Women Out Front: An Important Opportunity

For years, the adult entertainment industry has had an image problem – more than one, obviously, but if there’s one critique of the industry that has spanned the entirety of its history, it’s that the industry and its products are inherently misogynist.

It’s one of the oddities of porn’s rise to cultural prominence in the Internet Age that on the one hand, this epoch has seen the proliferation of extremely hardcore hetero-gonzo porn that depicts women performing the very sort of sex acts that inspire the harshest criticism from our critics, and on the other hand, the last 15 years have unquestionably seen a major increase in the production of feminist and female-friendly porn.

If adult entertainment companies want to attract a larger and broader female audience, they need to start making it clear that they care about what these female customers want, what they like, and how they feel.

The fact that an increasing number of women self-identify as porn watchers is a very significant trend, and one that should not be ignored by the industry. This growth in female viewership presents an opportunity that many in the industry have long felt was illusory, maybe even delusional: the opportunity to build an audience of women for our products as large, or nearly so, as the industry’s traditional male-dominated audience.

In order to make the most of this opportunity, the adult industry must do more than change its marketing (slapping a “feminist porn” label on the works of Max Hardcore isn’t going to fool anybody); we need to begin fundamentally changing the industry’s culture.

I know culture is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days, especially in the context of discussions of “corporate culture,” but it has become a buzzword for a reason: the way a company, or an industry, conducts itself internally is often projected externally, whether the company or industry realizes it or not. If adult entertainment companies want to attract a larger and broader female audience, they need to start making it clear that they care about what these female customers want, what they like, and how they feel.

Much can be accomplished on this front simply by doing more to call attention to the ways that the industry already has changed, and to the off-camera advances of women within the industry. When companies hire women to fill executive positions, for example, we should trumpet and celebrate that fact significantly more than we do. In other words, such a hiring needs to be treated as bigger news than the street date of that same studio’s next blow-bang title.

The industry needs to do more to promote and grow existing efforts like Women in Adult, a group that XBIZ has long supported and featured within its pages. It’s crucial that this support be real and tangible, not merely symbolic. Companies should encourage their female employees and executives to join WIA, and otherwise to be as “out front” as they are comfortable being, in terms of publicly representing the company.

One thing I would love to see for a variety of reasons, not all to do with public relations, would be the successful recruiting by an adult entertainment company of a female executive who has already in a mainstream market sector. Can you imagine the power of the headlines that would flow from that sort of coup? This notion probably sounds like a pipe dream — but 20 years ago, the idea that we’d be globally selling porn in real time probably sounded like a pipe dream to a lot of people, too.

Entities like WIA and the individual women who comprise them also need to be more than a fig leaf or a public relations shield against claims of the industry’s misogyny; they need to be given a literal seat at the table when we hold panel discussions about the “State of the Industry,” and they need to be keynote speakers at industry events. Again, this has to be about more than appearances; the increased role of women needs to be an industry priority, not a marketing slogan.

Not too long ago, I penned a column noting some of the things that the adult industry could learn from the National Football League’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse debacle, but there are some very positive lessons to learn from the NFL where female viewers are concerned, as well. The most important of these lessons is to realize that once upon a time, the NFL was a “man’s world” when it came to their viewing audience, just as porn traditionally has been.

What has really allowed the NFL take off, on television and in terms of branded-product sales, is an explosive growth in female viewership over the last two decades, the last five years in particular. According to the media marketing and analytics firm Ebiquity, the NFL’s female viewership grew 26 percent between 2009 and 2013 alone, compared to an increase of 18 percent among men over the same period. In 2012 - 2013, if not for a 3 percent increase in female viewership, the NFL’s ratings would have been flat, because there was a 2 percent decrease in male viewership during that same period.

My point is that pro football, an undeniably “macho” and manly sport, a sport in which there are literally no women playing an active on-field role, is now growing almost entirely as a function of an increasing female audience. The NFL knows this, very well, which is why the league’s botched handling of the Ray Rice situation has their owner-investors so concerned: they don’t want to lose all that female viewership market share they’ve worked so hard to create.

The other lesson we need to take away from the NFL’s success with female viewers is that it didn’t occur by happenstance. The NFL made a major and concerted effort to woo women, from their close association with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to a massive campaign to sell the game as a great family activity, something the whole clan can get passionate about.

The NFL also made an effort to create products that women would want, and not just on the field. Go to a Target store in your area and take a look at the pressure cookers; you’ll likely find at least one or two that are emblazoned with the logo of a popular local or nearby NFL team. (In the Target stores here in Tucson, it’s the Cardinals and the Cowboys). At the risk of sounding sexist myself, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the NFL didn’t license out their logos for that purpose as an effort to get more men thinking about their brands.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that every studio out there needs to drop its current lines and try to imitate Tristan Taormino, or to ape the videos that Angie Rowntree over at Sssh.com publishes. I’m also not saying that companies who have established themselves in niches that aren’t particularly female friendly should change their course.

All I’m saying is that in the aggregate, as an industry, we have been presented with a clear opportunity to make headway with female consumers — and if there’s anything the industry should be eager to jump on, it’s opportunity for growth.

A 16-year veteran of the online adult entertainment industry and long-time XBIZ contributor, Q Boyer provides public relations, publicity, consulting and copywriting services to clients that range from adult website operators to mainstream brick-and-mortar businesses.