

Yes, totally, talk about this! Moreover, if this is just your way of getting a conversation about the ubiquity of the male gaze going, Rabbit, even when it’s shared by some women, then more power to you. But don’t for one moment discount the effect that opening such a conversation in the way you did will have on it. That’s like going around organizing a conference about women in business by lining up a bunch of men to speak and then claiming that you made that decision because, despite being a woman, you just find men to be better at running businesses. And there, again, I would not question your individual opinion, but I would question what the fuck you’re doing organizing conferences about women in business that way.

Such behavior has many precedents among women. It simply means these women have more in common, on this particular point, with the stalwarts of the status-quo than with progressive innovators. (Phyllis Schlafly, anyone?) Or, as the inimitable Bitchy Jones put it, “This is a sad, sad situation, but maybe, just maybe, slightly more inclusion might be possible if you looked a bit further than your own fucking hard drive.”

This is far from flippant. When one tries to publicize a “conversation” about “lady porn,” is it so difficult to look beyond one’s own porn stash for publicity photos? And if that is just too (ahem) hard—hey, I understand talking about sex can be…distracting…sometimes—why discount the importance of the marketing material as if it has little or no effect on the resultant conversation? A conversation, by the way, explicitly acknowledged as having been hugely influenced by marketing material like Sex and the City and brand-name (Hitachi) orgasms.

At the very least, why not offer one’s graphic source files and encourage others to make more flyers, rather than proclaiming them “done”? (Update: Rabbit seems to have taken this suggestion. Good on her! Don’t let anyone tell you being harsh means you’ll lose your influence—I get told this all the time by “nice” people, and while they’re nice, they’re clearly wrong.)

I’m deeply saddened every time the sex-positive community turns a blind eye to its own minorities. It is not as though those of us with a “female gaze” are quiet about that fact, yet we are consistently underrepresented.

And, at the risk of sounding exasperated, I am tired of people who like to get off by looking at skinny white women—regardless of whether they are skinny white women themselves—orchestrating conversations about “porn for women.” I am tired of the preponderance of the male gaze in advertising material for sex-positive events and products. And most of all, I am tired of people conflating issues (like gender vs. gaze, in this case) to excuse their own privilege in spaces they say were expressly designed to have that very conversation.

That all said, hey, I acknowledge this particular conversation is just beginning. For all I know, maybe this disappointing opener is “all part of the plan.” So if nothing else, I hope this post serves as food for thought and maybe even a call to action to anyone considering getting involved.

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