Monday, September 7, 2009

Sweden's schizoid sex policies

Sweden's policies around sex work took a turn for the even more nonsensical recently with government funding of a series of experimental feminist porn DVDs and a website by filmmaker Mia Engberg. Story here, here, and here, via Swedish English-language website The Local.

Keep in mind that this is the same country that bans government employees from staying in hotels where porn is available, and actively prosecutes the purchase of sex. Which makes me wonder about these films – were the performers paid out of this government funding? If so, congratulations, Kingdom of Sweden, you're now a purchaser of sexual services. So will you be remanding any of your officials to custody? Or is that only for regular punters.


  1. Better to be schizoid that to be uniformly sex-negative, I suppose.

    Actually, I thought this was good news out of Sweden. Could this be a pocket of resistance to the stupid anti-prostitution legislation that has made Sweden infamous?

  2. Wel, erm, not exactly. Here's an enlightening quote from the government-funded director on this project:

    "Throughout the history of art, the image of woman has been created by men. The gaze has been a man's gaze and female sexuality has been limited to a few identities that have suited the patriarchal system (and the male artistic ego): whore, wife, mother, muse.

    Now, in 2009, it's high time for a change. With this in mind I asked a number of female artists, film makers and activists to each make an erotic film showing new images of women and sexuality, images that are not created with a profit motive or for the benefit of a male audience."

    So in other words, this is all okay because it's FEMINIST porn, the kind men don't like. It might even be viewed as counter-propaganda, if you're really stupid enough to view porn of any kind as propaganda in the first place.

    I have nothing against almost any sort of porn not involving kids, animals or other unwilling participants, but when it starts from this kind of political agenda, I suspect it's just more of the same anti-porn-in-general agitprop, this time disguised as the genuine article.

    There is a contradiction here regarding Sweden's laws against the purchase of sexual services, but I'm sure a convenient loophole has been found to make such purchase of services legal as long as it's for a purpose from which male satisfaction as a purpose is specifically excluded.

    In short, Sweden's head is still planted firmly up its ass where this whole area of policy is concerned.

  3. I was being slightly facetious about Sweden being in violation of its own sex purchase laws, since it still is legal to produce porn in Sweden, and a look at the Hotmovies VOD site under "LANGUAGE -> Swedish" reveals several small studios active there. I had read the Swedish government had actually wanted to ban porn production under the original law, but were unable to do so within their legal system for reasons that aren't clear to me. Perhaps some Swedish equivalent of the Freeman decision?

    But in any event, funding such a movie certainly violated the spirit of their rabid stance that all commercial sex is violence against women, even if it stays within the letter of the law.

    And, yep, I also saw the same quote you did, and it ultimately boils down to ideology, just like the poorly-defined "erotica" of the early feminist porn wars. That ideological battles of this kind are best left to a free citizenry to sort out for themselves is certainly lost on this mentality.

  4. I hear what you're saying you're saying, Ernest, but the Swedish filmmaker quoted sounds like she's plagiarizing Candida Royalle, especially when she started out in the 1980s.

    That doesn't mean she's right about everything she's saying, of course, but let's wait and see what else she says before we declare her to be a fraud.

  5. Sheldon,

    I didn't say she was a fraud. I think she's quite sincere in wanting to make porn men won't like.

    And it's worked already. I never want to see a single video this person has made or will make and fortunately will not have to.

    That's not what Candida intended to convey in or about her work. She wanted to make pictures that would be couples-friendly and tilted toward female viewers. Candida has made some tough coments regarding conventional commercial pornography, but she has never denounced it in political terms or made prejudicial assumptions about male viewers of the type so clearly evident in this "director's" remarks.

    And though Candida favors certain body types, all are conventionally attractive and her approach to shooting them, while reflecting her particular esthetic, is conventionally slick and essentially mainstream.

    I doubt there will be much similarity between the products of these two directors. Their motivations are simply too different.

  6. Regarding Candida Royalle, she never came across as anti-male the way Mia Engberg does. She has some real disagreements with the formula of typical straight porn of course, but so do a lot of people. In a couple of interviews I've read with her, she seems to have some rather stereotypical ideas of what women wanted to see sexually that I think underestimated women's sexual diversity and adventurousness, but she makes films that appeal to a certain segment of straight women and couples. In fact, I'm surprised she didn't try to break into the made-for-cable softcore boom a few years back, because she was shooting for the same audience and is a more skilled filmmaker than a lot of people who were cranking out those titles.

    Generally speaking, I haven't seen many of her films. But I do remember a great lesbian scene between Siobhan Hunter and Carol Cross, though – one of the best sex scenes in all of 80s porn.

  7. That scene occurred in "The Three Daughters* (Femme, 1986), one of the few narrative porn films involving Jewish characters. Ashley Moore and Gloria Leonard were the parents, and the house sported a Johhny Wadd-sized mezzuzzah. In porn, everything is bigger!

    Now there you go again, getting me to reminisce about the good old days...

    And speaking of Candida, it's true she packaged her concept as oriented toward couples. But in live appearances, I have heard off-the-cuff bitter remarks from her about the men in the business. I waan't alarmed by them - I assumed they were based in fact and would make her more appealing to feminists who were sitting on the fence during the "Sex Wars" of the 1980s.

    However, she supports decriminalization of prostitution and is no fan, last I checked, of the "Swedish approach" toward sex work. What does the government-funded Swedish director have to say about her own government's stance on that issue? THAT would be a real test of where she's really coming from, and would be a better way to separate her from Candida Royalle, if, in fact, they differed on that issue.

  8. I did some Googling around and couldn't find anything directly on criminalization. I did come across this though (pardon the sketchy translation):

    "January 17th 2002

    Theme Pornography, debate at the Malmö University

    The starting point for lectures and debates are pornography and commercialized sex. Gender Society GEM has invited three guests; author and commentator Petra Östergren, Louise Eek, she also I authors and with the recent autobiographical book I Played lives and Mia Engberg, documentary filmmaker and musician in the band Vagina Grande. The debates and lectures held in the Great Hörsalen at K3, Malmö University (Beijerskajen 8 in Malmö) in the afternoon."

    Basically, Petra Östergren is one of the few pro-sex worker feminists in Swedish academia, and one of the major critics of Sweden's prostitution laws; Louise Eek is a former stripper turned radfem, and supporter of the law. I'm sure how Swedish prostitution legislation related to pornography must have come up given who was involved in the debate, but what Engberg's position was, I'm not sure.

  9. Now as for her reasons for making porn, I found this recent interview here. Here it is in Google translation (since I can't produce a translated version of the whole page for some reason):

    Can porn be feminist?

    Yes, said Mia Engberg producer of adult film project, Dirty Diaries

    Previously she threw stones at porn shops.

    On Thursday, the gala premiere for the porn movie "Dirty Diaries" by Mia Engberg has produced.

    "Feminist porn is focused not on the male ejaculating porn old man who does", says Mia Engberg.

    It was while feminist activist Mia Engberg got the idea to change the pornography, instead of just being against it. 2002, her movie "Selma & Sofie", an attempt at a feminist and human-friendly porn.

    "It was more a sweet love film. Moreover, it was wrong to female sexuality that is so rich and varied would be represented by a film", says Mia Engberg.

    12 directors gives their version

    In "Dirty Diaries," which premieres on Thursday and received state support from the Swedish Film Institute, offers 12 women directors in their versions of pornography.

    "It is an understatement that we call it pornography rather than erotica. What would it be like if porn was not so crudely commercial but also had an artistic side", says Mia Engberg.

    What is the difference to ordinary porn - more than the directors and producers are women?

    "We only regular female bodies, no silicone tits, nothing artificial. Moreover, the films are not mass produced to make money. Will there be any profit we share it. And they are made with a female gaze that makes that not everything is focused on the male ejaculation."

    'Porn is not so sexy'

    One of the basic flaws in it that Mia Engberg called old man's porn is the way the female body is depicted.

    "As commercial forces are taking over the images of people, then the images are often not true. This applies to both Hollywood films and mainstream porn."

    Do you do this to you like porn?

    "It's very different. A portion of the project loves porn, others want to do this in order to crush porn. I do so in order to change the image of women and creating options", "says Mia Engberg.

    Do you like to see porn?

    "Personally, I am a tired young mother. I do not think porn is so sexy. I can not see it without thinking about the circumstances of the recording. But I like the course, not Hollywood movies either. They also mediates lying pictures of reality. And it is capitalism's fault."

    But "Dirty Diaries," is there anything that you could look at?

    "O yes! God, yes! Here I would like to see. Though I have worked with it in two years so I am not so excited any more."

    The 12 porn films will appear in cinemas over the weekend. But the idea is mainly to "Dirty Diaries" will be enjoyed at home.

    "I think there is a huge need. But there is nothing to be shown on TV, even late at night. Porn is not for everyone."

    "Dirty Diaries" is released on DVD on Tuesday. On Saturday and Sunday, 4 and 5 September, at 20.30 shows the 12 porn films in the Rio Cinema in Stockholm.


    So basically, its largely an intellectual exercise, mainly by people who don't even like porn. No wonder, at least based on the previews I've seen, that it just doesn't work erotically – its not actually based on anything that turns people on. It fails as badly or worse than the most generic commercial porn for the same reason – their heart is not in it, and just because their motivation is ideology rather than money doesn't make it any better.

    Ellen Willis some 30 years ago effectively critiqued anti-porn feminist ideas of erotica as hung up on a priori ideas of what women should like rather than what women actually like. It looks like Mia Engberg is supplying an object lesson proving Willis' case.

  10. I just came across this Feminist Porn Manifesto from the makers of Dirty Diaries. Basically, it looks like the kind of incoherent and self-contradictory manifesto that an 18-year old who's first getting into radical politics might write.