Pornography

Feminist Porn Isn't Free

A new porn platform for women claims to promote ethical, feminist smut while pirating clips and stealing from sex workers.

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Michelle Schnaidman/Facebook

"Our goal was to undress Pinterest, not dress up Pornhub," the press kit for Bellesa, a Montreal-based web startup, proclaims with lofty feminist ambitions. A recent writeup on Bustle hails the (NSFW) site as "good both for women and for men who want something outside what our patriarchal, heteronormative society dictates they should like."

Little of Bellesa's video content, however, distinguishes it from other porn sites; it's Pornhub in a Pinterest wrapper. Nothing wrong with that per se—in fact, a porn platform with serves up a variety of videos (not just the softcore, romantic stuff that's often assumed to appeal more to women) with a less aggressively masculine interface would probably do well.

But for a site to live up to its idealistic, feminist branding, it needs to account for the labor and intellectual property of those producing the content—the performers, directors, and others who actually make the adult videos—whether that means making content distribution deals with independent sex workers or ethical-porn production companies; producing content in house; or working out some sort of profit-sharing platform for user-created content.

Bellesa—Catalan for beauty—does none of these things. Canadian magazine The Link describes founder Michelle Schnaidman's role as curating or facilitating porn—"she makes it available for those who seek it." It solves what Bustle writer Joanna Weiss described as the "pesky paywall" problem by featuring porn clips cribbed from all around the web, without paying or promoting the people who made them.

Bellesa also asks women to upload their own "erotic stories, sexy photos and GIFs, and feminist blog posts" for free, for the fun of it. Apparently all it takes to find feminist pornography is being willing to band together with other feminists and become unpaid porn stars, erotica writers, and digital content producers for the cause!

Shnaidman assures women she created this porn clearinghouse for only the best and most feminist reasons.

"We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women," she told Bustle. "Or something women do for men. Because it's not. Once society finally accepts the notion that women like sex (like, really like sex), we can begin shattering the stigma surrounding female sexuality—and of course porn."

The Bellesa website decries the "male-dominated paradigms that have defined sex on the internet" so far, and porn that is "derogatory and exclusionary towards women."

"The market for services meeting women's sexual needs is often neglected due to the myth that women are less sexual than men," explains Bustle. But on Bellesa, there will be "relatable" bodies, performers expressing "authentic" pleasure, and as many shots of nude men as women.

Refinery29 even recommends women against signing up for a non "female-friendly" porn subscription service and instead find "free porn" on Bellessa.

Both the women's media and Shnaidman here showcase problems (long) prevalent among mainstream feminists: a willingness to throw certain sorts of women under the bus when it's convenient; an apparent inability to consider how creating some preferable condition for some normative class of women will affect those not in this class; and a tendency to embrace personal liberation on the backs of more marginalized groups.

Several adult-film producers have already asked Bellesa to take down their content.

And sex workers on social media have been protesting the feminist-friendly narrative around the pirated-video platform.

Bellesa may have recognized a market opportunity and leapt on it, but company rhetoric about serving up adult-entertainment in an ethical or feminist manner is just branding drivel. The most feminist-friendly way to consume porn is to make sure the performers are getting paid.

Update: On Thursday afternoon, Bellesa released a statement announcing that it was taking down its entire video section for now and "making a firm commitment … to transition the entirety of the video section of Bellesa to feature exclusively videos that are in direct partnership with studios, and that compensate fairly for their contribution."

"For those that are open to working with us, we would love nothing more. To those that do not because it's too little, too late, I understand and I'm sorry," wrote Michelle Shnaidman.

"The goal with which I created this platform has regrettably become in direct conflict with supporting and respecting the women of the sex-space," wrote Shnaidman. "We've displayed a massive amount of ignorance with regards to the adult entertainment space and have unintentionally hurt women who work in the sex space. We are unendingly sorry for this."

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