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Consent, Critique & Feminist Porn: Madison Young’s Hard Lesson

290 x 290 web bannerSo yesterday a video was unearthed that rippled through the feminist porn community. It featured self-described feminist pornographer Madison Young and performer Billie Sweet post-filming for the Feminist Porn Award nominated “Heartland: a Woman’s POV”. this particular clip showed the two discussing SOPP at Antioch College, in particular making fun of explicit consent policies.

What was particularly startling, however, was the way in which they decided to joke about it, and what Madison revealed. She talks about having sex with a drunk girl then acts it out, using language like “shut up” and “I gave it to the bitch”, while also mentioning how hurt she was that the girl spoke out about it.  This was pretty surprising coming from someone who regularly is booked to speak about feminism and consent.

Now, I want to say that I know, especially when young, people say and do fucked up things. No one is perfect on consent. That said, joking about a situation where a woman felt violated enough to report rape seems pretty messed up- saying things like “so I gave it to the bitch” when talking about sex while drunk perpetuates rape culture, and is especially insensitive when in the context of college campuses. 

I’ve tried to focus on the main points spoken, here in the below Storify (which this writing is expanded from). I do encourage people to look further into this call out by researching it on Twitter. 

Madison’s formal response is here, but comes after some defensiveness. I understand- being called out is hard!- but I think that the critique is necessary and while I hope Madison understands what was not ok here, I’m not entirely convinced by her response that she does, unfortunately.

Even the President has spoken out about rape on campus, so Madison’s tweet about how no one takes Antioch College’s SOPP seriously seems particularly tone deaf. A professor who taught at Antioch said elsewhere how the policy was taken seriously by people on campus, and that it was actually a really good idea- a student echoed that sentiment, so Madison’s dismissal isn’t across the board. It was, no surprise, the media who reduced it to a joke, with Saturday Night Live making a date rape skit out of the policy. When Antioch College shut down, some people blamed the policy and the feminists who were instrumental in making it happen.

Yet here we are, watching as universities consider positive consent policies instead of depending on negative consent policies, insisting on a yes rather than waiting for a no. Ivy League schools, interestingly enough, seem to struggle the most to take on these policies. Harvard has the highest sexual assault stats. One third of women who experienced rape did so when college aged, between 18-24.

Maybe Antioch was ahead of its time, and if the media had taken it seriously instead of taunting it, we might have a better grasp on this issue in colleges now. 

While I can appreciate that context and tone can be removed from a video and therefore hard to assess for the viewer, I also find the difference between how it’s discussed in the video- “shut up”, “I don’t care what people say”, and “the drunk bitch woke up the next day and felt differently”- vs in the written response, which suggests they were both drunk, defensively states that it was mutual masturbation (like that cannot be a form of consent violation), and that they were both concerned about how other people would perceive the violation of the SOPP, is concerning. In the video, Madison expresses that her “feelings were hurt” when it was brought up at a meeting, while in the written response, she says that she and this unnamed girl sought out advice from their hall advisor. Having that hall advisor be the one to characterize the situation as “she felt differently when sober” is also concerning. 

In short? If it was meant as a joke, it’s not a funny one. And it’s one that perpetuates a culture in which people don’t report sexual assault, especially if they were intoxicated, because they don’t want to deal with the consequences of their experience being a laughing matter on social media.

Additionally I think it’s very important to recognize that being an expert in a field does not mean you are incapable of massively fucking up in your understanding of what that field embraces (or ignores)- see Hugh Schwyzer, RuPaul Charles, and Gail Dines for just a little taste of how you can be an “authority” on something and still say ignorant things. 

What I would like to see happen is that this be a jumping off place to discuss consent and intoxication, how clear negotiation can be sexy, and how to respond when called out. I understand the desire to be defensive, but that isn’t going to fix the problem. Like a muscle, we need to allow ourselves to relax and work the knots out, rather than tense up to “protect” ourselves in ways that ultimately harm us. Perhaps we’ll see Madison do a film that prioritizes different types of consent, and models how people can negotiate during play in ways that feel natural, so that nonverbal guesswork isn’t our only model for what’s “hot”.

On the plus side, it sounds like the Feminist Porn Awards are looking into increased accountability, and they’re going to be creating a community forum to discuss future concerns:

There will always be situations and interactions we will never be privy to surrounding directors and performers and productions. We see now that this has not been made that clear to our community, and also that it may not be possible to separate filmmakers from their work. In the future if we have knowledge about a filmmaker or actor or person involved in a production who is displaying problematic behaviour we will attempt to address a matter privately before taking it to a public forum.

I’m really excited about this move as I think it’s a step towards creating some framework around defining what feminist porn is and isn’t. It’s a move towards a focus on transformative justice rather than a focus on punishment or just ignoring the problem.  And it also is a step towards taking these situations seriously on a level other businesses are held to- for example, when American Apparel’s creative director says fatphobic things, she is taken to task. When Pasta Barilla’s CEO said homophobic things, he was critiqued heavily. Why wouldn’t we hold the same standards for porn producers/directors?

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