Campus Only Senior Thesis
© 2014 Taylor Jade Ulrich
James Deen and his distinct following of fans has allowed for a discussion of what pornography means to women and teenage girls to be teased out. His fans are vocal, public and unashamed in their fascination with him, dismissing previously held ideologies that porn be a clearly private activity that is shameful to be addressed publicly; especially for women. James Deen’s uniquely unintimidating demeanor, both physically and personally, has made him more forgivable for his mistakes (i.e. rape “joke” Tweets), evidence of an intense desire for women to find porn that they can relate to and positively consume. Despite his shortcomings, James Deen is immensely popular among women and because of this, brings to light my critique of the limited definition of feminist pornography as it stands today in academia.
James Deen works against the grain of the porn industry, representing a new type of porn star that lends women their own gaze and further access to genuine pleasure intended for them. When James Deen breaks the common subject-object barrier of mainstream porn by pleasuring women on-screen, he disrupts the visual coding that holds the patriarchal gaze together at its seams, and works to produce female pleasure as a sexual truth. Not only that, but his consciousness around consent further allows women to be able to identify sexual pleasure with roles of submission. This construction of power-knowledge-pleasure to include women, and enthusiastic consent, aligns him with feminist porn aims to primarily focus on women, sexual openness and not shame, and sex positivity and not negativity.
Moving beyond the foci of James Deen’s films and his personality, the theory of disidentification is integral to understanding some women’s relationship with him, and how even the more complicated aspects of porn should be considered for inclusion within the definition of feminist porn. To ignore this survival tactic is to silence women’s participation in an already exclusionary industry. To include disidentificatory practices in feminist porn is to take into account the convoluted, nonlinear and illogical ways women and teenage girls are consuming porn. When the definition is opened up to include all porn that “works on and against dominant ideology” (as James Deen’s does), experienced anxieties due to inconsistencies between one’s erotics and politics can be relieved, fantasy is further understood as a real and validated sexual tool, and masochism’s role in porn is logically brought into this dialogue. When fantasy is accepted as a complex and mysterious phenomenon, disenfranchised demographics such as women are given license. Masochism is no longer limited to an absent and repressed tendency that places women in a punished state. James Deen’s masochistic aesthetic threatens patriarchal dogma and offers up something new to the world of pornography.
While James Deen does not profess to be a feminist, his porn practices and personality set him apart from the majority of the mainstream porn world and within the feminist porn sphere. In the end, the good that he is doing in providing women and teenage girls an option in an otherwise barren landscape of phallocentric porn should be enough to earn him academic scholarship and inclusion in the realm of feminist pornography.
Ulrich, Taylor Jade, "James Deen: The Feminist Enigma" (2014). Scripps Senior Theses. 364.
This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.