Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Fleshbot, ed. Lux Alptraum

with 17 comments

Fleshbot, ed. Lux Alptraum, pub. Gawker Media

Watched by Mathilde Madden

fleshbot(This is a bit of a departure, but bear with me.)

Recently Cover Watch have been involved in Filament’s erection campaign.* (See our post about it here.)

We have been following the coverage of Filament’s attempt to get it up as it has swept the net. It’s had a lot of support which has been great and very well deserved. I was delighted to see the campaign mentioned on Jezebel - a softly feminist women’s issues type blog which I am a big fan of. Jezebel is run by Gawker media who have a number of blogs that follow a very similar template. Io9 is another Gawker blog I love and there are a whole bunch more. All these blogs collect news from around the web that relate to whatever their particular thing is and run it with commentary. Sometimes, if an item is of interest to more than one Gawker blog the mini write up on the front page of one will link directly to the article on another. Which makes perfect sense. Which is why, when I saw the Filament campaign on Jezebel’s front page the link to read the whole story told me it would take me directly to Fleshbot Gay.

Fleshbot is another Gawker blog that collects news on all things sexy and porny. I don’t read Fleshbot but I knew about it. But, huh? Filament was on Fleshbot Gay?

I did some digging and it turns out that Fleshbot has two filters Straight and Gay. If you go to the home page here and click those tabs you can see how they work. Click Straight and all the guys vanish. Click Gay and all the girls are gone.

Wait. What?

Click Straight to get girls and Gay to get guys?

Hands up if you can spot the sexism.

Which of course explains why Filament – a magazine for straight women – was filed under Gay. All the readers of this blog are assumed to be men. Penises are of interest to which kind of men? Oh, yes. Gay ones.

So, because I am a fearless warrior for equality, I then had this email conversation.

First I emailed Jezebel

To: Jezebel
From: Mathilde Madden
Re: Filament Mag and Fleshbot

I seriously hope this is not the only email you get about this. Yesterday you linked to a piece about Filament magazine’s struggle to be the first UK magazine to show erections in a mag aimed at women. It was covered on fellow Gawker media site Fleshbot. IN THE GAY SECTION!

This is outrageous. Filament magazine (and my own blog Erotica Cover Watch – which has covered a lot of Filament’s campaign) are precisely about the fact that women are never allowed to be the consumers of sexualised imagery. That all ‘straight’ imagery is of women and all ‘gay’ imagery is of men. I cannot believe such blatant sexism passed without comment on Jezebel and am seriously considering my position as a regular reader.

Mat

Jezebel passed my complaint to Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum

To: Mathilde Madden
From: Lux Alptraum
Re: Filament Mag and Fleshbot

Dear Mathilde

Fleshbot.com is a website that covers all sorts of erotica, for all sorts of people. Because we recognize that our readership appreciates the ability to filter out content that’s not to their liking, we offer the option to separate the site into two sections: one that primarily focuses on naked women, and one that primarily focuses on naked men. In the parlance of the larger porn industry, these distinctions are referred to as “straight” and “gay”–though we don’t always agree with that, we’ve adopted that parlance for the ease of our readers. However, it’s worth noting that many people–particularly straight women who look at the site–browse it in its entirety, without the filter.

When I received the request from Filament magazine about their fundraiser, I had to decide where to put it. After some debate, I opted for the gay section, knowing that a) the article would still appear on the front page of Fleshbot.com, and be viewable by any women who wanted to see it and b) gay men, who might be equally interested in providing funding to this noble cause, would be more likely to filter out straight posts, and thus less likely to see the post if I put it there. Frankly, I was merely trying to maximize the post’s audience–which, for the record, was also why I asked to splice it to Jezebel, where I felt it would reach even more people who might be interested in helping out.

That said, the post on Jezebel should have had [Fleshbot]. not [Fleshbot Gay] as the tag at the end–that’s a bug I’ve asked to have fixed.

However: had this not been the train of events that led to the post, one of my gay writers could very well have picked up the story, and decided to write about it themselves–and frankly, I fail to see how someone expressing an interest in helping women to see the kind of erotica they desire could be labeled “sexist.”

I appreciate your concerns, and hope that my explanation helps sort things out. As a woman who’s interested in creating a world where everyone has access to the type of erotic media that titillates them, Filament’s cause is important to me. It was not my intention to offend anyone by publicizing it the way I did, and I’m sorry to know that my actions gave you offense.

Best,
Lux

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that being featured on Fleshbot – a very hight traffic blog – was a great thing for Filament. I really appreciate Lux writing about it and believe that she is committed to featuring material that engages with female desire. Sadly I think having something so basic and nuts and bolts as the filters on the site so explicitly erasing women as potential viewers of erotic material undermines what she’s doing.

Anyway, I wrote back.

To: Lux Alptraum
From: Mathilde Madden
Re: Filament Mag and Fleshbot

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I hope this email will provoke some interesting conversations. I write erotica and am a huge supporter of erotic materials for women. I would love to see Fleshbot embrace women as consumers of erotica. Some women will find their way to sites like yours and be happy to ignore obvious exclusion. But others won’t.

If you don’t agree with the larger porn industry (you are a part of that industry, btw) labeling naked women as ‘straight’ and naked men as ‘gay’ why on earth do you reinforce it? Would it be so hard to call your sections something like ‘men’ and ‘women’. Where do you file the lesbian porn? (Don’t answer that). Perhaps straight women use your site without filters it is because you ask them to mindfuckeringly call themselves ‘gay’ in order to see naked men.

Support for Filament aside, what you are doing is sexist as you are erasing women as viewers, whilst no doubt being more than happy for them to be the viewed, by basing your categories only on the orientation of a perceived male viewer. If it’s about erections file it under GAY! If you are truly for everyone perhaps you should reconsider how you present your erotica rather than simply asking Jezebel to hide the problem by changing the tag – maybe it runs a little deeper.

Thanks again for listening. I don’t mean to bug the hell out of you – but I feel very strongly about this subject.

Mat

This is Lux’s reply (last email, promise).

The straight/gay divide long predates me (Fleshbot is almost six years old, I’ve been writing for the site for two years, and have served as an editor less than one). Whatever issues I may have with it, it is not within my power to remove or replace it–that is a decision made at a much higher level than the one that I work at. What is within my power, however, is the ability to promote good content that’s feminist and appeals to women–which I do on a regular basis (much of which is not marked gay: http://fleshbot.com/5034452/you-asked-for-it-hot-straight-men–and-the-women-who-fuck-them).

Frankly, any attempt to filter/divide content would offend someone. If I labeled posts “men” and “women,” I would run into issues with trans and genderqueer performers. I would prefer to eliminate any distinction at all, and just force everyone to wade skim through every post, but that would likely alienate even more of my readership.

Just an aside but I looked at the post mentioned above and it does feature men under the straight section. But every one of them is pictured with a woman and the introduction to the post features a bit of ‘calm down guys, there are women here too’ phrasing along with the charming detail for female viewers that the women need to be in these pictures or how else could we tell these guys were straight. Um, what?

To me it seems clear that the problem here is exactly the same as the one we write about over and over on Cover Watch. Straight Men must be saved from the peen! I don’t know how I missed it but straight men are made of damp tissue paper. So of course they need a special filter, as do gay guys, to keep them safe from sexy images of their non-preferred gender. Women don’t get a filter. They probably don’t ask for one. Hey, we’re still struggling to be allowed to look at a picture of a man who’s pleased to see us. And, sure, women do look at sites like these without any filter, but, really, what choice do they have?

I think it’s interesting that Lux says that the Gay/Straight filters long predate her and are something that are porn industry wide. Because, the thing is, erotica and porn and sexy stuff used to be exclusively for the boys. Stuff like these filters used to make sense – but they don’t anymore. Or, they don’t if sites like Fleshbot want to welcome female viewers.

And it’s the same with erotica book covers.The endless girlie covers used to make sense when only men bought them. But now women are part of the target market (and the authors are often actual women – not men using female pseudonyms), it’s unfair, dated and sexist to keep on marketing as if all readers are men. Especially when you get a parade of cheesecake every year on the cover of Best Women’s Erotica.

Some people only like one gender. I’m one of them. It’s great to be able to filter a site like Fleshbot and get what I want. It’s horrible that to use a site like this I would have to do some kind of reverse engineering insanity. I like men. If I were a man who liked men I’d be gay. Therefore I click gay. Seriously, filters like this tell female viewers they need to imagine their preferences from the point of view of a man to enjoy the site. That’s fucked up.

Really, I do not see why these filters couldn’t be renamed ‘men’ and ‘women’. Because I still can’t figure out what they do with the lesbian porn.

Things like this (and the erotica book cover situation) make me feel like, as a woman, I am allowed through the door of the erotica and porn industry to have a look around and even get turned on, but only because straight men like the idea of me being there and being turned on. Not because anyone cares about me as a human being with desires. Because when acknowledging me as a viewer means making even the tiniest concession that might affect the default male viewer there’s no budging.

~~~

*NEWSFLASH! We have a piece about Filament’s battle in today’s Guardian: check it out! Join in comments!

Written by mat

August 13, 2009 at 8:42 am

17 Responses

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  1. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everyone was mature enough to filter (in their very own brains) what they wanted? I found this interesting because I’ve never used the filters on Fleshbot, just passed over what I wasn’t interested in to find what I was. Personally I don’t like targeted stuff because I think it’s limiting. And I do think that a lot of folks could stand to have their minds expanded/enlightened as to what is “normal” (oh, don’t get me started).

    (oh, and congrats on the Guardian piece which I found via a link on The Rumpus)

    Robin

    Erobintica

    August 13, 2009 at 4:05 pm

  2. Bravo Mathilde. Those labels on Fleshbot have long bugged me and I’ve actually had a discussion with Lux about a similar issue when it comes to the label “porn for women.” She hates it because she thinks it dictates “what women should want”. I believe the term is a handy marker that allows the filtering of content – especially in an industry that still divides the viewer into “straight man” and “gay man” categories.
    (My post on this here: http://www.msnaughty.com/blog/2008/05/13/porn-for-women-the-backlash/ )

    Keep up the good fight.

    Ms Naughty

    August 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm

  3. I want them to label all the men “straight” and all the women “Lesbian.” Let our gaze be the default.

    *beat*

    AH ha ha ha!

    Seriously, this is something I’ve been having many conversations about– whether or not porn serves women, (commercial porn mostly does not, in my opinion) and the way women have begun creating our own porn– it’s rather depressing to encounter the kind of antagonism from otherwise pleasant men as I have. I am queer, and I like men and women. I like men with men, and I like men with women. It’s easy to find hardcore slash that suits me– hardcore het from a woman’s sensibilities, not so much.

    Stella

    August 14, 2009 at 8:58 am

  4. I suppose if I ran a site like Fleshbot, there’d be two obvious choices for content filters: some system like M/M, M/F, F/F, MULTI, TRANS … or tagging each post with a whole LIST of relevant terms, and letting visitors click on items in a list of tags if they’re really interested in only seeing one thing.

    Y’know, like the “tag cloud” thing countless blogs already use to sort their content?

    Or, y’know, maybe that whole “tag” thing is just too complicated. I, personally, browse Fleshbot without filters. I’m interested in more than one thing.

    Oh, and I’m female too.

    mivox

    August 14, 2009 at 11:17 am

  5. Lux:”If I labeled posts “men” and “women,” I would run into issues with trans and genderqueer performers.”

    Why not put trans performers in the category they identify as and genderqueer performers in both categories? I would think that would be better than having a tag system that tells the reader that the site is intended for men only.

    El Squidge

    August 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

  6. You know that plenty of trans people are men and women, right? Like, actual men and women? Not some other category?

    softestbullet

    August 16, 2009 at 1:23 am

  7. @softestbullet: Yes, absolutely true. Some prefer to identify as male or female, and some prefer to ID as trans/male/female, and what have you. That’s the inherent problem with filing posts under strict categories like that.

    I think search-by-tag is the best option. You can file a post under every possible category/label/interest imaginable, and let visitors choose their own adventure.

    mivox

    August 17, 2009 at 3:59 am

  8. [...] Mathilde over at Erotica Cover Watch sent an few emails to an editor at Fleshbot to question the rationale behind filing a straightlady enterprise under a gay filter. The answer was not particularly heartening: this is the way things are organised in porn, and the Gawker overlords want it this way. [...]

  9. *round of applause*

    I don’t have much to add, but I really appreciate what you’re doing here; the way in which the het female gaze is so routinely ignored and/or deflected onto other women is maddening.

    Laura

    August 18, 2009 at 11:26 am

  10. [...] cool new women’s magazine looks promising. Unfortunately, women who like to look at hot naked men don’t [...]

  11. [...] stems from this post on Erotica Cover Watch, discussing the filtering system that Fleshbot employs on their website. The short version goes [...]

  12. [...] even got a feature on Gawker Media blog Jezebel, so I guess they aren’t cross with us for what we said about Fleshbot. Thank god, we don’t want everyone to blacklist [...]

  13. [...] Oh, sure, there are debates to be had about trashiness. There are sticky questions about using imagery that is clearly primarily for gay men. We don’t have as strict a policy on this as some of our fellow warriors for equality. Man Candies are swiped from gay sites and blogs all the time, but we do understand why it’s important to say, hey, it is not okay to tell straight women that there is no problem because they can get their jollies from gay porn. Of course we can. (Of course we do.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t want our desires acknowledged . It’s not okay to ask straight women to dress up as gay men in order to see man-flesh. [...]

  14. [...] Mathilde fearlessly tackled Fleshbot head-on, criticising them for using ‘Straight’ and ‘Gay’ filters where straight = [...]

  15. I understand your frustration.

    But I dont think this ‘sexism’ is just anti women or pro the male gaze.

    I think it is partly due to what I might call ‘homophobia’ where men’s sexuality, if it is not totally hetero, is seen as dangerous and perverted.

    whilst women’s sexuality is less prominent in society in many ways, men’s sexuality is more problematised in many ways and even criminalised more.

    Homosexual desire is something that men do protect themselves and each other from this is a real thing.

    To challenge sexism in the sex industry I think we need to challenge homophobia simultaneously.

    Quiet Riot Girl

    February 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  16. P.s. As a woman viewer I would probably go straight to the ‘gay’ section out of habit as I love gay porn anyway. So this filter whilst I do not agree with it would work for me on a purely personal level.

    Quiet Riot Girl

    February 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  17. I am disgustingly tired of having to declare myself gay in order to look at hot naked men. Porn is about the fantasy, and I cannot help feeling like the fantasy is ruined, when the perception is that all of the men in the images are not interested in me as a woman. They are hot to look at, but the fantasy is just not there. The dream is continuously squashed whenever I have to constantly glimpse through guy on guy just to get to a guy by himself. And of course the assumption is that he is one of the gay boys too. Women can’t get respect from either men or women in the porn industry when they keep making excuses for this kind of sexual indoctrination. No wonder more and more women are feeling pressured into feeling pleasure when viewing lesbian porn, even when they are not particularly interested. After all we are being indoctrinated to view lesbian porn and naked women as normal straight sex. We are either freaks or gay when we want to look at naked men.

    Michelle

    March 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm


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