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What porn stars can teach us about sisterhood

After travelling to the AVN awards in Vegas, Reba Maybury and Esra Padgett teamed up for a publication spotlighting how women in porn help each other

“There is an unprecedented power to friendship”, write Reba Maybury and Esra Padgett in a little pamphlet-like book filled with pink decorative writing and hand-drawn portraits of pornstars. Their book, Sisters of Pornography, printed by Wet Satin Press, documents the friendships between actresses working in the porn industry: friendships which are, in an environment rife with competition and hostility between women, more important than ever. It’s striking that research so rooted in the internet age has spilled out into this very low-tech, heartfelt, and, in Maybury’s words, “anti-digital” artefact – reflecting the contrast between the throw-away attitude to pornstars as pieces of digital consumption, and friendship as something lasting, tender and powerful.

Activist, writer and Dazed 100-er Maybury founded Wet Satin Press in 2015 as a way to extend her work as a writer, finding that her pieces often had scope to turn into small books or multimedia projects. She joined forces with academic Padgett on the project through a shared fascination with our cultural obsession with, yet relative silence on, pornography. We caught up with them just before tonight's book launch at Shoot the Lobster Gallery in New York.

“We’re both obviously interested in feminism, so we started asking, what is popular feminism ignoring, and I think that’s pornography” – Reba Maybury

Where did this interest in pornography come from for you both?

Reba Maybury: I think the porn industry is interesting on limitless levels because there’s so many different aspects to it. We’re both obviously interested in feminism, so we started asking, what is popular feminism ignoring, and I think that's pornography. And also, more women than ever watch pornography – apparently two out of three women in America watch pornography on a weekly basis. So what’s happening to those women when they're watching other women, and what do they think about them?

Esra Padgett: Coming from an academic standpoint, when I chose to look at pornstars there was a lot of resistance to that, or I needed to explain their relevance and the legitimacy of their personhood. Which I find so shocking from people who are supposedly progressive. Our generation are so much more exposed to pornography, but at the same time we aren't talking about it, or thinking that deep into it.

How did you find the individuals you spoke to?

Reba Maybury: Well we first started looking at this one pair of girls, Courtney Taylor and Summer Brielle, and through their social media we found out that they were best friends, and they also have sex on camera. They’re very big in the porn world, so we were very interested in the fact that they’re best friends.

Esra Padgett: We kind of decided, based on them, that we wanted to focus on girls that were friends with each other. And we found most of them through social media.

Tell me about the AVN awards – did anything strange or memorable happen to you in Las Vegas?

Esra Padgett: We became obsessed with taking pictures of guys taking pictures of the girls. Because all the girls are at their booths and then there'll be like, 15 guys just taking pictures surrounding each girl. So we started turning around and taking pictures of all the men taking pictures.

Reba Maybury: But the men were fascinating as well, because these are men who’ve come from all over America to this one trade show to meet the women that they jack off to all year. So it’s a very strange tension because the men have so much respect for these women in this perverse way, and then these women have so much power but they’re not really aware of the power they have.

Esra Padgett: Yeah it’s like they idolise them, and they wait in line for hours to be able to touch their shoulder or take a picture with them. And it’s so strange that they have them on this pedestal that is actually very limiting to the girls because they don’t actually care about anything deeper.

“These men come from all over America to meet the women that they jack off to all year. It’s a very strange tension because the men have so much respect for these women in this perverse way, and then these women have so much power” – Reba Maybury

So how long did the whole process take?

Esra Padgett: We were there two weeks.

Reba Maybury: We had a week in LA afterwards because that’s where all the actresses live, and once we'd finished we put it all together. But then we were really struggling with what to do with the imagery, because on one hand we'd thought about having quite sexualised images of these women to contrast with these very humble and humanitarian quotes from them. Then we were like, no, it’s all very much the male gaze. Then we thought of this artist that I’d found on Instagram called @jediartist69 and I found that she always commented on the pornstars’ Instagrams. So I went on her Instagram and she just obsessively draws pornstars. And they’re the most beautifully naive drawings you’ve ever seen. So we commissioned her to do all the drawings. But one of the reasons we loved doing that was that it was another woman looking at these women.

Esra Padgett: It’s like a fandom thing, she attends all the conventions and she gives these portraits to the girls. So she already has a relationship with these women.

Reba Maybury: Rather than something that’s just throw-away, there’s real love that’s been put into the image and that’s about respecting these women. And that’s why we wanted to make this book – to respect them, and humanise them. By having a drawing it’s something that's so tactile and anti-digital and pornography is so digital. Pornstars are the object of affection for the length of masturbation and then thrown away.

How did the women themselves react to the project you were doing?

Reba Maybury: Usually when these women are interviewed they just get asked questions like, ”what’s your favourite position?”, or ”what’s your bra size?”

Esra Padgett: And we were like: so who’s your best friend? What is that friendship like? And they were taken aback for a second and then they were really happy to talk about it. And they were like, this is my friend and I love her.

Reba Maybury: ”This is how she helps me.” For me, one of the most important aspects of feminism is women being kind to other women. I think that’s one of the most progressive things that women can do as feminists, so this book was a way to talk about how important it is for women to be together.

“That’s why we wanted to make this book – to respect (these women), and humanise them. A drawing is something that's so tactile and anti-digital, and pornography is so digital. Porn stars are the object of affection for the length of masturbation and then thrown away” – Reba Maybury 

What struck you most about the women you interviewed?

Reba Maybury: I think Venus Lux was the most emotional. And she’s absolutely incredible. She’s a trans woman, she’s 25 years old, and she also runs her own model house for trans and cis girls. So she is really actively creating this form of sisterhood. And then she mentors these women about what they should and shouldn’t do in the industry, how to be careful with their money, and how they should have an exit plan. And she has her own production company, and employs eight men.

Did you have more material that you wanted to put in the book?

Esra Padgett: We want to talk to so many more people, and there’s so much more. This is just grazing the surface.

Reba Maybury: So many people watch pornography – pornography is the number one use of the Internet. So why don’t people speak about it more? And I think there’s still this fear of young people watching so much porn and what that’s going to do to their sexuality, and that does scare me because so much pornography is so violent. So making the book was completely the opposite, which is pure love and a love that is honest and pure. I mean porn is difficult in a lot of ways, but rather than just saying, “Oh god, pornography’s really bad”... that doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

Sisters of Pornography’s book launch and exhibition takes place on 6th July at Shoot the Lobster Gallery, NY. Find out more about the launch at its event page

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