Archive for April 2009
Watched by Mathilde Madden
Sometimes serendipity happens. Sometimes for obvious reasons. When three emails landed in my inbox on the same day all urging me to look at the same website, either the universe was aligning or there was a bloody good reason why I should be looking at that particular website.
And here, it was pretty much option b.
This is a new magazine. An actual, paper-based, magazine. (Remember them?) It’s called Filament and its unique selling point is about as unique as they come. It features sexy images of men – aimed at women. And, here’s the thing, it actually looks like they might really be offering something sexy and different and working hard to be appealing. Yeah, I know, jaw meet floor and all that.
Filament describes itself as 72 quarterly pages of intelligent thought and beautiful men, which is handy as those are both in my top ten of things I like a lot (in fact they may be in my top two).
They go on to say an awful lot of interesting things like this in their FAQ
On the explicitness of the magazine:
We have explicit moments, but we put explicit images to the same test as any other image: it has to be well composed, imaginative and generally representative of The Female Gaze. There is no evidence to suggest women prefer ‘subtle’ images to explicit ones, but nobody likes explicitness for its own sake. So if you want to see a hard cock on every page, Filament is probably not the magazine you want. Same applies if seeing one would make you faint.
On being “degrading”
Erotic’ and ‘degrading’ are polar opposites as far as we’re concerned. It’s natural to be attracted to viewing the human form erotically, and there is nothing inherently degrading about the subject being less clothed or more aroused. In conducting our research we’ve been heartened by the kinds of things that women are asking to see, namely more erotic imagery that depicts the subject as a person, not a sex object. We’re proud of catering to such twisted fancies.
And on why the way images of female bodies are on absolutely everything is more than just irritating (although it is also very irritating).
Women are 10 times more likely than men to undergo cosmetic surgery and 43 times more likely than men to suffer an eating disorder. Is this because women are ‘naturally’ life-threateningly obsessed with their appearance, or is this in some way influenced by women’s media? Many men’s magazines don’t discuss men’s appearance, but nearly all women’s magazines discuss women’s appearance.
Filament breaks this trend by covering a wide range of topics that inspire and engage, and giving you gorgeous boys the way you like to see them.
Filament, I like your style already. (In fact they had me at the beautiful men on the website but I’m glad to see the intelligence very much on offer too.) In a world where representations (particularly visual representations) of straight female sexuality are absent to the point of that absence being actually mind-blowingly shocking, I welcome anything that tries to push against that tide. Anything that stands up and says hey, women are allowed to look too. As simple as that. Just, pretty much, women actually have eyes – (not just an insatiable urge to identify with a headless woman in a corset). The majority of women like to look at sexy images of men. And if enough people point that out, then maybe, oh god maybe, erotica books that are aimed at women might acknowledge that too. You know, maybe just once, or something. On my birthday.
Your top editorial team here at Cover Watch, did, in our high level regular summit about who’s turn is it to write cover watch, what are we going to write about for cover watch, pressing erotica cover issues of the day, discuss briefly that, in general, the men featured on the site are rather more fey than the ones we like to push on you on Man Candy Mondays.
That’s primarily a taste issue, but I do think it is interesting that Filament states that is does not print images designed for gay men. We swipe our Man Candy images almost exclusively from gay male aimed sites. It’s the nature of the gig. That’s just where the hot man-images are. And I don’t see a big problem with that. I think what gay men and what straight women like has a big overlap (cock – well, and other things. Mainly cock though. Oh, and David Beckham).
But I see what they’re getting at. Filament Magazine (and sites like For The Girls which, I think, has a similar policy on the gay) are carving out a new space. Traditionally images of sexualised men have been produced pretty exclusively for the consumption of gay men. Without the ideas given to us by gay men if would be hard even beginning to talk about men as sex objects, but the super-strong link between sexualised men and homoeroticism causes all kinds of problems. (Not least the ever-present idea that any man who is presenting himself as sexual is automatically gay, or the image is homoerotic – because every viewer of every image ever is a man. Or the fact that erotic books can’t have men on the covers because buyers will assume they are gay men’s titles – because every viewer of every image… etc, etc…) Even here at Cover Watch, we love a bit of sexy m/m but we don’t use images of men with men too often, because we do want to keep the emphasis on images of men for straight women.
Publications like Filament, aimed at women, have regularly been co-opted by gay men and it does seem that this may have driven women away. But times have changed now. Women are much more likely to seek out and enjoy images and culture designed for gay men. And with slash fiction a lot more mainstream and m/m erotica written by and aimed at women more and more popular, I think women are mostly unconcerned about sharing sexual space with gay men. However, I do see the need to make it clear that this is about straight female sexuality – just because I think it is important to state that women are allowed to look and lust too.
But I do hope that having to carve out a space that is separate from the one occupied by images of sexualised men meant for men, Filament doesn’t throw out the butch with the bath water.
Avoiding the kind of imagery gay men consume doesn’t mean a whole hearted rejection of gay men’s butch-camp aesthetic. Some of what gay men like they don’t just like because they are men, they like because it is hot.
Filament has this to say about the female gaze.
Our images of men are made for the female gaze. We draw on research about what women find erotic, from published academic research and our own online research community.
From research we’ve learnt that what most women find erotic does not at all match what is typically thought of as an erotic image of a man designed for women. For example, on average, women prefer:
- men who are not muscle-bound
- men with more feminine face shapes
- men with attractive faces
- images that show the subject’s character and the environment he is in.
We also know that women’s tastes vary quite a lot, and we aim to cater to that variety too.
Our mission to understand the female gaze is ongoing.
Big yes to faces and character. But I do wonder about the rejection of muscle bound men. The phrase brings a caricature to mind – and I realise that my bigger is always better tastes are not universal. But muscle-bound can be lovely.
I think it is important to recognise that women’s taste in men are as varied as men’s taste in women. Some women like androgyny and eye-liner, some women (ahem) like super-butch.
But it really isn’t helpful to stray to far into concerns about whether every male image Filament presents has some kind of mythical universal appeal. I am delighted that their research is ongoing. (Check out their research community – full of pretties, in the interests of science!) And I’m confident that they will find the right spot somewhere between Suicide Boys Monthly and looking like a copy of Vulcan. That’s not a Star Trek reference: Vulcan is a gay porn magazine that sits firmly at the butch and hairy end of the market. Do not ask me how I know this. You can guess.
We welcome Filament. We hope passionately for its success. I’m remembering and probably hopelessly misquoting Susie Bright who, when feminists were declaiming porn (remember the jolly old days of: porn is the theory, rape is the practice), pointed out how wonderful it would be if female sexuality had an arena that even begun to approach male-authored porn when it came to exploring and celebrating their sexualities.
Of course Filament probably doesn’t call itself porn. But I hope it is dirty enough that I can. And from me, believe it, there is no higher praise.
(PS They’re also looking for writers. So if you want your stuff published in a headless-corset-free zone, it might be worth checking them out.)
After a hard week and a busy weekend I’m pretty glad it’s Monday. And maybe my candy man is partly responsible for that.
I’ll be back on Thursday, looking for a light in the dark…
Because we haven’t had a wet man for a while. Um, well, apart from last week and the fortnight before that but hey, who’s counting?
Anyway, see that line of hair that runs from his navel down his taut belly and into the crisp thicket of his pubes? More of that in the world, please.
Best Fetish Erotica, ed Cara Bruce, pub Cleis Press
Watched by Kristina Lloyd
No, no! Come back! Don’t hide behind the sofa! Honestly, we haven’t moved over to horror fiction. This is still erotica, still the genre we know and love – although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise because that cover is a tad argh and yikes and OMFG, that’s a stump on stilts! Run!
The word ‘fetish’ is frequently used to mean ‘kinky sex’ rather than obsessive devotion to an object or activity. However, this anthology (out next month), does seem to be true to its word with stories featuring ‘corsets, girdles, high-heeled feet, cross-dressing, rubber balls, spanking, fast cars, voyeurism, masochism, knives and plushies’. So it’s a book about desire for weird things but, as per usual, the cover falls into the idea of desire being solely represented by desire for women’s bodies meaning once again, we get a cover image of a woman, irrespective of the book’s content. Well, sort of a woman.
In a genre where sexism distorts representation to such an extent we only get women on the covers, the logical conclusion is this: distorting a woman’s body to turn her from ubiquitous sex object to dehumanised fetish object, devoid of agency and wholeness, and functioning only to satisfy another’s paraphilia. Because doesn’t it look like a paraphilia when there are two sexes and the focus is entirely on one?
On Cover Watch, we’ve often railed against headless women and bemoaned the butts in our faces. This cover takes us a step further: it exaggerates the sexually important components (long legs and ass), cinches the waist and shrinks the torso, and removes all other extraneous body parts (head and arms). Actually, to make the woman even less human, let’s replace her arms (arms! so boring!) with shadows, ghostly, withered, useless limbs belonging to a creature who might have you screaming in the night – and not in a happy way.
The image puts me in mind of the dark, surrealist misogyny of Hans Bellmer’s dolls.
The various blurbs to Best Fetish Erotica add to the book’s list of fetishes the phrase ‘ – nothing is off limits!’ or describe the stories as ‘taboo yet tantalizing‘. Well, clearly something is off limits: men! The desire for a male body is a taboo too far for erotica covers.
A while back, I wrote a story called Boot Camp for Alison Tyler’s F is for Fetish anthology. It was about a woman who got off on polishing men’s army boots. I described the boots as having ‘three pairs of eyelets rising up to the metal loops of a speed-lacing system, black laces crisscrossing over leather tongues, as beautiful as corsetry.’ Because it’s always sodding corsets, isn’t it? I wanted to spin that standard signifier of sexiness, of desire denoted by corsets and, by extension, women’s bodies, into something more representative of my desire. And of course, in writing about a kink for grubby army boots, I was writing about a fetish which conceals an ever deeper, freakier, more marginalised fetish of mine – a desire for (whisper it!) men’s bodies, for cock and come and a cracking pair of thighs. It’s a paraphilia I have (and I know I’m not alone). It’s called female heterosexuality.
An image as grotesque as the one on Best Fetish Erotica makes perfect sense according to erotica’s current terms of representation which position women as the desired, never the desiring, and men as those who look but are never looked at. This cover highlights how senseless and offensive those current terms are. Erotica is still being pitched at a perceived male readership, a stale, outmoded bias which distorts and disables female sexuality. The image on Best Fetish Erotica encapsulates and condenses the deepest flaws of erotica publishing, a misshapen body to parallel a misrepresented sexuality. While the picture may look modern and edgy, the message it’s sending – erotica is for men, not for women – is well past is sell-by-date.
OK, everybody – back behind the sofa! Arghhhhh!
A holy image for Easter! (Thanks to Janine Ashbless for this one.)
You’re probably aware by now of the storm growing over Amazon’s outrageous decision to remove erotica, erotic romance and LGBT fiction and non-fiction from its book sales rankings. If you haven’t seen the list of ‘de-ranked’ books, check it out. Amazon’s definition of ‘adult material’ includes non-explicit LGBT texts. So you will no longer find on Amazon’s bestseller lists books such as Annie E Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness, EM Forster’s Maurice, Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story.
There are many casualties. Our own books have been delisted so we now have a farcical situation where Amazon’s Adult Fiction Chart contains two out of print books! But of course, the worst of this is the clear homophobia this policy expresses. Amazon are a major power. Their site is used by millions not just for the purchase of books but as a significant bibliographic resource. If seminal queer texts are not appearing on their bestseller lists, if gay parenting guides don’t feature alongside other parenting guides, if YA novels with gay characters have to be hunted down, if books on homophobia are de-listed, this is censorship, this is suppression of non-normative sexualities. And it is utterly indefensible.
I have nothing clever to say about this picture, but I think it is very, very nice
Erotica Cover Watch: Gigolo by Golden, pub. Hodder Paperbacks
Watched by Mathilde Madden
Books about hookers. Because nothing reveals more truth about female sexuality than the true confessions of women who do what men want them to do for money. But the political corkscrew of that aside for a moment (I could be here all night but feel free to kick that debate off in the comments if you are in the mood) – what does this all mean for cover watch?
Well here’s what it means. Here’s a book about a male prostitute and the cover is emblazoned with a woman in her pants. Grand. No really, doesn’t that just say it all? Oh there is a man in the picture – he’s there. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Well, no, not really.
I mean, for a start, why does she look more hooker-chic than him? And can I just say, if I were paying a male prostitute, the first thing good about that would be not having to wear dumb shoes to get him interested. And I’m sure that can’t be just me.
And he’s the one who gets to have a head. We’ve talked about the headless woman epidemic on erotica covers before, but it’s never more noticeable than when she only gets to be a body and he gets to be, well, gets to be staring at her ass.
Sorry, what is this book about again?
And just to be clear what the problem is here, I’ve dug up some examples (you probably don’t need them – you’ve probably seen a million of these things) of the kind of covers that books about female prostitutes get. (Or, well, books about prostitutes, seeing as how this is one of the rare places where women are actually the default.)
In fact I’ve added in a few strippers – it’s all the same heaving and samey bookshop shelf.
Strangely when the books are about female hookers, the covers don’t feature a woman smirking at a headless man in his pants. Nope, just lingerie and female flesh will do.
Incidentally, I wrote a Black Lace book once – Mad About the Boy – about a woman getting obsessed with a male prostitute. I’m very fond of it. But, sadly- and ironically in this context – it suffered from cover-of-death with this horror that is not only weird looking, but features two women when there is only one in the novel (and two guys, ‘cause, duh, I wrote it.)
But enough promo, back to Gigolo and why such an obvious discrepancy here with what gets offered up over and over and over on lady-prozzie books.
I think the most obvious reason for Gigolo having a woman on the cover (other than just the usual old sexist shit that a book cannot actually be about sex unless it has a woman on the cover) is that most people might assume that a book about a male prostitute would be about him servicing guys. And, really, who are the people who are going to be put off by a book being about servicing guys? Yep, straight men. So really, it is the same old shit, this woman is there just to reassure straight men that this book will not make them gay.
Yet again sexiness and products about sex have to be feminised for the straight guy appeal even when the book is actually about a man making himself a sexual product.
Oh, erotica publishing.. You guys! You kill me.