Category Archives: Pornography

Rate It X

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Running Time: 93 min

Related Subjects Sexism, documentary, pornography, advertising

Synopsis Rate It X is a provocative documentary on sexism in America (or at least America in the 80s). Both funny and disturbing, the documentary consists of dozens of interviews with various males who (often in a professional or business setting), discuss sexist or otherwise questionable practices. From the director of a funeral home (who insists “strong oak caskets” are only sold to men) to the creator of a comic called “Chester the Molester”, we see dozens of men espouse their beliefs on gender equality in the U.S. The interviews vary wildly not only in content but in form, from talking head-style in offices, to seemingly random encounters in rural backyards, to darkly-lit stores in NYC. Some men seem almost charmingly out-of-touch and others deeply disturbed. The directors navigate all this with incredible grace, managing to make a film both funny and surprisingly complex in its portrayal of chauvinism.

Controversial upon release, the film unflinchingly explores the adult entertainment industry. It features characters such as the star of “The Ugly George Hour of Sex, Truth and Convergence”, the chief editor of an African-American porn magazine, and surreally, a man who bakes cakes in the shape of headless, bikini-wearing women. We see the man cut out pieces of the cake for the woman’s waistline. Later, the same ripped pieces are piled on haphazardly for breasts. The film goes on to explore advertising at length, and we hear a variety of male advertising executives discuss—with varying levels of articulateness–their personal beliefs on what women find sexually appealing. But the film finds not only these usual suspects. In what are some of the film’s most enlightening moments, it goes out of its way to find unexpected pockets of sexism. No matter the subject, we see the modes through which sexism is rationalized.

The documentarians—Lucy Winer and Paula de Koenigsberg—are very occasionally heard speaking in the background. In one particularly lengthy interview, we hear the directors ask if the interviewee believes “women talk more than men”. The mechanic proceeds to speak for several minutes, justifying why he believes this to be true and citing several examples. We do not hear from the directors again. For the most part, the film lets the men and their beliefs “speak for themselves”. Midway through the documentary, we begin to loop back, revisiting men from earlier in the film. Such men are often more defensive, seemingly after being asked an off-screen question. One advertiser, for instance, is seemingly asked repeatedly why he uses “beautiful women” so extensively in his advertising. He manages to dodge the question for several minutes, before finally breaking out into a strangely child-like smile and declaring that men just “like that sort of thing”.

Rate It X attempts to offer a sweeping portrait of sexism in America. While it’s unclear if it manages to achieve this—the documentary is only 90 minutes long, and was filmed 30 years ago—it certainly does offer a poignant portrait of much of what is troubling about chauvinism in the American consciousness.

 

Additional Resources

NY Times original review – http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A0DE2DC133EF931A15753C1A960948260

Live Nude Girls Unite!

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Running Time: 80 min

live-nude-girls-unite

Live Nude Girls Unite! is a documentary about the efforts that went into creating a union for sex workers at the Seattle strip club The Lusty Lady. Taking place from 1996-1997, it was released in 2000. This documentary argues that sex work is legitimate labor and that sex workers are insufficiently protected by current labor laws. It also posits that sex work isn’t an inherently antifeminist practice. The structural practices that encompass sex work are just, in most cases, anti-woman (as well as racist and classist.) The abuses that they protest include: discriminatory hiring based on race, not doing enough to protect the dancers’ privacy, and under paying them. It’s also about the relationship one of the directors – Julia Query – has with her mother. Query’s mother, Joyce Wallace, is a prominent doctor and activist for sex workers in New York. For decades, she drove around in a van handing out condoms and performing STD tests on NYC streetwalkers. She raised her daughter a feminist. Still, Query has trouble telling her that she’s a stripper. When Wallace does learn, she reacts badly. Despite her activism, she believes that sex work is demeaning to women. This reveals the stigma that sex workers have to combat even amongst their most natural-seeming allies. After intense negotiation, they reach a compromise with The Lusty Lady, turning it into the only unionized strip club in the United States at that time.

Whether sex work can be feminist has been a contentious issue within the movement since the 1970s. Known as the Feminist Sex Wars, the discussion is divided into two camps – the anti-pornography feminists and pro-sex feminists. The point of contention is whether sex work is inherently based on the exploitation of women. Anti-pornography activists point to the structural abuse and misogyny inherent in most sex industries, while pro-sex feminists argue that this blanket condemnation overlooks the agency of individual women in the sex industry. In this film, Wallace is anti-pornography while Query is pro-sex. The film itself is pro-sex. Live Nude Girls Unite! contains testimonials from dancers who identify with feminists and describe their sex work as empowering. While the film criticizes the exploitative institutions that house sex work, the dancers/protestors are framed as admirable in seeking their own worker- and performer-centric establishment. The film’s perspective on anti-pornography feminists (via its depiction of Wallace) is disappointment that they can’t overcome their prejudices regarding sex work to engage with a younger generation of activists.

Live Nude Girls Unite! also depicts an intersection between feminism and the labor movement. According to Wikipedia, the labor movement is, “the collective organization of working people developed to represent and campaign for better working conditions and treatment from their employers and, by the implementation of labour and employment laws, their governments.” In the documentary, dancers at the Lusty Lady unionize in order to combat low wages, discriminatory hiring practices, and insufficient protection from abusive clients. Feminist labor movements face the added challenge that women’s labor is often undervalued. For example, mainstream economics has historically ignored unpaid labor performed by women, such as domestic or caregiving work. Sex work, while paying, is deeply stigmatized. Live Nude Girls Unite! documents the ways in which employers try to downplay sex work as labor. The Lusty Lady’s owners were particularly adamant about retaining a description of the performance as “fun.” Alongside downplaying the job’s physical and emotional toil, this would have helped them frame dancing as lower-paying and less regulated “part time” work in court.

At the end of the film, the workers win many of their proposed gains and unionize. In 2003, the Lusty Lady become a worker’s cooperative. It was an important experiment in a sex work establishment owned by the workers themselves. The Lusty Lady closed its doors in 2013 due to declining profits and failed rent negotiations. Julia Query went on to become an author and public speaker. Vicky Funari continues to make documentaries about women’s labor, such as Maquilopolis. (2006)

Links

Interview with Joyce Wallace about her work combatting AIDS in sex workers during the 1980s.

Vicky Funari’s filmography.

Retrospective on the Lusty Lady as of its closing in 2013.

Overview of the Feminist Sex Wars.

Books on The Lusty Lady.

Eaves, Elisabeth. Bare on Women, Dancing, Sex, and Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. Print.

Langley, Erika. The Lusty Lady. Zürich: Scalo, 1997. Print.

Other films by Vicky Funari on tripod. 

Paulina. Dir. Vicky Funari. First Run/Icarus Films, 1997. Videocassette.

Maquilapolis (city of Factories). Dir. Vicky Funari. California Newsreel, 2006. DVD.

 

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project

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Running Time: 99 min

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project is a self-reflexive documentary that explicitly responds to the lack of non-fetishistic media and pornography by allowing trans women to represent their own sexualities with partners of their choosing.

DVD Cover of Doing It Ourselves

Doing It Ourselves DVD Cover

The first scene features Tobi Hill-Meyer, the filmmaker, coming home to the newest film by Trannywood, a studio that produces pornography exclusively featuring gay trans men. She sits down on her couch and begins watching the film and masturbating with a Hitachi. After she orgasms, two of her friends, also trans women, come in, and they discuss the lack of “trans dyke” porn. They decide that with Hill-Meyer’s filmmaking skills, they could make their own porn and she begins filming her friends kissing and then moving into a bedroom. There are three more scenes, each beginning with a brief discussion of performers’ experiences with pornography and what they are expecting from their scene. The film features trans women in scenes with each other, with trans men, and with cis women, often in pre-existing relationships. The performers vary widely in gender presentation and consent is clearly verbally negotiated during sexual encounters, with participants laughing and admitting when things are uncomfortable.

Rather than fetishizing the bodies and especially genitalia of trans women as anomalous, the film emphasizes whole people and interpersonal dynamics. This is done with self-reflexive cinematography. The performers actively discuss filming themselves and there are frequent shots of the performers in the LCD display of the camera. In contrast to mainstream pornography, which shows genitals in intrusive, sensationalized close-ups, Doing It Ourselves features more medium shots, which focus on skin and body movement, frustrating habitual audience attempts to scrutinize physical differences. The performers’ identities also normalize gender and sex variation; surgical status is not emphasized in any way. The DVD extras feature interviews with all the performers, humanizing them and allowing them to speak for themselves about other parts of their lives aside from sex. Hill-Meyer also uses her work to build community, interacting online via tumblr and giving interviews in small queer publications.

Hill-Meyer is planning a sequel, Doing it Again: In Depth, which will be about how trans women navigate relationships and hooking up, both with trans and cis partners. It will explore how intersections such as race, class, ability and survivor status influence how trans women connect and flirt with sexual and romantic partners. It will be released as a two volume DVD, with a volume each on trans women with trans partners and trans women with cis partners. The Kickstarter campaign for the film raised enough funds that a third volume will be made about genderqueer and gender non-conforming trans women, as well as trans women with genderqueer and gender non-conforming partners. The open casting call again encourages people in mid and long term relationships to apply to represent intimate interpersonal dynamics, as well as identities that are underrepresented in pornography, such as people of color, people over forty, and trans men.