A couple of weeks ago, Laura Woodhouse at the F-Word told the sad tale of a new women’s magazine in Great Britain that’s struggling to find a willing printer. The mag in question – Filament – is smart and sexy, she says, even if it’s not overtly feminist. Oh, and it intends to show naked cocks. Erect ones. Not on every page, maybe not in every issues. But erect all the same. And that’s why it’s had trouble finding a printer that’s both affordable and willing to do the job. This is obviously absurd and discriminatory. None of the purveyors of naked women seem to have similar problems.
Now, to be clear, Filament doesn’t intend to be a porn magazine. It plans to feature smart writing (only some of it with an erotic bent) and to cater to the “female gaze” with its imagery. This intrigued me, since I do like to look at men, and I’m annoyed at the idea, so often presented as “scientific fact,” that only men are visual.
I liked very much Filament’s rationale for including erotic photos of men:
Representations of women’s bodies far outnumber representations of men’s bodies everywhere: from advertising to art. In erotic image in particular, representations of the male body specifically designed for women are almost non-existent.
The common explanation for why women have sometimes seemed disinterested in images supposedly intended for them – the idea that “women are less visual” – has now been largely disproven by research. Research also shows that women prefer images of men designed quite differently to those usually marketed toward women.
And I also appreciated their remarks on the heterosexual “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.
Great choice of terminology. Since feminist film theory emerged in the mid-1970s, there’s been a lot of academic discussion of the “male gaze” and how presumptions about what men find attractive shape visual depictions of women. It’s high time we flipped that term on his head. I also like how the publishers note that heterosexual women’s tastes vary. I like their bullet points except for the bit about “more feminine face shapes.” Huh? All in all, though, I was intrigued enough to check out the sample of pictures that they offer online.
That’s where my enthusiasm crashed. Sure, the photos in Filament are tasteful. They’re well-lit, artistically photographed, and show – as figleaf observes – “visual and atmospheric context.“
But darn it, they really don’t raise my pulse. The models are uniformly young, slender, and hairless below the neck. As I said in last summer’s discussion of “feminist porn,” most men featured in alternatives to industrial porn look like boys, not men. Filament’s imagery is no exception.
It’s probably no coincidence that the image I liked best shows a man who might be pushing 30.** He’s also the most conventionally “masculine” of the three models featured online. A second one depicts a young man with a mane of dark hair, intense eyes, and lavish tattoos; the tats wouldn’t be my thing anyway, but here they serve to underscore the young hipster vibe. The third picture features an even younger man (wearing eye makeup, I think) who could pass for 18 or younger. He does have an ethereal beauty but I get a “barely legal” impression from the photo. The apparent makeup is too feminine for this gal. It’s possible also that the atmospherics of the setting – the crucifix on the wall, the hood over his head, the shadow over his face – overwhelm the model. All three of the models are in relatively passive poses, which tends to reinforce the androgyny of the second two pictures. Passivity can be nice in a context of taking turns, and from a feminist perspective, it’s good to challenge the idea that men must always be dominant. As a steady diet, though, it’s pretty bland.
If I were 18 or 20, I’d probably find the first two images attractive though not outright inspiring. But not all women are young, and we don’t automatically lose our libido as we age. To be fair, I know that some women really enjoy looking at younger men. I also admit that as a college instructor, I automatically de-eroticize men young enough to be my traditional-aged students. Even so, I’m pretty sure I’m the only woman who strongly prefers men who aren’t just of legal age but well into adulthood. Solidity and experience are sexy; so is the occasional wrinkle. And body hair! Bare, slender chests signal “teenager” to me. I get more heated looking at close-ups of flowers.
Maybe I’m asking too much. After all, erotic images aimed at men also typically feature very young models – except for the MILF, who’s framed as a fetish and might be considered “old” at 25 or 30. Possibly there’s also a small pool of men over 30 who are willing to pose for erotic pictures.
But if Filament is serious about understanding the variety of the female gaze, I’d love to see them cater to women of various ages, too. Whether or not they claim the feminist label, I see acknowledging women’s desires as a feminist act. Exploring the “female gaze” has the potential to deconstruct the “male gaze.” I’m glad they’re taking this risk – and it is risky, financially and culturally. I hope that if they can gain a foothold, they’ll keep taking risks and explode the idea that the erotic dies – or at least falls into a coma – after age 30.
**Note: I’m not copying the pictures, just linking them, because I don’t want to potentially trample on Filament’s copyright. Also, I’d prefer people visit their site and check them out.