At the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium the program session I was the most excited about was Porn in the library. There were 3 presentations in this panel exploring this theme.
First, Joan Beaudoin and Elaine Ménard presented The P Project: Scope Notes and Literary Warrant Required! Their study looked at 22 websites that are aggregators of free porn clips. Most of these sites were in English, but a few were in French. Ménard acknowledged that it is risky and sometimes uncomfortable to study porn in the academy. They looked at the terminology used to describe porn videos, specifically the categories available to access porn videos. They described their coding manual which outlined various metadata facets (activity, age, cinematography, company/producers, age, ethnicity, gender, genre, illustration/cartoon, individual/stars, instruction, number of individuals, objects, physical characteristics, role, setting, sexual orientation). I learned that xhamster has scope notes for their various categories (mouseover the lightbulb icon to see).
While I appreciate that Beaudoin and Ménard are taking a risk to look at porn, I think they made the mistake of using very clinical language to legitimize and sanitize their work. I’m curious why they are so interested in porn, but realize that it might be too risky for them to situate themselves in their research.
It didn’t seem like they understood the difference between production company websites and free aggregator sites. Production company sites have very robust and high quality metadata and excellent information architecture. Free aggregator sites that have variable quality metadata and likely have a business model that is based on ads or referring users to the main production company websites. Porn is, after all, a content business, and most porn companies are invested in making their content findable, and making it easy for the user to find more content with the same performers, same genre, or by the same director.
Beaudoin and Ménard expressed disappointment that porn companies didn’t want to participate in their study. As these two researchers don’t seem to understand the porn industry or have relationships with individuals I don’t think it’s surprising at all. For them to successfully build on this line of inquiry I think they need to have some skin in the game and clearly articulate what they offer their research subjects in exchange for building their own academic capital.
It was awesome to have a quick Twitter conversation with Jiz Lee and Chris Lowrance, the web manager for feminist porn company Pink and White productions, about how sometimes the terms a consumer might be looking for is prioritized over the performers’ own gender identity.
Update: @FetishMovieBlog responded to Jiz and Chris to say that this was an unintentional error that had been corrected. Jiz’s performer entry doesn’t have a gender listed and I also noticed that their race is listed as hapa, another non-binary category.
Jiz Lee is genderqueer porn performer and uses the pronouns they/them and is sometimes misgendreed by mainstream porn and by feminist porn. I am a huge fan of their work.
I think this is the same issue that Amber Billy, Emily Drabinski and K.R. Roberto raise in their paper What’s gender got to do with it? A critique of RDA rule 9.7. They argue that it is regressive for a cataloguer to assign a binary gender value to an author. In both these cases someone (porn company or consumer, or cataloguer) is assigning gender to someone else (porn performer or content creator). This process can be disrespectful, offensive, inaccurate and highlights a power dynamic where the consumer’s (porn viewer or researcher/student/librarian) desires/politics/needs/worldview is put above someone’s own identity.
Next, Lisa Sloniowski and Bobby Noble. presented Fisting the Library: Feminist Porn and Academic Libraries (which is the best paper title ever). I’ve been really excited their SSHRC funded porn archive research. This research project has become more of a conceptional project, rather than building a brick and mortar porn archive. Bobby talked about the challenging process of getting his porn studies class going at York University. Lisa talked they initially hoped to start a porn collection as part of York University Library’s main collection, not as a reading room or a marginal collection. Lisa spoke about the challenges of drafting a collection development policy and some of the labour issues, presumably about staff who were uncomfortable with porn having to order, catalogue, process and circulate porn. They also talked about the Feminist Porn Awards and second feminist porn conference that took place before the Feminist Porn Awards last year.
Finally, Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry presented Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work? They presented a philosophical argument against internet filters. They argued that for a filter to not overblock and underblock it would need to be mind reading and fortune telling. A filter would need to be able to read an individual’s mind and note factors like the person viewing, their values, their mood, etc and be fortune telling by knowing exactly what information that the user was seeking before they looked at it. I’ve been thinking about internet filtering a lot lately, because of Vancouver Public Library’s recent policy change that forbids “sexually explicit images”. I was hoping to get a new or deeper understanding on filtering but was disappointed.
This colloquium was really exciting for me. The conversations that people on the porn in the library panel were having are discussions I haven’t heard elsewhere in librarianship. I look forward to talking about porn in the library more.