Archive for March 2009
Wetness: Always a winner
This is Reynaldo Gianecchini – and just try saying that after ten minutes staring at him.
Join me on Thursday, when I look a the covers of books about prostitutes and man-prostitutes. Guess what seems to be on the cover of both?
Pretty man playing with his cock – what finer way to start the week?
SexMagick: Women Conjuring Erotic Fantasy, ed Cecilia Tan, pub Circlet Press
Watched by Kristina Lloyd
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the narcissistickest of them all?
Why, women, of course!
What else could justify imagery which asserts we conjure up erotic fantasies by gazing at our own reflections? What else could explain why hot babes on erotica covers are there at the expense of hot men? What else could make sense of the notion that what women want to look at is not actual, phwoarrr, yum, supersexy dudes but at themselves all pretty and dreamy; at themselves as seen through their own eyes and by extension, through the eyes of others?
The concept of female narcissism explains this SexMagick cover – and so many others – very neatly. Women like looking at women because we’re in love with ourselves; because we’re enthralled by our own charmed bodies; because our desire is entirely self-directed. We don’t want. We just want to be wanted. And we can only be wanted if we want ourselves; or at the very least if we’re paying more attention to our lippy than to him. When we conjure up our fantasies, we’re not thinking about what might get us hot and bothered; we’re thinking about how we might be seen and how we might be wanted.
If this really was sex magick, you’d think we might be able to look into a lake and see something, well, magic! Like a cock or a guy or a well-endowed dragon or a water sprite with an evil grin and a pair of handcuffs. But no, the amazing hoodoo is: women are content to get off on themselves.
Age-old clichés about supposed female narcissism (hello, Sigmund!) unfortunately segue into contemporary, populist ideas of female empowerment. Freud compared narcissistic women to cats (always useful to compare female gendered roles to domestic animals): they are remote and have ‘self-contentment’. These women are also, typically, beautiful and fascinating to men. Yes, a narcissistic woman may sound like a stereotypical wank fantasy dominatrix figure but please, let’s not even go there. The point is, onto these cat/woman notions are mapped more positive ideas many modern women aspire to: self-sufficiency, independence, being in need of no other to complete them. Wow! Isn’t that one of the goals of feminism? To stand alone? To be free from the prison of dependence – economic, social, emotional? For women to love themselves and live meaningful lives and not need men to provide validation, self-worth and regular mortgage payments?
Yay, this is strong stuff!
But Goddammit, it shouldn’t follow that, in rejecting an oppressive society in which men, historically, have ruled over women, we – women – must also reject men. Historically, desiring has been a male privilege. Isn’t it time we got what was ours? The equal right to lust and look?
We frequently hear of women declaring they’re asserting their right to express their sexuality. All too often what that actually means is: Hey, look everyone! I’ve got my tits out again! (Ain’t it funny how this version of ‘feminism’ is the one that’s gained the most ground in recent years; the one that’s slipped easily through the filters of patriarchy, a system which would far rather keep women disempowered.) But see this: here’s a picture of me expressing my sexuality:
OK, so it’s not actually a picture of me. But much of my sexuality is about my desire for men. And to the left is a picture of a rather hot man. I found him, I lusted, I showed you. There: that was an expression of my sexuality.
The cliché of female narcissism as expressed through erotica-cover imagery works (supposedly) to please both women and men. If women aren’t directly in love with reflections of their exact selves, they’re in love with an approximation: reflections of other women. Maybe we could scale down the narcissistic aspect and say women just like to identify with other women. Or maybe we could develop it and prey on ideas of narcissism to conjure up ‘magick’ ideas of female bisexuality being the female norm, the favourite fantasy of men everywhere.
Because women’s so-called narcissism justifies both these injustices.
Or maybe we could dispense with this whole crock of shit and say female narcissism is a psycho-social construct which ought to have been put out with the trash decades ago. But it still lingers. Why? Why do we see it reflected (ha!) on erotica covers? In representations of female sexuality? Because it suits the status quo, that’s why. Because erotica still targets men – or women who like to see themselves through men’s eyes, who like to identify, who like to be perceived as sexy. And the reason many women are comfortable with this is because ours is a culture which ignores female desire and practically forbids us from looking at guys. Sometimes it can seem like women’s only option to look to themselves. Freud saw this lack of object-love as a typically female dysfunction but of course, it’s our culture which is dysfunctional.
There’s a companion volume to this collection: Sex Magick 2: Men Conjuring Erotic Fantasy. Unfortunately, the image is teensy. But it looks to be a pic of a guy on a couch ie in a state of dreaming or fantasising, and quite possibly bound. Standing by the couch is a woman. He has conjured her up; she is there for his pleasure.
Wouldn’t it be magical to have a parallel pic on the female fantasy cover? To have an image depicting a woman desiring what most women desire: a sexy guy.
Actually, it wouldn’t be magical at all. It would simply be fair and equal. But erotica publishing doesn’t do fair. Erotica publishing likes to claim it’s offering something for majority viewers: for men, for bi women and for women who like to identify. It likes to claim its hands are tied and it can do nothing but reflect consumer taste. Erotica publishing is so steeped in sexism, it can’t see itself for what it is.
Double David! One for Mat, one for me. Perfect!
Join us on Thursday when I’ll be looking at looking.
This is Parker Gregory. I discovered him this week due to some kind of hoo ha about his naked arse being deemed too sexy for an Abercrobie and Fitch ad campaign. Boo. Never mind, Parker we still love you. (Well, maybe not love, exactly, but certainly an emotion from that, er, grouping.)
Tickle his Pickle: A Guide to Penis Pleasing, by Sadie Allison, pub. Tickle Kitty Press
Watched by Mathilde Madden
Remember when smutty books were hard to come by? Ahem.
There was no internet anonymity, and dirty books meant dirty bookshops. Not nice.
So how did people get books about sex without feeling steeped in shame?
The answer came in the form of sex instruction manuals. Self help. Smutty thrills hidden behind education.
Some people have vivid memories of finding an old pile of crumpled magazines in a wardrobe, but others had their eyes opened when they managed to reach the high shelf where a copy of The Joy of Sex lurked.
Which is why the covers of sex instruction books today are interesting. They were past time’s respectable smut. Could we look to them to predict where erotica covers might go in the future?
Cruising though a whole bunch of them produced a mixed bag of results. Broadly – and hearteningly – more couples on covers than you get in sexy fiction, although I know Kristina Lloyd would rightly complain about the ‘tampon advert’ pure, brilliant whiteness of the teeth and the sheets and the skin tones. And still a large number of lone women covers: still signifying the heterosexay – and no lone men, except on gay male guides. (Lesbian books almost always have two women – I guess because one woman means straight sex.)
The cover here shows off the worst of the worst. For a book that is clearly aimed at women – and refers (if euphemistically) to cock in the title, would an actual cock owner be too much of an ask for the cover? I mean surely the target market for people who are going to buy a book on ‘penis pleasing’ (yes, ew, but not the point) are people who find men sexually attractive. Well, clearly, fuck that, as we get a porny, dated, wet-lips woman. And a pickle representing the guy. Because, ha ha, cocks are funny, not sexy, FUNNY. Which is pretty much a great attitude to take on the cover of a book about how to do nice things to cocks.
Of course that’s often the trick: make cocks and naked men and male sexuality funny, not sexy. Because then no one needs to be scared about men being objectified and it keeps the whole closed shop around women being the only real sex objects and signifiers of the sexy. (Witness this frightful piece of sexism, for example.)
Other lazy and lame attitudes can also be found. Take this pair of titles. Funny how when you get a pair of linked books the sexism can be so much more obvious. (Who could forget…?) So here we have Violet Blue’s Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus and her Ultimate Guide to Fellatio . The cover of Cunnilingus features, oh yes, a woman. Well, fine, people who want to learn how to perform excellent cunnilingus are probably people who enjoy looking at women. Perfect sense so far.
Now, what happens on the other cover. Fair turn about?
On the cover of the fellatio book, well, yes, a man, but what’s that in the background? A woman. Er, why? Why? Just to say, oh yes, but, we don’t mean, like, gay fellatio or anything? Because no straight man would want his woman to learn how to suck his cock from a book that wasn’t strictly about teaching women how to suck cocks? No really? Really? Why is she there? Maybe there’s a simple (and non-sexist) explanation. But I’ve been sat here for ages and I just can’t think of one.
I did say these sex guides covers were a mixed bag, and I have picked out not-so-great examples here. And, yes, agreed, there were many more books featuring couples on the covers than you see on conventional straight erotica. Which was nice to see. And almost inspiring, considering that maybe erotic fiction will continue to follow the lead of those sex instruction guides as smut gets more normalised and accepted. I even found books where the male body was given more prominence than the woman’s (still a rarity even in erotica’s ‘couple’ covers).
Take a look at this. Whether he’s your kind of guy or not, you have to agree, this kind of representation of sexiness would be nice to see once in a while on an erotic fiction cover.