Review: Princesses & Pornstars

Princesses & Pornstars: Sex, Power, Identity

Also published as Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice for younger readers.

Author: Emily Maguire

Genre: Non-fiction (society/politics)

Published: 2008 

CW: descriptions of intimate partner violence, frank discussion of sex, sexual violence, rape, pornography, slut-shaming and abortion; frequent use of misogynistic language (in context)

Princesses & Pornstars analyses post-feminist gender politics in Australia, drawing on interviews of Australian women, examples from contemporary Australian politics and media, and anecdotes from Maguire’s own Australian youth to critically assess social attitudes towards women and sex. The premise of the book is that it serves as a ‘call to arms’ for a generation of Australian women born after second-wave feminism, and a key theme is exploring the impact of slut-shaming on Australian society. An edition for younger readers titled Your Skirt’s Too Short was published in 2010.

One of the more obnoxious habits one picks up as a sex nerd is hoarding books that Hermione Granger would call ‘a bit of light reading’, and then pointedly reading them on public transport to ward off nice guy pickup artists. Princesses & Pornstars was the first book in my little library of feminist books, purchased after I read half of Your Skirt’s Too Short in my high school library before it mysteriously disappeared.

Such books are primarily kept around because they come in handy when you’re desperately trying to beef up a bibliography for an overdue essay, but until now I haven’t read Princesses & Pornstars cover-to-cover since I was a fresher (Westralian for ‘freshman’). Re-reading it for the first time in years, I see why my younger self adored this book, and gobbled it up with relish. Maguire relentlessly breaks down slut-shaming until the blatant lack of coherent logic is plain for all to see; and then she powers on, arguing that slut-shaming is a potent form of social control. This idea is more widely explored now, what with the recent The Handmaid’s Tale television adaptation and the likes of Ariana Grande and Jennifer Lawrence actively rejecting attempts at shaming them into submission; but nearly ten years ago this was a very novel idea.

Although slut-shaming is a key theme that re-emerges several times as the book progresses, Maguire also analyses the conflict between the respectability politics of traditional gender roles and the rise of “raunch culture” – the titular ‘princesses’ and ‘pornstars’. Maguire’s analysis of pornography is particularly nuanced, deftly articulating both the pernicious misogyny and general confusion caused when pornography is the primary source of sexual education for Australian youth, but also utilising the book’s most interesting interviews and research to discuss the rise of feminist erotica and the attitudes and porn habits of Australian women.

Princesses & Pornstars is a valuable book because it is one of the very few feminist polemics aimed at a specifically Australian audience. Written during the last years of the Howard government, it is littered with cringe-worthy statements from Howard and his cronies, such as Peter Costello casually remarking that women should have “one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country”. It is, however, limited. At no point does Maguire seriously analyse the status of women of colour, which is a painfully obvious omission in a book written about Australia – a land of immigrants and a non-white Indigenous population. The book is well written and very accessible, which is a double edged sword – as much as it was a powerful and inspiring book in days of yore, ten years and a dissertation on intersectional post-feminism later and I don’t feel like Princesses & Pornstars resonates with me as much as it used to.

Reading time: A weekend’s easy read.

Best suited to: This book would make a great introduction to feminism for a young adult audience.

Rating: 7/10.