Q&A: Rich Moreland Talks ‘Pornography Feminism'

Dan Miller

LOS ANGELES — Rich Moreland told XBIZ he brought “a historian’s methodology” to his new book that explores one of the porn industry’s most complex and controversial topics.

A career educator who still teaches an intro course in western civilization at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Md., Moreland spent six years researching and writing “Pornography Feminism: As Powerful as She Wants to Be.”

What resulted was an ambitious, comprehensive look at the roots of feminism in porn, its evolution and the undeniable influence it has on today’s adult entertainment landscape.

Moreland’s willingness to immerse himself in the subject matter led to scores of stories and anecdotes from a who’s who of the porn business both past and present.

In this exclusive interview, he discusses his biggest challenge writing the book, his definition of “Pornography Feminism” and how it is shaping the future of porn.

XBIZ: Where were you born and raised?

RM: I was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore near Ocean City, Maryland.

XBIZ: What is your professional background?

RM: I graduated from Penn State University, picked up a Master's at Salisbury University, and did Post-Master's work at the University of Maryland. I've been an educator all my life in public school and community college where I currently work.

XBIZ: What classes do you teach? How were you able to juggle teaching and writing this book?

RM: I've taught psychology and history. I now limit my work to an intro course in western civilization (Ancient to Medieval). I'm a historian by nature, which gives me the tools I needed to write ‘Pornography Feminism.’ Teaching part time opened up my schedule, thus book writing came calling!

XBIZ: What was it about this subject 'Pornography Feminism' that piqued your interest?

RM: This is a long story, so I'll give you the short version! A local couple from our area (they married right out of high school) ended up in L.A. in the industry some years ago. The industry knows them as Jay and Kaitlyn Ashley. ... Kaitlyn is a friend of the wife of a good friend of mine. As a result, I became curious about the industry and started to research it. I found books like Luke Ford's ‘History of X,’ Harris Gaffin's ‘Hollywood Blue,’ and Anthony Petkovich's ‘The X Factory.’ …

Eventually I learned that some girls in the industry self-identify as feminists, Bobbi Starr, Nina Hartley, and Madison Young among them (this was in 2008). Research led me to Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle, the late Gloria Leonard, Veronica Vera and Veronica Hart, the original ladies of Club 90. It was the 1980s and they were the first self-proclaimed feminists in adult.

Now the historian in me went to work. I used social media, scored some interest from industry people, and attended my first [Adult Entertainment Expo] in Vegas. Getting interviews took off and the rest, of course, is history.

XBIZ: How is this book different from others written about the history of porn?

RM: I used a historian's methodology, which means establish broad themes, fill in the blanks and then verify, verify, verify. The original unedited version was totally academic and designed for the college classroom. It was 550 pages with a bibliography of about 350 entries. One of my readers humorously said she was going to stop working with me if she had to look up 2-3 words per page. Not good news. Too stuffy and erudite. The book was not supposed to be a dissertation. So, I ditched everything and rewrote the manuscript with a journalist's pen. That worked. By the way, once the publisher accepted it, it was still too long so I edited it again, reducing the word count by 25 percent.

Side story. My original intent was to co-write a book with a faculty colleague on Colonial Mid-Maryland Pottery. Sadly, he died suddenly and I was on my own. Pottery didn't seem worth pursuing at that point.

XBIZ: How long did it take you to research and write?

RM: Six years, but remember my rewrites. I had a small cadre of student assistants and others (all young women) who worked with me (my target audience is women 18-40). They transcribed interviews, worked on bibliographical citations, and read and edited my chapters.

XBIZ: It's evident you spoke with and interviewed scores of industry professionals. How did immersing yourself in the porn business affect how the book came together?

RM: In many ways actually. I always say now that every belief I had about the adult film business has been overturned. Civilians have incredibly inaccurate beliefs about the industry. Once the myths began to dissipate as a result of talking with porn people, the book gained focus.

… After the basic history of feminism in adult was established going all the way back to the early stages, fitting in the rest fell into place. Veterans told me about the old days of Porno Chic, the Meese Commission, and sex-positive feminism. All I needed to do was to put the building blocks together with a chronology to develop cause and effect.

XBIZ: How would you define feminism and did your definition change at all during the process of writing this book?

RM: My original definition went back to The New Left 1960s. Feminists were anti-porn then and many in academia still are today. In the history of feminism, the reaction against this line of thinking among women was called sex-positive feminism. When I began my research, the most important element I discovered was this: the porn girl steps in front of the camera of her own free will and calls her own shots — some better than others. That initiated my understanding of what feminism in porn means, though it has more than one path, which complicates a seemingly simple picture. For example, some feminists like shooting BDSM, so I went to Kink.com to talk with Peter Acworth. Some feminists are genderqueer, so that led me to the queer porn community of San Francisco and the Feminist Porn Awards. After awhile, I began to see a pattern that included diverse views on what feminism means to industry people.

But here's the bottom line. I believe that most performers and directors in adult film — particularly women — are feminist by definition because of how they conduct business, though they may not have thought of themselves that way. Sex-positive feminism needed updating because the term is framed as a reaction to anti-porn, sex-negative feminism of decades ago. That inspired me to create an identifier that moves beyond the past and describes where we are today. Pornography feminism is about diversity and a new female-powered sexuality in modern-day porn.  

XBIZ: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

RM: The beginning research because I was unknown and had to gain people's trust. I did that by being as honest as I could, asking questions that explored how people felt about the business they were in, what were their goals, their filming philosophy, their thoughts on safer sex, escorting and censorship, things like that. I was not interested in who their favorite fuck buddy was or their favorite position. Then I had to sort through the information I gathered because I came to realize that some people were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. By the way, occasionally people told me things they didn't want printed. I promised I wouldn't and never have, nor ever will.

I assume everyone who writes in the business goes through this same process. But I don't know for sure.

XBIZ: What was the most gratifying part of writing this book?

RM: The people I've met and I have a long list. Porn attracts extraordinary people to a remarkable business that sits on the edge of acceptability. That is its undeniable charm.

XBIZ: How would you describe the feminist presence in the porn industry today?

RM: There, but often muted. Nina Hartley told me that porn lacks an institutional memory. She's correct. Moving forward is easier if you look at the contributions of those who came before you. Unless you talk to veterans like John Stagliano or those who are living historians like Bill Margold and Ernest Greene you have no sense of the business's roots. Sadly, one of the best minds is longer with us, the late Christian Mann.

But feminist voices do exist. I tried to give them space in my book. There are women directors doing great things today: Jacky St. James, Joanna Angel, Nica Noelle, Tristan Taormino, Dana Vespoli, Courtney Trouble, Shine Louise Houston, Mason, to name a few. Of the self-identified feminist performers, standouts include Nina, Casey Calvert, the now-retired Bobbi Starr, Madison Young, Jiz Lee, Dylan Ryan, April Flores, Ela Darling, and Dana DeArmond, among others.

XBIZ: How do you see the future of feminism in porn?

RM: Difficult question, but here's what I think: Feminism will become more evident as our society continues its demographic shifts. Our population is getting younger and more diverse. The late Carlos Batts had a handle on this when we talked a year before he passed away. The younger generation coming along is much more accepting of porn and that is an invaluable asset to feminism because women will enter the industry with expectations of doing their own thing. And, porn will become more culturally diversified, more inclusive. The concept of the ideal on-screen body is fading and that is good. Feminism is all about acceptance and empowerment. By the way, there are studios in the business that also have feminist traits. Girlfriends Films is the best example, not only because of it's on-screen product but also because of it's business philosophy.

XBIZ: Who are your professional influences?

RM: Really, other than what I learned about historical methodology, nothing or no one as for as non-adult goes. I always went my own way with my teaching and writing.

As for the industry, many people, particularly those who are thoughtful. Here's what I mean by that. Bobbi Starr related the following to me. Remember, she is well educated and a concert musician. In one of her early interviews in the business, she was told to dumb down her answers or her career would be short. She did to some degree, she said, and we know the rest. She became a legend. Thankfully, Bobbi was always articulate and forthright with me and I am grateful. There are others who have likewise impressed me.

Incidentally, I'd like to add the Club 90 ladies to my professional influences. They remain forceful and political in ways that mirror the people and organizations presently fighting Michael Weinstein, perhaps the industry's greatest battle right now.

XBIZ: When did you launch 3hattergrindhouse.com and what inspired it? How would you describe it?

RM: College students know all about social media. One of mine suggested I do a blog because I was accumulating tons of information about the business. Since I was slowly becoming a journalist, I found it pretty easy. I cover all aspects of the adult industry when I can. It includes interviews, film reviews, book reviews, political commentary, things like that. I'm a storyteller by nature, so it works well. ?Incidentally, film reviews are important. My thought is this: porn is art and those who make it take a measure of pride in their work, so it should be celebrated. My graduate education comes in handy for reviewing film. I've been told I see things in films that fans often miss. There is far more to a feature, for example, than four sex scenes. There's a narrative, effective cinematography, and performers who care about what they do. Unfortunately, so much of that is ignored in the typical movie review that looks only at the bodies on-screen and how they function, which is pretty well. After all, it is porn!

XBIZ: When did you begin writing for AINews.com and what kind of columns do you write?

RM: Steve Nelson asked me to contribute to AINews a few years ago. I was delighted. I love politics so I've followed the condom issue closely and did a few articles on AHF that tell it like is, I think. I also try to put events into a historical context like Legends of Erotica in Vegas every January that honors past industry people. I also contribute interviews, but I always try to base my work on themes, like a couple of years ago when I was talking to girls about escorting. And, of course, there are short versions of movie reviews.

My main goal as an industry writer is not to be mundane. Look for something unique, something different, and never make stuff up!

XBIZ: How do you plan to be involved in the adult industry going forward?

RM: As long as the industry tolerates me hanging out and talking with people, I'll be around. I'm able to get a media pass for the Vegas week, which I value. My photographer also shoots the red carpet so we're fixtures now, I guess.

My biggest downside? I live in the Washington D.C. burbs and can't be in Porn Valley as much as I'd like.

And, I'm working on book two as we speak.

To order "Pornography Feminism: As Powerful as She Wants to Be," click here.