Erotica Cover Watch: SexMagick: Women Conjuring Erotic Fantasy, ed Cecilia Tan
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.