Thursday, June 25, 2020

From 2016... Is subversive or feminist the increasing consumption of pornographic content by women in contemporary Japan?

From 2016... Alexandra Hambleton: When women watch: the subversive potential of female-friendly pornography in Japan, Porn Studies, 3:4, 427-442,

Abstract: Pornography producers in Japan are finding themselves increasingly struggling to maintain profits as free content becomes ever more easily available online. Within this environment, one niche area is bucking trends and increasing sales – pornography for women. In an industry where a DVD that sells 3000 copies is considered a hit, female-friendly pornography company Silk Labo has been able to not only produce DVDs which sell over 10,000 copies, but also generate publicity about the company and its aims which reaches far beyond neighbourhood DVD rental stores, and contributes to a wider conversation about women, sex, and pleasure in Japan today. This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and critical analysis of Silk Labo films to understand the phenomenon of increasing consumption of pornographic content by women in contemporary Japan, and asks whether the phenomenon is subversive or feminist.

Much as fandom and following pop idols acts as an escape from mundane life for many fans in Japan today (see Galbraith and Karlin 2012), participating in Silk Labo events allows fans of the company’s eromen idols an escape into a fantasy world in which sex is always with an attractive, caring man. The references to popular culture and pornography, and the in-jokes relied upon by Silk Labo are all indicative of its ability to provide an arena for them to engage in fan behaviour.

It is possible to argue that Silk Labo is one example of attempts to control female desires, redirected in such a way as to allow freedom within clearly demarcated heteronormative lines. From a queer studies perspective, Bronski argues that the process of ‘social containment, presenting less threatening forms of social change through commodification’ developed because people both desired and feared new freedoms, viewing them as a threat to the existing social order (2000, 69–70). In the case of host clubs, male sexuality is commodified and Japanese women deploy men as ‘resources’ to create a more woman-friendly lifestyle (Takeyama 2005, 200). As Takeyama argues, this ‘serves as an effective stimulus for women’s greater consumption, while also reinscribing gendered characteristics and hierarchical relations’ (2005, 200). The Silk Labo phenomenon similarly encourages consumption, but it also creates what Gordon (1992, 194) terms ‘the other place’, an arena in which female desire can be manipulated and controlled, and prevented from bleeding into surrounding arenas. However, while Silk Labo’s films may be problematic in many ways, they also offer a chance to move beyond traditional ideas of pornography as a male genre, and create the opportunity for further discussion about what it means to enjoy sex and one’s own sexuality for women in Japan today.

A year after my fieldwork I returned to the Silk Labo set in April 2014 and spent the day watching the cast and crew at work. Makino was still running the show but with a number of younger female crew learning to write, produce, and direct under her tutelage, women who often pour their own sexual fantasies into their productions. Since introducing mobile phone-streaming services earlier in the year, the company had been able to expand its reach, but was also under threat from new management at SOD who believed they could attract more female customers by dumping cheaply produced content onto cute websites under the heading of ‘female-friendly pornography’ and hoping audiences would graduate to purchasing full-length mainstream SOD movies. Having spent many years developing the Silk Labo brand, Makino was frustrated with this approach. However, as Silk Labo’s newest staff rushed to provide the cast with bathrobes after each scene and the crew munched on doughnuts as they revised the script, I realized that, despite constantly facing new challenges, for now at least Silk Labo may be responding to a new generation of women willing to try something different within the pornography industry, and that the quiet boom in female-friendly porn for women might yet spur a quiet revolution.

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