Lesbian Porn: Does Juliette Love Justine?
Georgia State University
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Auburn, Georgia 30203
Lesbian Porn: Does Juliette Love Justine?
Promoters of lesbian pornography contend that it is both liberating and
transgressive, freeing lesbians from a prescriptive sexuality which
attribute to radical feminism. From a radical feminist perspective,
texts do little to challenge a paradigm of dominance and submission,
fact serve to reinscribe the very conditions they claim to subvert.
An analysis of texts by Pat Califia and Joan Nestle, will show how a
sexuality of difference, a hetero-sexuality, is perpetuated, while no
alternatives are proposed.
Carolyn Lea Lesbian Porn
The issues of pornography and sexuality have been divisive and hotly
debated factors in feminism, particularly since the early 1980's.
the complexity of the issue, has been the development of a lesbian sex
In the early 1980's lesbian pornography made an appearance and had found
a definite niche by the late 1980's. The late 80's and early 90's have
seen an explosion of sexually explicit material aimed at the lesbian
market. Like heterosexual pornography, lesbian porn has assumed many
including 'erotic' stories, film, magazines, video, and theater. We have
also seen the advent of live sex shows, lesbian prostitutes, lesbian
sex and sex shops catering to lesbians.
The women who produce and support this development claim that lesbian
pornography is liberating and transgressive, that is that it goes
set boundaries and limits, violating and breaking codes imposed by the
dominant culture. Does lesbian pornography subvert the dominant paradigm
reflect it? And how do the texts legitimate or disprove the argument of
liberation and transgression? An analysis of these texts will reveal
there is no difference in the message of lesbian porn and heterosexual
and the sexuality being promoted by the lesbian sex industry is one which
embraces the heterosexual dynamic of dominance and submission. Hence
is subverted is feminism itself and the construction of a sexuality
on mutuality and egalitarianism.
Feminist argument concerning the proliferation of the lesbian sex
industry has centered on ideological differences, the division falling
along the dividing line of an earlier critique of heterosexual
and sexuality. There are basically two camps: the sexual libertarian
position and the radical feminist position. This study will proceed from
the position of radical feminism and look at how the texts actually
perpetuate the dominant/submissive pattern of sexuality.
The Sexual Libertarians and Their Views on Pornography
Libertarian theory, or sex radical theory, is based on the ideas of the
work of the sexologists, the 'sexual revolution' of the 1960's and the
of gay male theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jeffrey Weeks. Denise
Thompson has defined libertarian as:
...an insistence on freedom from constraint, a rejection of any form of
restriction on sexual behaviour especially moral prohibition, the
of a plurality of 'sexualities', and a reluctance to relinquish
of 'sexual liberation'...Underlying this commitment is a belief
exists some 'true' kind of sexuality, an intrinsic property of
individual which is suppressed by 'society', but will come into its
flowering once the social restrictions have been removed. The
ategy which follows from this commitment to the 'repression
involves the refusal to take a stand against any form of sexual
activity, and the pejorative labeling of any such stand as
Libertarian 'feminists' celebrate pornography, as well as the sexual
'perversions', as liberating. They attack anti-porn feminists for
what they call a 'prescriptive' sexuality (Califia, 1980; Echols, 1984;
Hollibaugh, 1984; Nestle, 1987; Rubin, 1984; Smyth, 1990,1992; Willis,
Paula Webster has attacked anti-porn feminists for 'depriving' us of
such 'perverse' pleasures as "voyeurism, bondage, s/m, fetishism,
pornography, promiscuity, and intergenerational" sex (Webster, 1984, 386),
while Amber Hollibaugh accuses anti-porn feminism of alienating women
...don't come gently and don't want to...are the lovers of butch or femme
women; who like fucking with men; practice consensual s/m; feel
faggots than dykes; love dildoes, penetration, costumes; like to
talk dirty,...think gay male porn is hot...(1984, 403).
It has been suggested that not only has radical feminism tried to
'censure' sexuality and impose a 'politically correct' sex, but that
feminism lacks the tools to develop a sexual politics, and that sexuality
should remain outside the realm of politic (Echols,1984; Rubin, 1984;
Given the promotion of 'perversity', pornography, the 'illicit' and
'taboo' as transgressive, radical and revolutionary (Bright, 1992;
1983; Dolan, 1987; Henderson, 1992; Smyth, 1990, 1992; Snitow, 1983;
Vance, 1984), and the fact that libertarian voices have dominated
discourse on sexuality (Thompson, 1991, 8), it is not surprising that
1980's produced a fertile ground for the production of lesbian
Jill Dolan, for example, has claimed that power, sexuality, and desire
can be reclaimed from a strictly male domain with new and different
meaning. She sees lesbian pornography, even when there is "some direct
appropriation of male forms" as acquiring new meaning when "used to
communicate desire for readers of a different gender and sexual
orientation" (1987, 171).
Susie Bright, lesbian "sexpert" and editor of the lesbian porn magazine
On Our Backs, argues that women have always used erotica, relying on
men had produced for them, even using feminist critiques of male writers,
such as Kate Millett's of Henry Miller in Sexual Politics, to
She sees woman produced erotica as being from a "...contemporary
clit's-point-of-view..."(1992, 126), and calls for us to redefine
"In sexual literature and art, the process of objectification is a very
natural and sensitive one...Women's contribution to erotic
has been to expand the territory of compelling sexual
only to romanticize, but to virtually fetishize erotic
In her analysis of On Our Backs and Macho Sluts, a collection of
pornographic short fiction By Pat Califia, Lisa Henderson argues that the
texts may be seen as both transformative and transgressive. She argues
texts demystify sexuality and provide us with "anti-repressive lesbian
sexual portrayals...these images trade at once on liberatory imagination
and subcultural cachet." The transgressive qualities she found in
texts include "romance,...penetration, sadomasochism,
dominance-submission,...butch-femme, humping, cruising, leather,
y, bondage,...cross-generational seduction, public sex, exhibitionism,
fucking,...fisting." Lesbian porn producers are seen as uppity women who
have made a declaration of sexual independence, appropriating sexual
stances and strategies from the gay male community. She concludes these
images transgress anti-porn feminism as well as the heterosexual status
and affirm that which is most threatening - lesbian sexual desire
Gillian Rodgerson also defends and applauds the explosion of lesbian
porn, which she prefers to call erotica, perceiving a feeling of shame
guilt to be attached to the word porn. She sees lesbian created porn
different from heterosexual porn, as more personal. She identifies the
being produced as often being from a feminist perspective, and decries
anti-porn feminists seeing the work as exploitive (275-279).
In her article, "The Pleasure Threshold," Cherry Smyth sees the viewing
of lesbian porn as representing rebellion against a "prescriptive
sex which must be equal, nurturing, non-penetrative and romantic. To
thrill, porn needs to be illicit. By watching lesbian porn we are
transgressing a feminist taboo, as well as the wider socio-political taboo,
which invests the act with the thrill of the forbidden." Looking at the
film Clips, Smyth found the female come shot as powerfully dramatic
subversive. The film portrays a butch-femme couple and their
with a dildo. At one point the butch fucks the femme with the dildo
femme/bottom enjoys being filled up. Smyth sees the dildo as subverting
the potency of the penis and quotes Peg Byron from an article in The
"Lesbians looked to gay men's porn for material taboo in their own
circles...With their elaboration on technique, especially the pleasure of
penetration, gay men have ironically contributed to the renaissance of
vaginal sex amongst lesbians."
In Queer Notions, Smyth looks at the adoption of a queer ideology by
lesbians. She sees the move as being a rebellion against feminism and a
sexuality constructed on ideas of sameness and equality, feeling there
something to be learned from gay men. She sees the writing of sex
such as Joan Nestle, Carole Vance, Gayle Rubin and Ann Snitow to be
queerest elements to have emerged from feminism. Queer theory has been
primarily defined by gay men, such as Simon Watney, and a most basic
is the right of unhampered sexual access (Jeffreys, 1993; Smyth,
Smyth sees gay male sex as more developed and sees lesbian imitation as
transgressive. These transgressive acts include lesbians "fucking both
and straight males, sadomasochism, wearing didoes, eroticizing the
cottaging" or restroom sex. She admits that gay men have not reciprocated
with an appropriation of lesbian practices, this being due to a lack
sexual and social power to which women have access.
Sara Dunn, who identifies as pro-porn, disagrees that lesbian sex or
lesbian porn is in itself radical. She writes, "By styling themselves
being styled) the illicit ones, the bad girls (as opposed to the good
who don't like any sexual explicitness at all), these writers rely on the
same sexual double-standards, the same sex-associated shame and guilt
they claim it is their mission to remove. The bad girls need the good
girls to make them feel good (i.e., bad). Dunn questions the claim of
lesbian pornographers that to transpose the language of sexual liberation
to a lesbian context is enough to create change, denying the political
impact of lesbian porn, and seeing it as merely a tool to promote sexual
Radical feminists have experienced the attack on anti-porn feminists and
radical feminism as an attack on the basic tenets of feminism and as part
of the backlash against feminism in the culture at large (Jeffreys,
1993; Kitzinger and Perkins, 1993; Liedholdt, 1990; Penelope, 1992;
Raymond, 1991; Stock, 1990; Thompson,1991).
Radical feminism, British revolutionary feminism and lesbian feminism
have in common the same basic premise - that feminism is the struggle
against male domination, that women as a class are oppressed by the male
'sex' class and that sex class oppression forms the origin of all
oppressions. While recognizing diversity, radical feminism holds that
women are oppressed as women and that this forms the basis of
between women despite differences of class, race, and sexual
The dominant paradigm is one of dominance and submission in which sex
eroticized subordination. Critical to radical feminist theory is the
argument that sexuality and sex roles have been constructed to perpetuate
male dominance or phallocratic reality, and that the undoing of
requires a critical analysis of sexuality as well as the
roles (Atkinson, 1974; Hester, 1992; Jeffreys, 1990, 1993; McKinnon,
Hence it is not surprising that the libertarian quest for "sexual
liberation" and the uncritical adaption of male sexual
values as positive, is seen as the cooption of feminism. They argue that
libertarian volumes such as Carole Vance's Pleasure and Danger
very real sexual violence women experience, and that the arguments
advanced as protecting individual privilege and choice with regard to
sexual practice are the same as those used by men to retain their sexual
privilege and access. Advocating patriarchal sexual relations, whether
leftist male or gay male, is seen to ultimately be serving the oppressor
(Jeffreys, 1990, 1993; Liedholdt, 1990; McKinnon, 133-142; Morgan,
114-117; Stock, 1990, Thompson, 1991).
Women adopting malestream theory and advancing it as revolutionary for
women is not new. Sheila Jeffreys has looked at how the role played by
development of sexology, and the sexual revolution of the 1920's,
the militant feminism of the period in her book The Spinster and Her
Enemies (1985). The work of sexologists such as Havelock Ellis worked to
concretize and popularize ideas about sexuality, such as women's
masochism, masculine dominance and female submission (See also: Ellis,
1913; Hester, 1992, 83-92; Jackson, 1984a, 1984b). Women like Stella
and Ellen Key became followers of Ellis helping to popularize his ideas
among women. She follows her analysis of the detriment of the
looking at contemporary work such as that of Kinsey and Masters and
Johnson, to feminism in Anti-Climax (1990). She also looks at how the
sexual revolution of the 1960's was sold to women as liberating while
positioning them to better service men's needs. She argues that sexual
liberation did not offer women any real gain and was at times directly
opposed to the goals of the women's movement. Jeffreys looks at the
eroticization of power difference and how it has emerged in heterosexual as
well as the lesbian and gay communities. She proposes that women not
equate all pleasure with positivity, but rather analyze the source of our
desire and the construction of our sexuality. In her most recent work,
Lesbian Heresy, she looks at the emergence of the lesbian sex industry,
how it has adopted the hetero values of dominance and submission. She also
contends that a lesbian alliance with gay men is detrimental to a lesbian
feminist agenda (1990, 145-210; 1993, 117-148), the political agenda
men being the perpetuation of phallocentrism.
Jeffreys derides lesbian pornography as perpetuating heterosexual -
which she defines as desire based on difference, regardless of the sex
the partners - desire. She sees the new erotica as providing women
It allows women to put themselves in the place of men and find the
objectification, fetishisation and humiliation of women exciting or to
adopt the old-fashioned submissive roles which are also plentifully
available in this erotica so women now have a choice whether to get
on by taking either a dominant or submissive role towards another
She is also critical of the return of butch-femme role playing, it's
imitation of heterosexual roles and the hierarchal relationship it
establishes between women. She sees the libertarian fascination with
'perversity' as being part of a desire to romanticize decadence and play
the role of outlaw and rebel while failing to challenge hetero-reality
Looking at the positions of the different feminist camps from a radical
feminist perspective, Denise Thompson criticizes the position of the
libertarians, finding it antithetical to feminist values. Thompson argues
that the libertarian position has its basis in liberal individualism,
conflicts with the feminist concept of the social construction of
sexuality. She challenges the position of the sex radicals when they attack
radical feminism as being moralistic, claiming that all judgement precedes
from a moral position and that feminism is founded on ethics (1991,
177-190). She argues that the feminist critique of pornography is not a
campaign against individuals, but of a certain form of sexual desire
Reclaiming is itself problematic for Julia Penelope, who finds the
reclaiming of butch-femme role playing regressive drawing on her own
experience as a 'stone butch,' a woman who does not allow another woman to
touch her. Role playing is a staple of lesbian erotica. Penelope also
expresses concern over the uncritical reclaiming of words, such as
which is a positive word in patriarchal society, denoting class and
dressing up of sex, unlike porn which is associated with a lower class
producer and audience. She is also concerned with reclaiming such
'pussy', 'box', 'crack', 'hole', and 'split tale', arguing that we
disassociate the meanings these words carry from the intentions men
given them. (Smyth, for example, reclaims "the right to call my cunt,
cunt, to celebrating the pleasure in objectifying another body, to
women and to admitting that I also love men...[1992, 27].) She sees
new-erotics as taking us backward not forward (1992, 98-112).
Celia and Jenny Kitzinger look at how lesbian porn has utilized the
conventions of male pornography, even quoting pro-porn Barbara Smith,
cofounder of a black feminist press, admitting that lesbian pornography
appears little different from that of straight men. In the images they
looked at in Quim, a British lesbian porn magazine, they found that "Far
from 'transgressing' traditional representations, they reinscribe
dominatrix, the bound woman on a rack, the huge (albeit detachable) dick."
They argue that what is being transgressed, when lesbians appropriate the
symbols of domination, is feminism, with the porn advocates
feminists as prudes, censorious and moralizing. They call upon
not just produce images which turn us on, but to examine the
of desire, to question 'pleasure' and not assume it to be
Clearly, the majority of writing has not concentrated on the content of
lesbian porn, but has centered on questions concerning the meaning of
lesbian porn - particularly whether or not it is liberating or
In addition, writers have focussed on the 'right' to produce porn,
down anti-porn feminists, and the supposed radical impact of
lesbian-produced porn. Radical feminists have concentrated their
to a large degree, on self-defence. Still, they have dared to question
construction of desire and sexuality, rather than embrace as radical
anything that turns you on.
This study will provide a textual analysis of 'erotic' writings by two
women, Pat Califia and Joan Nestle. Both are recognized by sexual
libertarians as being on the cutting edge in their exploration of lesbian
sexuality and identity. These texts are produced by women who identify
lesbian and address a lesbian audience, although Califia states in her
introduction she has no objection to non-lesbian readers enjoying her
Califia's collection of short fiction, Macho Sluts, deals with lesbian
sadomasochism. Due to the controversial nature of the work, Macho
been widely written about by both libertarians (Henderson, 1992) and
radical feminists (Clarke, 1993, 123; Jeffreys, 1993, 131-134; Kitzinger
and Kitzinger, 1992, 22-23; Miriam, 1993). Califia has played a
role in popularizing the practice of lesbian sadomasochism and was a
founder of Samois, the first lesbian S/M group in the United States. She
wrote Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality, a lesbian sex manual
calling for the celebration of and tolerance for 'diverse' sexual
in 1980. Her impact on the lesbian community has been estimable in that
she has contributed to the widespread acceptance of S/M and the
of critique (Caplan, 1985, 161; Penelope, 1992, 113-131; Stein, 1993).
Nestle has primarily written essays, but she has included her 'erotic'
stories in two collections, A Restricted Country and an anthology The
Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, which she edited. Again, these
stories are being chosen due to interest they have generated (
1993, 29, 63, 66, 73, 107; Penelope, 1992, 15; Rodgerson, 1993, 275).
Nestle, like Califia, has played an instrumental role in the lesbian
community. She founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City,
more importantly, for the purpose of this study, she has been the
spokesperson for those wishing to reclaim and embrace lesbian role playing.
Nestle's work has functioned to validate the re-emergence of butch-femme
role-playing, which was strongly critiqued by lesbian feminists of the
seventies, within the community.
Although Califia and Nestle have contributed to the construction and
model of contemporary lesbian sexuality through their writings (
Contradiction, 1993; Off Our Backs, 1993, 23.8, 23.9), these works
to be critically examined. This analysis will do that by examining the
representation of woman, lesbian and sexuality in Macho Sluts, "My
Poppa" from Persistent Desire, and the erotic stories in A Restricted
Looking at the Message
For both Califia and Nestle, power inequity is a requirement for sexual
arousal. In Califia's, work women are sadist/masochist, top/bottom,
master/slave, dominatrix/submissive, butch/femme, teacher/pupil,
mother/daughter. In "The Finishing School" Berenice is the mother to
Clarissa, whom she is educating to play the role of sex slave (1988
"Jessie" tells the story of Liz's one-nighter with a rock singer, Jessie,
a top (sadist). Liz tells Jessie about her introduction to rough sex
dominatrix, a woman who usually performed the role with men, but had
Liz under her wing to find out what it would be like with women (1988,
28-62). In "The Surprise Party," male cops play top to the woman's
The three men are given a name, her lover is given a name, but the she
remains anonymous (1988, 211-242).
For Nestle, the roles are butch/femme. In "My Woman Poppa" her lover
plays a traditional masculine role, while she plays "mother", "wife",
"slut" to her. In "A Different Place" the butch, as in "Woman Poppa"
identified as having a muscular body and doing a "man's job." In
stories, the butch plays the sexual aggressor, the femme serves the
She dresses in slips, black stockings and sling-back heels, and wears
lipstick and nail polish (1987, 135; 1992, 349).
In adapting roles culturally encoded with power or powerlessness, the
heterosexual dynamic is reinscribed. As Sheila Jeffreys noted
woman is given the option of playing oppressor or oppressed, subject
object, fucker or fuckee.
The perception of sex as an activity where power inequities inhere is
further enhanced through the use of language as active/passive. For
writers, sex is something done to one person by another. The woman
says "you are so good to fuck" (1992 350). In Nestle's "Margaret" the
responds to taunting that she is butch enough to "make you cry when you
come," and she "forces" the femmes thighs apart, the femme "swells to
taking" (1987, 155-156). In "A Different Place" Jay takes the woman
her, fucks and penetrates her. She has "brought this woman to her pleasure
and now she is going to bring her home" (1987, 136, 137) In "The Gift of
Taking" the butch "forces" her lover's legs apart, her mouth open, and
forces fingers inside of her (1987, 128- 130). In Califia's "Jessie,"
Jessie positions mirrors so Liz can see everything that is "done to" her.
In "The Calyx of Isis" Alex humped Michael as Michael fucked Roxanne.
Roxanne is spread open and "drilled," forced to yield, brought to her
knees. In "The Surprise Party," the woman is pinned down, the cock is
slammed into her, pushed into her, battering her. In all of Califia's
stories the tops "do" the bottoms. The bottoms are taken, fucked, made,
forced, the top gives "it" to the bottom (1988).
The use of active/passive language thus serves to further eroticize
positions of dominance and submission. For both writers the bottoms, the
femmes, are revealed to be wanting and needing willing to be acted
receiving pleasure from the vexation. Lesbian sexuality is ensconced
language of heterosexuality. There is no room for a language that permits
subjectivity to both partners.
Degradation is another element used to accentuate the power
differential. For both writers, humiliation and degradation is imbued
an erotic charge. In Nestle's "The Gift of Taking," the femme is
"submissive" and is told that while she is a powerful woman out in the
world, when with her (the butch)
she will be in her hands. Joan (the femme) is told by her butch lover to
open up and take her in. The woman then taunts Joan suggesting that
she can't, "maybe I'm too much for you" (1987, 128,129).
For Califia, degradation, humiliation and punishment are defining
characteristics of the erotic exchange. In her sadomasochistic scenarios,
bottoms are "punished" when they fail to meet the behavioral standards
expected by their masters. Both top and bottom respond sexually to these
scenes of physical and verbal abuse. In "Jessie," Jessie calls Liz a
bitch, whore and cunt, then tells her she has been a bad girl and she
to take her home with her and teach her a lesson. As the slave of the
dominatrix who trained her, Liz had slept at the foot of the woman's bed
and would be taught a lesson when the woman found fault with her. Now
Jessie ties Liz up, slaps her, walks her to the bathroom and tells her to
go. Liz finds this both humiliating and comforting. Liz's ankles are
cuffed, her hands tied to the bed. Jessie asks if the mirrors, which allow
Liz to see herself, excite or shame her and tells her they are meant
both. Jessie drops hot candle wax on Liz, then Jessie inserts the
her anus. Liz at this point is feeling as though "I did not exist, except
as a response to her touch. There was nothing else...no whim of my own
moved me" (1988, 58). Then Jessie beats her and climbs on top of her as
Liz experiences "liberation and silence and obliteration" (1988, 59).
In "The Finishing School" Clarissa spends her last night with her mother
in the discipline chamber before being packed off to finishing school. The
text reads "Dominance is not created without complicity. A well trained
slave ...in love with her mistress and will weep for days if a fault
reprimanded. If no punishment is forthcoming she will ask for it...(1988,
68). The mother, Berenice, whips Clarissa, calls her a little slut,
streetwalker, baggage, tart. Clarissa asks her mother to take her
maidenhead. Berenice tells her she is jealous and tells her to apologize.
"I'm nothing" Clarissa cried in ecstacy. "I deserve nothing but the most
brutal and rigorous punishment. I beg your forgiveness, your
correction. I plead for the opportunity to expunge my guilt, to redress my
failing..." (1988, 71).
"The Calyx of Isis" is a tale reminiscent of The Story of O by Pauline
Reague. Alex arranges for her lover, Roxanne, to be taken to a lesbian
and sex club where she will be tested for her faithfulness. Alex asks
the club's owner, to arrange the "scene." Tyre employs several tops,
including herself, to participate. Roxanne is manacled, has a hood placed
over her head, and is taken to the dungeon by Tyre's driver Michael.
has a gag in her mouth and ear plugs. Califia describes her thus, "The
made an alien face...It depersonalized her, made her even more sexy,
removed any inhibitions the assembled dominatrices might have had..."
(1988, 118). Roxanne is referred to as "the goods", an "uppity slave",
"flashy piece of trash", and "ultimate bar-femme dressed up to play the
whore for her butch." She is whipped with belts, canes, and riding
Fists are plunged inside her, she is given an enema and placed in a
where two women insert their fists in her anus. She is ordered to
lick boots. Alex reminds Roxanne she owns her and she can decide who to
give her to. Clothespins are hung from her flesh. Any sexual response
rewarded with more abuse. During one beating Roxanne tells herself
is of no consequence, she renders herself will-less and invisible. The
story ends with Alex claiming her property and putting slave rings into
nipples and vulva (1988, 84-176).
In "The Hustler," a top who hustles other women is approached by a woman
who has broken up with her girlfriend. The woman relates her treatment in
her past relationship to prove her worthiness:
Our tail-wagging, panting little woofer spent every possible minute with
her, and when she did she was always in a set of wooden stocks
and had a
plug up her butt. Much was made of leashes and spanking bad
slept in ...doggie hut, and did all her drinking and eating out
dishes on the floor...I was charmed. (1988, 133).
In "The Surprise Party," the woman is penetrated repeatedly and in every
orifice. She is beaten with a belt until she pisses on herself. Her
"illusion of free will is destroyed." She is referred to as "cop meat."
Throughout the story the men use and humiliate her and she loves it.
compare her to themselves calling her a bulldyke, says she wants to be
man. At the end it is revealed that the evening is a birthday gift
lover (1988, 211-242).
In all of these stories women are insatiable. The femmes, the bottoms
are punished for their wantonness. They are bad girls, naughty girls.
they all want to be humiliated, they "consent" to it. Drawing on
traditional pornographic conventions, the women solicit and are complicit
in their degradation. They become the libertine, who rather than
enjoys herself and "chooses" to discharge in response to vexation
1986, 137). The tops play the role of phallic woman assuming the power of
the masculine, accessing power and using it over other women. Both
portray sex for the bottom or femme as a loss of self, of will, as
submission and escape. So as the top, the butch, assumes the power of the
phallus she does so at the expense of her bottom who is condemned to
traditional role of woman - wanton and will-less, her desire driving
beyond any control.
Interestingly, tops are not only given the power of the phallus, they
are also accorded penises. Nestle's woman poppa wears a cock.
...telling her what a wonderful cock she has...I do long to suck you, to
take your courage into my mouth...my red lips and red tipped
massaging her cock...I give her the best I can licking the lavender
it's whole length and slowly tongueing the tip...then I take her
my mouth...she reaches down and slips the cock into me...(1992, 349-350).
In her story "The Three," a butch straps on her cock to have two femmes
suck and lick it. She then proceeds to fuck both femmes with her cock
In Califia's work, dildoes, knives, whip handles and stiletto heels all
serve the dual role of fetish and phallus. In "Calyx," Michael wears a
dildo which is used to penetrate vaginally as well as orally and anally.
One woman slides a knife along Roxanne's thigh, another fucks her with
high heel. The handle of a whip is inserted in her (1988, 84-176). In
"Jessie," the candle is phallus (1988, 58). These objects serve as penis
Sheila Jeffreys sees the use of dildoes as not only imitative of
heterosexual sex, but also reflective of the influence of gay male porn on
lesbians. In the use of a dildo, lesbians can identify with the male,
importance of having a penis and penetration. This in turn will
with the admiration of those women for whom masculine power has a
"positive erotic weighting" as well as from gay men (1993 131,132).
Jan Brown, a butch, explains the use of the dildo as:
...we also dream of the taking...we haul our cocks out of our pants to
drive into a struggling body...we need to have a dick as hard as
between our legs, to have the freedom to ignore "no"...We bought
dildoes... We bought the ones with simulated veins and balls from
shops...Plastic dicks become much more than sex toys...when we
strap it on
it becomes ours...blowjobs...the image has no equality. A woman
is on her
knees...it is about the urge to dominate, take and degrade...The
heat is in
the history. Context (1992, 412-413).
The popular use of the dildo in lesbian pornography appears to establish
a reluctance to relinquish the power the phallus holds in patriarchal
culture and its attendant erotic allure. Despite denial that dildoes have
connection to the penis, it is hard to imagine that they evolved out of
nowhere or that the attraction would be so great if this were not the
Like the role of butch and femme, it seems unlikely that the dildo evolved
without model. But more disturbing than the imitation of the penis itself
is the imitation of heterosexual power difference and the use of the
to take, pump, do, degrade.
Califia and Nestle both use their texts as political forums, attacking
'censorious' feminism and defending their own stance as providing
with sexual agency which is equated with liberation. In her
Califia describes this free woman:
...the woman who travels, who wants to go where men go, and see what they
see, who wears their clothes and appropriates their pleasures and
mannerisms, who carries a razor,...(1988, 19).
She defines porn as one of the commonest ways people learn about sex and
equates anti-pornography feminists with the right-wing.
In "Papa" Nestle seems overly concerned with conveying to the reader that
her "woman poppa" "does not want to be a man" and that her ways are
"betrayal of her womanliness" (1992, 348, 350) Nestle equates the
anti-porn feminists with McCarthyites and refers to them as "the new vice
squad" (1987, 149-150).
Both women perceive the feminist argument to be one of prudish moralism.
What they fail to acknowledge is their own allegiance to a sexual dynamic
shaped by a history of women's subjugation. As Califia appears to
learn our sexuality. There is nothing natural or innate in our sexual
response to certain stimulus, including the pain and degradation Califia
advocates. Lesbian pornography serves the same purpose pornography has
always served. It provides women with the message that they are sex. And
we begin to feel titillated by the image of the abuse of other women we
will act in accord with our patriarchal oppressor, not subvert or
Rather we construct our sexulity on the premise of woman as object.
The idea that lesbian pornography is transgressive and subversive is not
substantiated by the texts. As De Lauretis notes, "...this notion of
lesbian desire as commodity of exchange is rather disturbing. For,
unfortunately- or fortunately as the case may be - commodity exchange does
have the same meaning 'between women' as between men, by
definition..."(1988, 170). The creation of pornography, as well as the
adoption of S/M and butch/femme roles seems to be founded in the desire
obtain outlaw status, and an avant-garde fascination with decadence.
Jeffreys attributes the new attitude among lesbians to both a revived
affinity with gay men as well as to the growing number of women who have
the economic power to consume women in the same way men have (1992).
transgression found within these texts is not against phallocracy -
it is against the feminist vision of a sexuality based on mutuality
intersubjectivity - a vision abandoned as idealistic and impossible -
without being given an opportunity to materialize. The sexual dynamics
fostered in these texts are those of the sexologists, of gay men and
straight men. The taboo they portend to trespass is illusion. Real sexual
practice is found in the quotidian, not fiat. A real transgression
the exploration of a sexuality outside of the realm of dominance and
submission - for it would truly represent a sexuality that has never
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