It’s no secret that the adult industry is rampantly sexist. Porn is a form of entertainment traditionally made by and for men. This is why I wasn’t really surprised at my chilly reception upon making my first xxx film in 2004. According to fellow (male) directors and producers, all of my ideas were ridiculous:
“It’s a waste of money to shoot in high quality.”
“This isn’t the 70s – who watches porn with a story?”
“Women’s pleasure is irrelevant in a sex film, since it’s all about the men.”
And, the most obvious of all, “women don’t watch porn.”
(Looking a bit overwhelmed at my first shoot in 2004)
Looking back on it, I’m sure they were threatened and a bit insulted, because I made no secret of my distaste for the mainstream films, nor of my passion to show the industry something better. In short, I was telling them to evolve or get out of the way for the next generation. Their hostility to women and game-changers infiltrating their ‘boys club’ was at least understandable, if moronic.
(Way more relaxed 10 years later!)
But when I see those same sexist tropes in the fashion industry… Now that is more confusing.
It’s art and business that’s primarily aimed at women: how could it be as chauvinist and hostile to women as porn? Now I’m not just talking about the design aspect of the industry, where designers are lauded for creating impractical garments that only fit super skinny models and wouldn’t be appropriate or affordable for the average modern woman. No, I’m talking about the most obvious part that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. The advertising.
(The highly controversial, gang-rape style ad of Dolce and Gabbana)
It’s also no secret that sex sells… and don’t I know this better than anybody? But what I am selling is actually directly related to sex, not trying to confuse our lust for sex with lust for products. Several brands have been highlighted recently for their blatant use of sex in advertising their increasingly risqué clothing … and for their apparent financial decline. Some – like American Apparel – may have multiple factors at play, while others – like Bebe – just aren’t finding traction with their sleazy image.
(A Sisley advertizement gets crass)
So what changed? Abercrombie & Fitch has been peddling billboards of apparently-naked men for decades and it seemed to work okay. American Apparel shocked and titillated with its early campaigns: using sex appeal to sell such sundry basics as t-shirts and socks. My theory? BAD sex doesn’t sell. And this is one similarity between the porn and fashion industries.
(Am I the only one who is seeing more playboy than fashion here?)
What do I mean by ‘bad sex’? It is a stale stereotype, a male gaze, where women are receptacles for men’s lust, violence and predation. Women have no autonomy over their sexuality, because their sexuality only exists such as men have defined it. And this is crap of course. This is not how savvy, modern women express themselves. This does not sell. Creativity sells, ingenuity sells, fresh perspective sells.
(Now, if I could only figure out what was being sold here …)
I think this is what made American Apparel’s strategy so genius when I first discovered it in the early 2000s. Young people saw their pornographic ads (or mannequins with pubic hair, nowadays) and identified with this kind of explicit imagery to which they were more and more easily accustomed. It was bringing the taboo mainstream, which is always attractive. But when it gets to the point where the majority of your advertising relies solely on this kind of imagery, and becomes more and more like chauvinist porn, the strategy becomes stale. We, the public, lose interest.
(Play the game! See if you can beat my record of 7)
Have you ever played the game Fashion or Porn? Try it, and see how many of your wrong answers were due to American Apparel advertizements featuring only a close-up of a derriere. Truly, their variety of tacky sexual poses knows no bounds.
(Some examples of classy sex on Tumblr and in advertizements)
Mainstream porn is in decline because it is this same bad sex stereotype recycled over and over again. And it looks like fashion may be experiencing the same thing now. I only wonder whether parallel change will take place in the industries, where independent and forward-thinking companies who show sex in a different light earn more, while the boring powerhouses remain in decline.