In our season one finale, we recap what we’ve learned about what makes different types of erotic stories feminist and what erotica is. We share audience feedback from a survey, as well as part of a live conversation we hosted with other erotic storytellers.
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Voiceover Goddess: Welcome to Feminist Erotica, a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women. Join Jera, Karen and Princess for stimulating interviews that explore feminist representations of desire, as well as short and sweet erotic snippets, read by the authors themselves. This episode is sponsored by Just the Tip, Rebellious Magazine’s inclusive sex and relationship advice column, where you’ll find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators, as well as compassionate responses to anonymous questions. Check it out at rebelliousmagazine.com/just-the-tip.
Karen Hawkins: Welcome to the finale of season one of the Feminist Erotica podcast. We did it, we survived it. We recorded a bunch of episodes. We got a lot of insights from a lot of amazingly insightful people, and we read some smut. I feel like, did we do what we set out to do? Abso-fucking-lutely. That said, what did we set out to do? Princess, take it away.
Princess: So thank you for that lovely introduction, Karen Hawkins.
Karen: You’re so welcome.
Princess: So this season we really wanted to kind of explore what makes a erotica feminist. So that lighthouse really fed all of our interviews and conversations that we had with people, talking about their particular work and then also diving down into what character traits, what things need to be included in a story to technically to be able to call it feminist. So we started out with a response form that we put together to, that we promoted a bunch of places to just ask people what makes erotica feminist to you. And we put together a short list of points that we discussed and felt like, you know, these things may or may not need to be included to make it so. And for our first vignette into asking reader responses, I think it went pretty well.
To start off, a few of the things that we included in the form to as check boxes to ask people what makes erotica feminist, we had: enthusiastic consent and autonomy for characters; an author writing about their lived experience in terms of identity; authentic character development inside the stories; challenging as societal status quo somehow, in the storyline or thematically in what is explored; and also maybe a fantastical element that enables the characters to find healing or empowerment. So those are the kind of ones that we just threw out to see what sticks, if people were into those things specifically. And then, what we really got a lot of talk back was the long answer section where we asked people what makes erotica feminist. 20 people responded. So shout out to y’all.
Karen: Thank you. I mean, we did incentivize them. Let’s be clear.
Princess: Yes, we did offer, gosh, what’d we give?
Karen: Women & Children First gift cards, right Jera?
Princess: Which is basically gold in a quarantine. So, you know, we started out really high. Let’s talk about it.
Karen: Exactly. Yes. Cheers to Jera for the idea to incentivize people to do our survey with gift cards to Women & Children First Bookstore. If you are not in Chicago, that is Chicago’s preeminent feminist bookstore. They’ve been around since 19-, they just celebrated their 41st anniversary. I think they’re in Andersonville. They are absolutely amazing. We love you Women & Children First. Congratulations to everyone who got gift cards.
Princess: I love when Karen puts out, like automatically turns into Vanna White and just slides in all the promo. We absolutely love Women & Children First. I am not in Chicago, but I’ve been there. And it’s my favorite bookstore that I’ve walked in, just with shelf tags. So if you haven’t been in there, absolutely check them out. Of the 20 responses that we got from people, 17 folks named enthusiastic consent and autonomy elements of feminist erotica. Absolutely. Everyone needs to be into the story and the sex and the characters need to have consent and autonomy of what’s happening there. Fourteen people responded and said that authentic character development was crucial in naming a erotica story feminist. Outside of those two main categories that people agreed on, the other ones were sort of universally filled in. The story needed to be centered on women, specifically without the male gaze and without shame.
So just making sure that, you know, the female characters in the story, it was about them. And it was about their development and their journey throughout the story in a very empowering way where they’re not held back by any of what we deal with in society. Just like, none of that. Of those 20 responses, the group was pretty split on the question of challenging a societal quo, just because as an erotica story, the main function of the story is to get off. So a lot of people asserted that the story doesn’t necessarily have to have this big, it doesn’t need to have this huge goal or ending or anything like that. Like, erotica at its, yeah, it doesn’t have to be like a whole agenda inside of it. It just needs to get to the end for the climax.
Karen: Well, I feel like it also like, I feel like it’s interesting that people responded that way because I feel like, people who are not feminist perhaps, their stereotype of feminist sex is that it’s super political, right. That we somehow politicize, and that it’s not fun at all. It’s super political and not sexy. And I feel like I appreciate that people were like, yeah, that’d be great, but it’s not totally required.
Princess: Right. So one of the responses that we got said, and I quote, ‘I see no reason feminist erotica has to be advocacy driven, has to have meaning or purpose beyond arousal and do not understand why everything related to feminism has to be driven by purpose other than what it is.’ So yeah, just a lot of people agreed that it just needs to be erotica. Other people chimed in and said that. One of my favorite quotes that was pulled from the responses was ‘Making an autonomous choice to engage with it makes it erotica feminist, makes a radical feminist. Wow, words. Going to say that better in a way, ‘Making an autonomous choice to engage with the text makes a erotica feminist. Erotica is fancy. So I don’t believe it needs to be feminist values embedded in the erotica itself.’ So, simply put, the choice to read it. The choice to read the story with the characters and the journey itself, it makes the erotica feminist. It doesn’t need anything necessarily embedded into the text to make that so.
So I think that was a really, I think that set a great foundation for what we were working towards and was reflected in the interviews that we had with authors that we talked to, and in the happy hours that we had with listeners and readers. If you were a part of the happy hours that we had, they were delightful. There was a lot of good conversation in those, and it was really nice to be able to meet you guys and see faces and kind of have those, have that back and forth with each other. Cause one of the main goals that we have with this podcast, which I think we’re doing great at, you know, we’re keeping it going, is creating that community and meeting with you guys and really getting to see and listen to you and get feedback of what you want to hear here. Hear, here. Here, here! In that same frame, many of you suggested writers that we actually ended up featuring this season, including Katrina Jackson and Rachel Kramer Bussel. Thank you ladies so much for having great conversations with us, for being a part of our inaugural season. Rachel is a huge proponent and cheerleader for our podcast. She keeps us engaged. She throws out titles. She brings other people into our podcast. Maybe we should’ve asked Rachel to just be part of this broadcast. She’s like an honorary member. Also Katrina Jackson, delightful conversation-
Princess: -that me and Karen had with her. We became best friends through this shared commiseration of black queer women pushing in industry. So one of the possible topics that was thrown out in the reader response was talking about sex work. The quote that I pulled out was ‘Sex workers, especially the high-end sex workers, who’ve taken charge of their lives and desires.’ Look for that next season. We’ll have something special that we’re putting together for that to get you guys reading and engaged with sex workers and sex worker erotica. That’s a really, that’s a topic that I’m really interested in, and the way that they incorporate erotic writing into their suite of services, which I did not know was a thing that happened until I had some personal experience with someone who does that. And I was like, well, that’s classy and fancy. And I’m here for it.
Karen: I mean, we are – let’s just be clear, we’re classy and fancy individuals.
Jera: Redefining what classy and fancy mean.
Karen: Exactly. We’re disrupting classy and fancy. Yeah. Yeah.
Princess: So that was really the bulk of the responses that we got back. Thank you so much to everyone who responded to the form and gave your suggestions and gave your insights and comments. A couple of things that I do want to say out loud as stuff that I highlighted that I really liked. I don’t want to say the person’s name because I do hope that we can get her on the show at some point. But the comment that was given, the person is an erotica author and she responded, ‘As an erotic author. Feminist erotica is centered on the context of gender representation and the ethics of equality represented in a piece. Too often, the discussion of whether a work of erotica is feminist is limited to what role white cis-women play in a scene and the definition of feminist centered on the presence of heteronormative sexual relationships between systems or characters. I consider erotica as a feminist, when the gestalt is grounded in the ethics of equality.’ Chef’s kiss, right?
I’m a black queer woman. Karen’s a black queer woman. Jera is a queer non-binary person. So, being able to have this conversation within those intersections, and also bring in authors and writers who really center their lived experiences as women of color or marginalized women is incredibly important and something that we want to and will continue to dive into as we do more episodes of the podcast.
Jera: So the second, where we ended up going with the season, wasn’t just asking what makes erotica feminist, but what is erotica in general? And I think part of why that conversation became so important is that, erotica as we first started thinking about it is this very capitalistic genre and it ends up marginalizing desire in a different way, by being censored, by being risque. And I think it’s part of the, well, what would you call it? It’s part of the like sex-negative or sex-shaming environment that we’re in that it’s this very narrow concept. So instead we’re opening it up through people that are exploring it in different ways and we’ll continue to do so in season two. But basically we have no set definition for what erotica is. There’s the working definition of how you find it. And then there’s a larger definition of how do you consume works of art that make you feel positive about the things that you desire and ways that you find pleasure.
Karen: Here, here. Cheers to that. We were supposed to be having mimosas during this recording, but we’re not doing it. I’m doing Sober October and I hate myself. I feel like it’s so important to say that. And I feel like I went into this very naïve about how cis- and how straight and how white erotica is because the erotica I read is not that. And so, going into this, looking at the whole industry was very eye-opening for me. And I feel like it really reinforced why, what we’re doing is so important and that it’s so important that it’s the three of us doing it. And I feel like the mainstream notion of what erotica is, is the opposite of what we’re trying to do. And I feel like I am really curious about, I wish that we could survey every person who listens to any of our episodes. Like, I want to know who these folks are. And I think it’s one of the reasons that having the happy hours is so fulfilling for us is that we do get to interact with the people who want to interact with us. And I feel like we do need to figure out a way that people can come to happy hour and like not be on blast. Like right now we’re doing it on zoom. So people show up and they come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m on Facebook Live with you. Hi. Okay.’ So, I mean, we will create an atmosphere where you can be with us, but maybe you don’t want to be on camera or whatever. But I love that we have built into, even just the first season, a way to interact with people who are interested in approaching erotica, the way that we are and do.
Jera: So look for more of those events in the future. Now we’re ending this episode and the season with excerpts, from the conversation we had during the live stream season one launch party. Karen asked our guests their thoughts on what makes erotica feminist. You’ll hear from Karen Yates, host and founder of the Wild and Sublime podcast, which brings you the latest news and inclusive conversations around sex and sexuality, and Jane Reno, the erotica curator for Bellesa.Co, a porn and adult content site run by women. And finally Becca Grisha and Amelia Rose, two of the folks behind Consensual Pod, a steamy romance podcast for riot girls.
Karen Hawkins: So I want to make sure, you know, part of this was not only to celebrate with all of you, but, also of course because we are who we are, and this is also content for us. This recording will also become content for us. Sorry. We’re multitasking. Part of the content piece is getting from all of you, what your answer to what makes erotica feminist, what is feminist erotica?
Karen Yates: I do. For me, what makes a radical feminist is that all parties involved in the scene get to operate outside of gender norms, whether they are femme-identified or masculine-identified, because, you know I think one thing that gets a little lost for people when they don’t know a lot about feminism is the fact that everybody’s liberated. It’s not just about the liberation of femme-identified people. It’s, everybody gets liberated. And that’s the whole point, is that we have been, all of us, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cis male, cis female, trans masc, trans female. We are all oppressed under the system that exists currently. And feminism lifts us out and allows us to be human, you know. It allows our sexuality to flower and go into realms that we can’t even, honestly, I don’t think we can even imagine because we don’t, we’re not immersed as a culture in a world that is feminist. We just aren’t. So there’s moments I think when we glancingly can come at sexuality from a like, ‘Aha, I see it! I’m living it.’ But you know, there’s that, like, stormfront that comes back down, you know, because we’re living in the world getting beamed messages. But yeah, that’s like, I think one of the first things that strikes me when, when you say feminist erotica.
Karen: I love that. I see everyone has their thinking face on which I really very much appreciate. I’m going to call on somebody. I’m so sorry to do it to you, Jayne. You’re so sweet. And you’re like, we haven’t heard from you enough and I’m doing this thing to you. That’s terrible. But.
Jayne: Well, you have to call on me because I’m never going to barge into the group conversation. So put me on the spot. I wanted to answer this question for you before, but I got stuck on it and then didn’t come back to writing it out. So I don’t have nicely formulated thoughts, but I think that what makes erotica feminist lines up with a lot of what Karen just said. It gives the opportunity for anyone’s voice to come forward. And there have been a lot of voices that have been stifled for so long. And erotica has been a medium that has been explored by people who haven’t had the microphone for forever. Like the fanfiction sites are all femme, queer, everyone, everyone else. Everyone who haven’t had the microphone for so long is hanging out in those spaces. And now we’re just bringing them more and more to the forefront. And I think that’s really cool. And people are able to explore themselves through the writing. They can be whoever they want to be or whoever they, whoever maybe, they don’t necessarily want to be, but they can put themselves into a body and a space that they wouldn’t be in otherwise. So they have the opportunity to empower themselves. And then by doing that, that empowerment, like those frequencies are passed on to the reader who’s empowered and then that keeps that moving forward. So I think that there is, I don’t know if that’s necessarily, yeah, I think that is feminist. That we are moving that empowerment along. And the other side of that is that, empowerment, isn’t a zero sum game. By giving someone power, it’s not taking away from everyone else. It gets bringing everyone higher. And that’s what I’ve observed in my time as an erotica editor and working with the people that I have worked with so far. And it’s really amazing to see, like in real time.
Karen: Consensual Pod, anyone?
Becca: I think something that was really interesting to explore in creating this book. I mean, Amelia wrote it, but we, you know, we worked on the outline together. It was a very collaborative experience to write this book. The second one was the same: very, very collaborative. But was recognizing that there are so many books in the romance genre that I feel claim feminism, but are not a very friendly version of feminism is the way that we’ve kind of referred to it. It’s feminism for people who think it sounds like a nice idea, but don’t want to do the hard work or, dig into a deeper level of feminism other than, you know, how it, affects them personally. So, the version of feminism that is “there are women in this book who have sex and they get to have orgasms” is not feminist. I mean, it’s a start, but that’s not, that doesn’t interest me. And so a lot of working on Consensual was ‘Okay, what is the feminism that we want to see in our love stories?’ And that is, in the sex scenes, yes. That, of course, of course everybody gets their orgasm, but also that it doesn’t have to be the very alpha male romance that we see way too much of. And it doesn’t have to be … and I mean this is kind of a spoiler, but also it’s just one that I think about all the time and whenever I talk about Consensual, I talk about it … which is that the first time Ingrid and Noah have sex right afterwards, Noah is like cuddling up in bed. And when I read this for the first time, I was like, Amelia, you’re a genius. Ingrid comes back to bed and is like, ‘Hey bud, you gotta go.’ Like, very much, ‘It’s nothing against you, but I just don’t like to share my bed.’ That it’s like kind of dismantling what romance novels have presented what love is supposed to look like dismantling less. You know, we’re not the only people writing feminist romance of course, but challenging the romance that has claimed to be feminist in the past and pushing it towards closer and closer to where at that ought to be.
Amelia: Becca, that’s so funny. That was exactly the theme that I thought of. And as you started talking, I was like, she’s going to bring up, kicking him out of the bed. But yeah, I mean, we’ve kind of talked around it a little bit, but a lot of what we’re doing at Consensual is kind of in direct response to what the three of our experiences have been in romance for the past few years. So I think for us, the work of the feminist work in erotica has been just, you know, writing things that didn’t feel so oppressive. I think we have all just kind of, the three of us especially, have been on projects that really did not feel good to be working on. So even for us just having the freedom to be writing what we wanted to write, and to explore the ideas and the identities that we wanted to, has been I think part of that feminist work for us. I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for Becca and Rachel, but I can speak for myself, but that’s how it’s been.
Jera: Thank you for listening to season one. Stay tuned for season two, where we explore erotica as a springboard for self-care and personal growth.