Linda Williams’s Hard Core, which I’ve been reading (and talking and thinking about a whole lot), is the urtext of the feminist porn movement. Check out the crucial concluding paragraphs of the second chapter, “Prehistory,” which traces the cinematic beginnings of porn from Muybridge’s locomotion studies to Edison’s video of a sneeze:
On the one hand, we can say with Irigaray, and possibly with some members of the feminist anti-pornography movement as well, that as long as women find it necessary to argue about power or pleasure entirely on male (phallogocentric) terms, they will lose; whatever is distinctive and “authentic” in their own power and pleasure will be interpreted negatively and to their disadvantage. In this sense there is not much difference between literary confessions (written by men but often focused on women) of female pleasure for women and the more direct and graphic confession of pleasure by women’s bodies in hard core. Both are examples of men speaking about women’s sex to other men; both want to know more about the pleasure of women; both see this pleasure as excessive; both see it as opposed to power.
On the other hand, we can say with Foucault, and with most anti-censorship feminists, that there are important differences to be noted in the uses of pleasure from one society to another and one technology to another. Indeed, the particular interpenetration of power and pleasure can be extremely important in the local attempt to resist or counter the oppressive effects of each. Just as power exists as a multiplicity of force relations rather than a single force, state, or individual, so resistance to power is a “multiplicity of points of resistance” (Foucault 1978, 95).
The value of this plural conceptualization of power, pleasure, and resistance lies in its potential to prevent the feminist critique of patriarchy from succumbing to the same imposition of a unitary norm as the phallogocentrism being criticized. It also suggests that resistance can begin anywhere, wherever this power is felt to be oppressive. There is a danger, however, in thus reconceptualizing a previously unitary and static concept of sexual identity: namely, the decentering involved could cause women to lose the gender identification that most effectively recognizes our experience of oppression and provides the most dramatic impetus to resist. Women’s resistance must therefore continue to rely on the fiction of the unity “woman” insofar as oppression continues to make that unity felt. But women must also be flexible enough to locate their own empowering points of resistance within discursive practices that are no longer taken as essential truths. This is the lesson of the “origins” of cinema and of porno. These origins are not inevitable; all they show is that seeing from the single perspective of the phallus and the male orgasm is not to see woman at all but to see only, as Irigaray tells us, the one and the same of man against the more or the less of woman (pp. 55-56, emphasis mine).
According to Williams as I read her, one possible locus of resistance to phallogocentric forces of oppression is the ability to speak (both to each other and to men) about our pleasure, not as tiny pieces of a unitary idea of “women’s pleasure” only existing in opposition to that of men’s, but as individuals with specific experiences of pleasure, desire, and oppression. Each of our bodies, and each instance of pleasure and desire we experience within those bodies, is a potential “point of resistance.” Here there is room for individual experience, for the politics of intersectionality to be about pleasure and desire and resistance to the multiplicity of forces that oppress. Her cry, and that of the feminist porn movement, is not for the abolition of pornography, but rather for resistance to the “single perspective of the phallus and the male orgasm” in favor of an opening-up of the possible perspectives from which we can view and enjoy depictions of pleasure and desire.