A limp response to women's erotica
When images of women as sex objects fill newsagents, why has a magazine featuring semi-naked men faced so many hurdles?
Filament, a magazine for women featuring semi-naked men, launched earlier this year to widespread media coverage. Issue 1 featured three photo sets of men, none of whom removed their trousers. While some questioned whether women would even buy visual erotica, Filament's readers soon put them straight. Not only were women buying it, they were asking for more explicit pictures.
That demand brought Filament smack up against the biggest problem in providing visual erotica for straight women: the pervasive nervousness about depictions of aroused men. Previous attempts to offer erotic imagery to women flopped when publications such as For Women and Playgirl offered only photography that many believed fell short of what women wanted from an adult mag.
Filament, responding to reader feedback, had planned to include a photo set of an aroused man in their second (September) issue. It's not illegal to print images of erections but the Obscene Publications Act is notoriously vague. After taking legal advice, Filament intended to make a test case of sorts. Its printers, however, refused, citing potential objections from "the women's/religious sectors". As a new, independent publisher, Filament can't yet afford more liberal-minded printers willing to tackle the taboo on tumescence.
It's the second major hurdle for Filament, which has already been turned down by numerous UK distributors refusing to handle a women's magazine with a man on the cover. When set against the plethora of men's lifestyle and top-shelf magazines featuring scantily clad and open-legged women, the struggles faced by Filament highlight a deeply entrenched sexism: men can look at women but women cannot look at men.
Attempts to even out this disparity often lead to cries that two wrongs don't make a right; that countering the prevalence of eroticised women by adding men to the mix legitimises sexist objectification. But there's nothing inherently sexist about depicting nudity. It's sexist when only women are deemed to signify the erotic; it's sexist when eroticised images of women are so normalised and widespread that women stand to be viewed first and foremost as sex objects – their value inextricably linked to their sexual desirability. The sexism is in the inequality.
In challenging a culture that positions women as sex-products for men, Filament isn't seeking to turn the tables in an act of vengeance. Instead, it's asking for women to be acknowledged as human beings who can look and lust just as men can.
While some contend the lack of female-oriented erotica reflects a lack of demand, claiming the free market would prevail if women wanted such material, Filament's experience of cockblocking proves otherwise. Perhaps what's most insidious in this saga is that the market's refusal to admit Filament reinforces an idea of female sexuality which justifies that very refusal. The absence of visual erotica for women on shelves crammed with magazines where women are products for male consumers, reduces female desire to the less-interested counterpart of male desire. The deficit positions women as the providers of sex for perpetually horny dudes. And so, runs the self-fulfilling logic, of course women don't want magazines targeting their desire. Women don't have desire, see? They merely receive it. How do we know? Just check out those magazine shelves.