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The Moving Image 2.2 (2005) 107-134

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"White Slavery" Versus the Ethnography of "Sexworkers"

Women in Stag Films at the Kinsey Archive

[End Page 106]

In February 2003 I was invited to give a talk on women in stag films at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University. This talk was part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Alfred C. Kinsey's book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, the controversial 1953 sequel to his groundbreaking 1948 volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Organizers invited a number of lectures on topics of female sexual behavior and representation. My talk was appended to a screening of four stag films from the Kinsey Institute Film Archive. This "historical stag collection," which now includes 1,697 8mm and 16mm black-and-white titles, is the heart of the Kinsey film archive.1 To my knowledge this was the first time the Kinsey Institute had engaged in a public screening of any part of its stag collection. [End Page 107]

Stag films are anonymously made, short, undated silent films displaying one or more hard-core sex acts.2 These uncredited, or bogusly credited, films flourished in an underground circuit in the United States and internationally during that extended period between the teens and the early 1970s before moving image pornography became quasi-licit. From the teens through the early fifties, they were shot and distributed on 16mm and presented by traveling road-show men to lodges, fraternities, and smokers. The showmen set up the projector and brought the films. However, Eric Schaefer has recently argued that, in the post–World War II period, as smaller 8mm gauge films and projectors came into use, the traveling road show slowly died. It became possible for individuals to purchase 8mm films for home or party viewing through bars, gas stations, photography shops, barber shops, and even through the mail.3 The Kinsey stag collection is composed of both types of films, many of poor quality, either because they are dupes of dupes or because, to begin with, they were never of good quality. In the past decade they have been transferred to video for screening on the Kinsey Institute premises at Indiana University.

It may seem a little odd for the Kinsey Institute to have celebrated "Women and Their Sexualities," as this lecture series was called, with a lecture-screening of hard-core stag films made by and for men. However, Kinsey film archivist Rachael Stoeltje chose four films from the collection that were unusually marked by what she called "women-in-charge" themes and that thus seemed appropriate to the celebration of Kinsey's famous book on women's sexual behavior. I was especially eager to offer the talk for the opportunity to revisit the Kinsey archives. Frankly, I was also eager to see how the Kinsey Institute would handle this public campus screening. For while the Institute has been instrumental in preserving this excoriated and neglected heritage of cinematic and sexual history, they had never, to my knowledge, organized a public exhibition of these once entirely clandestine materials. Indeed, they had more than once refused to reproduce copies for teaching purposes, let alone public lectures. How would they choose, and frame, this screening?

The Kinsey Institute Archive is unique in the world. In addition to his interview-based research that relied upon the taking of sexual histories, Kinsey collected anything pertaining to sex: books (scholarly and popular), photos (art, ethnography, dirty pictures), art (drawings, paintings, and the proverbial etchings), films (hard-core stag films, art films, and the films of sexual acts that Kinsey himself had made in his famous attic), and ephemera (phalluses,4 decorative condoms, sadomasochistic paraphernalia, and so [End Page 108] on).5 One of the great delights of doing research in the Kinsey Archive is its spirit of inclusion. No item is too obscene, too ridiculous, too rare to be excluded.

Filmed sexual activity was valued by Kinsey first and foremost as a record of...


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