by Rich Moreland, August 2015
Covering Mindbrowse.com’s show with feminist filmmakers Candida Royalle and Jacky St. James led me to Angie Rowntree, one of the major players in porn from a woman’s view. Angie is the creator of Sssh.com, a female-oriented erotic website. Founded in 1999, Sssh offers its own sensuous films, fiction, and educational articles in a virtual world of sexual pleasures that reflect the fantasies and desires of its members.
Think user-responsive and member-friendly; that is Sssh.com.
Angie directs Sssh’s original movies and produces Mindbrowse which offers insights into “some of the most incendiary and controversial topics surrounding the Adult Industry.” Along with her husband, Colin, she also started Wasteland.com in 1994, a BDSM site of great renown.
I was fortunate to chat recently with Angie Rowntree.
A Product of Time and Place
My first inquiry is about feminism in adult film. What is it exactly?
Angie points out what I’ve heard from other women in the industry. The word is a moving target “because the definition seems to be a little different depending on whom you ask.” Moreover, it’s a definition that has changed over time; flexible is probably the best descriptor.
Having established that, here is her take on it. “My definition boils down to the notion of equality.” She refines her statement by insisting “To me, feminism is the just the obvious and true notion women are equal to men and should be valued, treated and considered accordingly”.
Of course, even that is fluid considering that feminism in the 1920s was embryonic compared with today. For Angie, it’s logical then that the idea or concept of feminism evolves. “I can’t see how it wouldn’t,” she says, because the human condition is “a product of time and place to some degree, as are our thoughts and attitudes.”
“People change . . . both individually and collectively,” she says. I could not agree more. As the decades pass, American culture is never static and consequently to expect feminism to remain so is nonsensical, especially considering how views on sexuality have changed.
Angie puts it this way. “Why would we expect a feminist born in 1990 to have the same perspective as one born in 1940?”
We shouldn’t, but will somebody please send that message to old Second Wave feminists of the 1970s and 1980s who still insist today that pornography degrades and humiliates women who must be psychologically damaged otherwise they wouldn’t take off their clothes for the camera.
The discussion shifts to female-centered pornography.
One Kind of Perspective
Critics of woman-oriented porn often claim that there is no difference in how a woman shoots a scene from a man. It’s the tired argument of the “male gaze” as if to say the only way to look at adult film is through the masturbating eyes of a man. What they really mean, I think, is that women are not supposed to like watching raw sex.
“Clearly, such critics think there’s a ‘proper way’ to make porn if you’re a woman,” Angie begins. It is as if there are rules that constrain what female pornographers can do and “how the do it.”
Angie doesn’t want to tell women “what to do” or what they should like. The danger is “putting them in convenient little boxes, or defining what makes a female director a ‘feminist,’ she says.
Her remark brings back the memory of the first time I heard that said. It was an interview with well-known pornography feminist, Madison Young.
Angie is on board with Madison when she says, “Why shouldn’t a woman be free to make both porn which she would define as ‘feminist’ and porn which she wouldn’t define that way?”
The Sssh.com founder then hints at the old saw that has forever circumscribed female sexuality.
“Does she [a woman] owe some kind of creative debt to the world such that she’s only allowed to make one kind of movie from one kind of perspective? Would anybody try to put a male pornographer in the same kind of box? I doubt it.”
Finally, I want to know about making porn the Angie Rowntree way.
Her scripts, Angie says, mirror “my point of view as a woman.” They also go a step further and “speak to the desires and fantasies of our fans and customers.” In fact, much of what is in a Sssh production “comes directly from feedback and comments contributed by our users.”
The result is a film that is never solely Angie Rowntree’s “personal vision.”
Fair enough and I understand the need to appeal to the customer base. But, putting aside feedback, what would be included in a completely freewheeling Angie Rowntree movie?
Actually, not much different from what is happening now.
“It would emphasize mutual pleasure between performers, depict real intimacy and connection.” And, there is more. Angie explains. “So much of the time in porn, there’s no smiling, no having fun . . . except on the ‘blooper’ reels. To me, I like to know the performers are enjoying themselves, which is about more than orgasms and climaxing.”
It’s the journey to get there that makes a Sssh.com movie an experience. What’s more, Angie Rowntree speaks for a adult film genre that is growing in popularity and power every day. In the end, it’s all about feminist pornography, the very heartbeat of Sssh.com.
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Next we’ll take a look at women and Fifty Shades of Grey. Do women really like the BDSM thing or is it just a blindfold made from a man’s tie that feels silky sweet?