Review: Filament magazine

// 15 June 2009

Filament magazine bills itself as ‘the thinking women’s crumpet’ and contains 72 pages of ‘stimulating reading, saucy fiction and beautiful men’ for women who are fed up of the celebrity gossip, beauty fascism and gender stereotypes which choke the pages of most women’s magazines. Women, in short, who do not recognise themselves, their lives or their loves in the representations of women in mainstream media. It is also a response to the overwhelming prevalence of sexualised images of women in erotic and non-erotic media, to the frankly bullshit argument that women do not respond to visual stimulation, to the ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ brick wall of an attitude that leaves my forehead pounding, and to the general acceptance that women’s bodies equal sex, that women’s bodies are inherently more beautiful, more attractive than men’s.

The Female Gaze that Filament’s editor, Suraya Sidhu Singh, aims to elucidate and develop is clearly heterosexual, and given that the images of men contained in its pages are intended as part of ‘a backdrop against which women can feel it’s okay to be themselves’, the magazine is unlikely to appeal to lesbian readers, although it’s certainly worth reading for the articles alone. However, I think the heterosexual nature of the publication is justified considering the genuine gap in the market for erotic images of men aimed at women, particularly those which deviate from the muscle-bound hyper-masculine images typically presented as a straight woman’s wet dream.

The Filament team choose their models based on both academic research and that drawn from their own online research community, which concludes that, on average, women prefer less muscular men with attractive, more feminine faces, presented in a context which shows their character and environment. They aim to cater to a wide range of tastes, however, and the images in the first issue clearly reflect this: choose from pretty skinny goth boy, Simon; stubbled and be-suited Anthony; the long-haired, tattooed experience junkie Steve; and muscular (some women do love ’em!) climate change policy advisor, Jez. (My favourite is Simon’s cover image, since you ask. The dirt on the soles of his feet is a lovely touch.) Each set of images is accompanied by an interview tailored to the model’s interests: this is a fair cry from the objectifying bra size/favourite sexual position identikit images contained within the pages of Nuts and Zoo. For this first issue, the men’s trousers remain firmly on, but future Filaments will include pictures for those who’d like to see a little more. My only criticism would be that all the main models are white (there’s one black model illustrating a feature); some ethnic diversity is clearly needed if Filament truly wishes to appeal to as wide a range of women as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree with Filament’s argument that popularising erotic images of the male as sexual subject does not in any way legitimise images intended to sexually degrade women; providing a forum in which women who are attracted to men can openly embrace and give voice to their desires, rather than being encouraged to perform or embody sexuality for others and then have this sold back to them as the only real expression of female sexuality, can only be a good thing. It’s refreshing to read a magazine that isn’t full of images of sexy, beautiful women which often provoke feelings of discomfort or inferiority, the sense that I should be aiming to look like them if I want to be considered a sexual being. Filament makes it OK to forget about being the sexy object and encourages women to reclaim the active sexual gaze for ourselves: that’s something I can really get on board with.

But Filament isn’t just about the heterosexual female gaze; it’s a magazine with erotic content rather than an erotic magazine, and the articles, interviews, short fiction and poetry pages are top notch. A feature on pubic hair grooming is investigative rather than prescriptive, looking at what women choose and why, and astutely points out that pubic hair’s function as an indicator of sexual maturity is ‘a subtlety probably lost on a society that considers Playboy bunny t-shirts appropriate for girls aged 6-9’. Historian Jo Edge’s article questioning Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin’s interpretation of the witchcraft trials and burnings as a manifestation of male misogyny is fascinating in its revelation of the way in which poverty, class and a lack of social status pushed women into accusing each other. In the place of the usual women’s mag staples of alternate celeb bashing and idolatry we are treated to profiles of ‘everyday ladies’ who love making music, women who are rising to the challenge of atheist parenting and making it in the male-dominated world of IT. The erotic short fiction and poetry is interesting and engaging, clearly informed by Filament’s mission to provide female-centred work which challenges the mainstream understanding of heterosex and female sexuality. Sara ffitch’s The moment you said is particularly awesome in its portrayal of female dominant penis-in-vagina sex.

So, the inevitable question: is it feminist? Suraya says:

Yes and no. […] We don’t see our role as selling or promoting feminism because to me, women who don’t identify as feminists (and probably never will) suffer from the same (if not more) pressures and demands as those who do. I just wanted to give women a place to experience sexuality (and life) cerebrally and visually, not as an object of others’ gaze.

Why risk excluding those women who do not identify as feminist? The object of feminism isn’t to get women to identify as feminists; it’s to enable us to live our lives free from patriarchy and all other forms of dominance and oppression, and in encouraging women who are attracted to men to embrace their sexual subjectivity, in challenging the beauty fascism, gender role orthodoxy and general patronising pap of mainstream women’s media, Filament can certainly help some of us on our way. There’s enough variety and intelligent, sexism-free content in Filament that it will appeal to feminist and non-feminist readers alike, and this feminist for one is certainly a big fan.

Filament costs £7 and can be bought here.

Comments From You

Sabre // Posted 15 June 2009 at 5:32 pm

Ooh looks exciting! It is my personal bugbear that there aren’t enough good magazines for women out there. Bit preicey at £7 but it explains this on the website and as it’s quarterly it’s not unreasonable.

Suraya // Posted 15 June 2009 at 5:52 pm

Fully with Laura that there is not enough ethnic diversity in Filament issue 1. Ladies, if you know any black or minority ethnic guys who would like to be in Filament please encourage them to get in touch with me!

David Kames // Posted 15 June 2009 at 7:33 pm

Laura, if you “wholeheartedly agree with Filament’s argument that popularising erotic images of the male as sexual subject does not in any way legitimise images intended to sexually degrade women;” can you define what the distinction is between an “erotic image of a person as sex object” and sexually degrading and objectifying images? I don’t intend this as a hostile question – I’m genuinely interested. If you think of Filament as having got this right – what would an equivalent magazine for men, that produced pictures of women be like?

Laura // Posted 15 June 2009 at 8:13 pm

Hi David,

Good question! Obviously what one person views as degrading another person could view as completely acceptable, so this is clearly difficult territory. I think an erotic image should respect the subjectivity of the individual: they may be the object of my gaze, but I recognise them as a human subject and respect that while admiring their appearance or, indeed, getting off on them: I don’t see them as a piece of meat.

I think the most important thing is context: images which are surrounded by derogatory text – calling the person a filthy slut, to take a common example, or lining that person up with a group of others and reducing them to ‘tits and arse’ – are not respectful of that person, and encourage the viewer to vilify and sometimes dehumanise the person they are looking at as they get off to them. I think that’s a disturbing and potentially harmful attitude to take towards someone you are sexually attracted to, and the normality of this kind of attitude in a lot of porn worries me, particularly when it comes to young people learning about sex and exploring their sexualities through porn.

I think it’s also important that the model has a say in how they are portrayed, that they are happy with the final image and that they give consent to it being used in the way it is intended.

I’m sure there are already plenty of websites and magazines which produce images of women for men which fulfil these criteria, just as there are many that do not. A simple image of a naked woman, provided it is displayed in a non-sexist context, is not necessarily a degrading image. The problem for me is that the internet and magazine racks are saturated with sexualised images of women, and very, very few images of men aimed at women. Even magazines aimed at sexually stimulating het women, like Scarlet, are full of images of women, and have women on their covers. Much self-proclaimed feminist porn still focuses on women, or is porn produced ethically with men in mind – there is very little that focuses on the male as the object of female desire. This means that women are by default associated with sex, which leads het women to spend more time considering how they can attract the opposite sex, how they can make themselves sexy, how they can “perform” and “display” their sexuality, rather than be an active subject who takes pleasure in others and doesn’t spend all her time worrying about what others think of her.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 15 June 2009 at 9:29 pm

Interesting how Filament’s survey results discovered female respondents prefer images of men which show them as fully human subjects and focus on the male models’ interests and activities rather than presenting them as dehumanised sexualised commodities.

Another aspect is survey results show the female respondents wanted to see male images which have ‘feminised features.’ In reality very few men attain the ‘stereotypical masculine facial image’ because facial features vary since we are human and diverse. Attaining a ‘masculine feature’ of course is possible via cosmetic surgery and likewise emphasising a ‘feminine’ facial features can be attained by cosmetic surgery but ‘masculine and feminine’ features are constructed not biologically given.

Filament need not worry about only catering to ‘feminist’ women because by not having their magazine contain endless advertisements and features promoting manufacturers’ cosmetic and beauty products this alone challenges male corporate perception women only want and like ‘beauty products and trivial articles on female celebrities.’

Pity that Sara Ffitch’s short article has resorted to that old heterosexist standby – penetration of vagina = real sexual activity. Heterosexual expression is not limited to piv but male-defined notions of heterosex says ‘penis in vagina = real sex. This is irrespective such activity ensures male sexual stimulation whereas female sexual pleasure is relegated to a side-show or ‘foreplay’ as patriarchy terms female sexual pleasure. Penetration is not necessary for female sexual pleasure but popular culture still promotes that old phallocentric myth.

Hopefully Filament will recognise in its next issue that not all women and men living in the UK are white and perhaps, just perhaps Filament might daringly have full frontal male nudity. Yes, it can be undertaken without resorting to male models adopting sexually aggressive poses and without reducing male models to dehumanised sexualised commodities. If photographer Jim French can photograph sensual male full frontal nudes without dehumanising or promoting male sexual aggression then other photographers can also employ similar techniques.

But, any show no matter how fleeting of the naked full frontal male continues to be taboo since the penis is declared obscene if it it is so much as glimpsed within a magazine. This applies to magazines for homosexuals too, so the only way women can access such images and thereby discover the naked male body is not a ‘one size fits all’ but varies according to physical height, body shape etc. is via visiting a museum or art gallery. Assuming of course, images/paintings of totally naked men are displayed without the obligatory fig leaf!

Laura // Posted 15 June 2009 at 9:41 pm

Oops, being someone that almost never reads women’s magazines, I completely forgot to point out that there are only two adverts in Filament, one for sports bras on the outer back cover, and one for a healthy eyes vitamin supplement on the inner back cover: fantastic! This helps explain the price, but I’d be happy to shell out £7 quarterly to support positive women’s media.

Jennifer Drew: I’m not sure if you’ve read the magazine or are just going on what I’ve written, but ffitch’s piece is a short story written in the female first person, not an article advocating penis-in-vagina sex. Many women (myself included) gain huge amounts of sexual pleasure from penile penetration, and it’s a completely legitimate focus of an erotic story designed to turn women on. ffitch’s writing doesn’t imply that it is the only form of ‘real’ or legitimate sex, and is in fact quite different from mainstream portrayals of penetrative sex in that the woman is entirely in control of both the penetration and the situation.

suraya // Posted 15 June 2009 at 10:52 pm

Hi David

I think there are very few, if any, websites/publications for men that make much effort to present the models as human beings rather than merely bodies, which is why at least a dozen men have been contacting me so far asking if I can do a “Filament for men”, because what they want is erotica/porn with a human element and can’t find it. To which I always say – yes there should be that, go out and make it! There is some okay practice going on, for example websites where the models are given authentic voice, such as Suicide Girls, where they all have journals, and some of Satanic Sluts work, where the models are asked real questions alongside their photoshoots. (Not that I am saying everything those organisations do is good porn practice at all, just that element) But that’s pretty niche stuff, sadly. Perhaps the mainstream will catch up soon.

Saranga // Posted 15 June 2009 at 10:54 pm

Thanks for writing about this, I hadn’t heard of it before. The only magazine I buy is Diva which is very good, has intelligent articles and also manages to produce non objectifying yet sexy photo portraits of women. It’s good to know there’s something out there for straight women now too.

Now, if only someone could produce a decent (non exploitative) women’s magazine for bisexuals I’d be happy.

Laura // Posted 15 June 2009 at 11:29 pm

I was going to mention Suicide Girls, actually, but from what I’ve read it seems some rather exploitative stuff has gone on behind the scenes. The idea of having models’ profiles and blogs and being able to interact with them is great, though, as is the creative control they have over the content of their sets (in theory at least). Don’t like the name, but a Suicide Boys wouldn’t go amiss…

suraya // Posted 15 June 2009 at 11:41 pm

Saranga – of course I’d definitely advocate subscribing to Filament, but if you’d like to see both men and women in the same package (as it were), you might try the website Shot With Desire – only place I’ve seen it done, and it is good to see it.

Jennifer – With you on the notion that sex other than penis-vagina penetration is underrepresented in erotic fic – if you happen to write about it, please submit! Have one such story in Filament Issue 2, and there are elements of Sara ffitch’s story that you may find are quite challenging to conventional notions of how women ought to have sex above and beyond what Laura has mentioned. So I hope you will check it out.

Saranga // Posted 16 June 2009 at 10:18 am

Laura: I’m sure I’ve seen suicide boys somewhere..maybe it’s a generic nickname tho not an official part fo the site?

I have a problem with the SG site now in that they will only use women who get naked, I find that rather exploitative.

Suraya: Thanks for the tip and I probably will check out Filament. :)

David // Posted 17 June 2009 at 12:47 pm

this seems like a decent girls mag

headey // Posted 17 June 2009 at 10:09 pm

A few thoughts:

Back in the 70s James Burke had a TV series. In one they looked at the “women aren’t interested in looking” idea. If that’s so, they argues, why do the film and music industry spend millions promoting good looking men? If women are only interested in humour and personality, why aren’t Les Dawson and Ken Dodd on the front cover of Cosmo?

Does anyone ever wonder why ‘we’ use the term ‘penetrative sex’? Is anyone else, apart from me, disturbed by it? The word itself is rather loaded. It rather suggests a sharp knife penetrating unbroken flesh (not a sexy image). A blunt ice lolly being engulfed by a mouth is actually more applicable, and which is the dominant operator in that image?

Jack Leland // Posted 20 June 2009 at 4:09 pm

Not to be controversial, but I wonder a few things:

a. Why is the desire of Filament’s readership to know about the intimate details of the male models’ lives not seen as more offensive than simply wanting to look at a photograph? I understand the argument that seeing a model as a whole person is more respectful, but it could just as easily be interpreted as very creepy and unduly intrusive to want to talk to them and know all their private information.

b. There seems to be the implicit claim (and correct me if I am wrong) that Filament is better because the male models are not treated like pieces of meat or dehumanized by degrading language, e.g., filthy slut. But this rather ignores that some men might like to be called filthy sluts and be depicted in an objectifying and subordinating manner. Refusing to permit male models to be objectified as filthy sluts for women seems to be unduly oppressive and exploitative (because of the autonomy it denies men).

c. If one were truly concerned about the liberty of women to desire men free of a background of social coercion, why would be take their stated preferences as givens? (That would seem to invalidate the poll of Filament’s readership that is relied upon in this post and thread.) It would seem we need an ethical theory to guide what we ought to expose women who want liberation to (certainly the call for more ethnic diversity reflects such a belief; there ought to be more ethnic diversity because it would promote antiracist sexual expression). Why wouldn’t the feminist ethical theory applied to this magazine promote the objectification (rather than the humanizing) of men? What is wrong with women objectifying men and men seeking to be objectified by women? I am unsure why leaving out this option is preferable or even justifiable under principles of feminist ethics.

Qubit // Posted 21 June 2009 at 7:41 pm

I actually have a hard time with male models in general. I can’t comment on female ones as I don’t tend to lean that way however to have a man presented to me ‘on a plate’ seems wrong. They are human and will have opinions. The chances are I am not their type and to acknowledge that while looking at them means I tend to find the whole scenario freaky. I don’t like the idea that they are doing something for just my pleasure without knowing me or wanting to do something for me. I feel I am taking advantage.

(a) Certainly personal details such as address, phone number and medical history might be creepy. However information about jobs and small things about personality make a more complete person. Whether it is more respectful or not I don’t know. While I would wish to help a person I don’t know if they were suffering I find it hard to understand how you can find someone attractive and fantasise about them if they don’t have a personality. I mean how do they respond to things, how to they react? If they have no personality what so ever they become a passive doll and that is no fun.

(b) The main problem with dehumanizing pictures is reactions it leads to. For example Woman A with big breasts may like being yelled at and told to show her tits to everyone. However Woman B with big breasts might not like this but since she has big tits she must.

Now this is where I have trouble not being hot, so I will believe what hot women say and repeat it here.

They often tend to get catcalls in the street that make them uncomfortable, they get approached and groped etc. Yes some women may enjoy this and they may pose in magazines (and some of the women who pose in magazines won’t enjoy this).

What about the women in the street, the hot women, who don’t enjoy such things? The ones who find they are judged at job interviews as being a bimbo because they happen to match the definition of sex object? The ones that get sexually harassed every time they go out to the point it makes them miserable? These are the people who are most affected by dehumanizing pictures and articles.

A picture doesn’t have to be dehumanizing, a magazine could easily show a woman with her breasts out with a positive commentary but instead we get comments like “a woman with breasts as big as mine has a DUTY to show them off”. Of course things like this are going to lead to negative attitudes and they are unnecessary. Only a small change would be needed to make the attitudes more positive and if this would put off the readership it says more about them than I’d like to think.

So in answer why shouldn’t men be dehumanized in magazines? Because it will effect how women see men in general and it will be unfair on the men who don’t want to be dehumanized. Men will find themselves being groped and jeered at against their will. Told to take off their clothes, show their dick etc. They will generally feel more threatened than they already are now by hen parties etc. I know this sounds victim blaming but my point is by dehumanizing a man who wants to, those who fit into the ideal will suffer and this is unfair on them.

(c) Ethnic diversity and body diversity is important not to force a sexual attitude that is diverse but to appeal to a diverse range of people. Not everyone will be attracted to every image but the fact there is an image that they attracted to validates their sexuality. The aim I believe is to provide a range that helps people develop their sexuality rather than be presented with one type of image and only that so they are forced to like it.

However I do agree that it is objectifying to men. I disagree with you that this is a good thing. While I don’t think pornographic images in women are to blame for eating disorders etc they have certainly taught women what is the right and wrong way to look. Now this may or may not be a good thing depending on how you look at it. Men seem in general to be more fragile and insecure than women. I think the negative impacts such magazines will have on men’s self esteem will be much greater than the equivalent on women’s self esteem. Women have grown up expecting men to look elsewhere for sexual pleasure but men have not. In this way I think the magazine could be a bad thing.

Jack Leland // Posted 22 June 2009 at 1:40 am

1. Viewing images of male models will not turn female consumers of those images into rapists, even if the images are “dehumanizing”. Furthermore, as you acknowledge, one woman’s dehumanization is hot erotica for others.

2. That you find “passive dolls” “no fun” is a personal preference. My point is that perhaps women unlike you need a voice and a magazine to read and perhaps men who want to be objects for them need a forum, too. Moreover, perhaps you oppose objectifying men because of patriarchal oppression. A straight woman might say she doesn’t want to see a penis, but one could easily argue that straight women under patriarchy don’t want to see penises because male privilege fig leafs them in popular entertainments. Breaking the impulse of women to perpetuate the patriarchy might require objectifying men, i.e., ripping off the fig leaf.

3. Plenty of people do not seek out porn to see positive images. They want to see erotic images, and not everyone gets off to positive statements. Being called a filthy slut or calling someone one can be erotic. Why should feminism automatically ban eroticism? We all know that someone telling us not to be turned on by our interests is unpersuasive.

4. “Men will find themselves being groped and jeered at against their will. Told to take off their clothes, show their dick etc. They will generally feel more threatened than they already are now by hen parties etc.”

You are not a man. How do you know there are any men who would dislike the behavior you describe, even if it were a realistic possibility that hordes of women became more brutal and sexually aggressive as a result of viewing a photograph in a magazine?

Kit // Posted 22 June 2009 at 11:15 am

@Jake “If one were truly concerned about the liberty of women to desire men free of a background of social coercion, why would be take their stated preferences as givens?”

I hope I read that correctly, but I think their preferences have some validity because they’re not in the image we’re usually presented with by the media (i.e. not the muscle bound epitome of “manliness”). I know it’s only anecdotal, but most of the guys I know seem baffled by the popularity of celebrities like Richard Hammond and David Tennant because they’re not stereotypical “manly” hunks. Of course the media has some part to play in that too, but it seems more like a reaction to the knowledge that women find guys like them attractive rather than them telling us we *should* find them attractive.

Qubit // Posted 22 June 2009 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for the message Jack, I will make sure to sexually harass the next few men I see just because I feel like it. I am sure they will love being touched up in the street by a stranger. I might even threaten to rape a few, they’ll love that!

I think when men imagine being touched up by women against their will they imagine hot women. I think to put it in context imagine the women you consider least attractive groping you while you are in the bar with your friends. When you complain or tell her to go away she tells you to stop being a stuck up arse-hole.

I find it hard to believe men want to be touched up against their will. Now I as I said before I’m not hot but my boyfriend would be very upset if I touched him without permission even in private. Maybe it is different things for different people.

Nor is it that I dislike looking at men. The problem is I dislike looking at men who would be disgusted by me. I know these men would go nowhere near me in reality and rather than turning me on it puts me off. The relationship becomes too one sided. However that is a personal thing.

However, your argument that men have a right to be degraded doesn’t make any sense to me. In a private relationship yes but making the degradation of men mainstream would annoy far more. See the number of men who come here and complain about things like the Diet Coke adds for proof men don’t like it.

I don’t think we should ban anything. To be honest people are also going to degrade each other. Similarly there is always going to be a market for images of women displayed along with fairly hateful comments against them. However there isn’t this market for men yet and we don’t need to create it. Why worsen the situation for the benefit of a few men who can always get a job as a stripper etc? I think images of men equivalent to the ones of women would severely harm how women saw men and that would effect men in employment, education and general life.

I have to admit the comment “Women with breasts like mine have a duty to show them off” always disturbed me but maybe being small breasted I don’t understand the large breasted mind set. Maybe women with large boobs love being yelled at to show them and really do feel that keeping them to themselves is cheating the male population of what is rightfully theirs.

Jehenna // Posted 23 June 2009 at 2:41 am

Jack, I don’t know if this is your intention, but the impression I am getting is that you want some women to agree with you about degrading men, so you can then undermine the concerns many women have about female degradation by saying – ‘but you said it was fine about men, so don’t complain’.

I could be wrong, but when you say things like:

“1. Viewing images of male models will not turn female consumers of those images into rapists, even if the images are “dehumanizing”. Furthermore, as you acknowledge, one woman’s dehumanization is hot erotica for others.”

I can’t help but think about that situation as it pertains to women. We do know that there is a correlation between attitudes to women, and the way women are presented in the media. When that media is pornography that objectifies and degrades women, you end up with a culture that has myths about how women behave and think, and that includes allowing men to excuse rape on the grounds that she was a dirty slut who wanted it anyway. (date rape more than stranger rape, I suspect)

Dehumanising is exactly that, seeing someone as not human, and whose rights and feelings as a human being do not apply. We do that to a lot of people in the name of prejudice and power, because if you can remove the idea that the person you are oppressing is just like you, then it becomes a lot easier to do it.

Dehumanising someone is wrong. Dehumanising a whole group of people is even worse. Dehumanising a whole group of people and making money from how other people get off on that … well.

I’m reading your comments, and seeing how easily we could turn that to female pornography, and its sickening, because these are the arguments that are used now. How do you know women don’t like being degraded? If they like being degraded, then we should let people degrade them, and we should show that in magazines so everyone can enjoy it.

Because when you present it as normalised behaviour, you damage all those people who don’t want to be treated like that. Pornography likes to pretend that its legitimate and that it represents reality, because this justifies the desires of the consumer. So if you like coming over a girl’s face and calling her a dirty whore, and there are magazines/films where people do this, when your girlfriend says she doesn’t like it, you can tell her it’s her with the problem, not you, because look, other people do it all the time. It’s normal. This is the danger. It’s not less dangerous if we apply it to another group of people.

“You are not a man. How do you know there are any men who would dislike the behavior you describe, even if it were a realistic possibility that hordes of women became more brutal and sexually aggressive as a result of viewing a photograph in a magazine?”

Because men are human beings. And if you think you can generalise half the world’s population and assume that all of them would love it, you are a fool. I don’t have to be a man to know that there are men who like being treated as human beings, even if some of them don’t.

I think your argument is disingenuous.

Jack Leland // Posted 23 June 2009 at 9:21 pm

1. My argument is genuine.

2. Different people have different conceptions of what it means to be a human being. Dialogue about the content of human rights has always been controversial. So the notion that you, Jehenna, know what men want because men are human is a bit much. There may be some men who agree with your conception of human rights and dehumanization, but I am one who does not. I know there are many men who agree with me, but whenever we air our concerns, we are shot down and told that we don’t know what we think and we are seeking to justify patriarchy. Perhaps I do know what I think and I am not justifying patriarchy, but rather am speaking in my own voice about my concerns.

3. Qubit, I have been touched by more than a few women without permission. Especially in the context of a bar, I would ignore that kind of behavior, taking the women as simply having fun. It is a bar. I have had my buttocks grabbed, slapped, been brushed up against unnecessarily, and women have made comments to me about butt plugs, about male-on-male sex, about whatever. If it happened in an elevator or in the street, you might have a point, but not really if it is in bar or in private with your significant other. In any event, I know what it is like to be sexually assaulted and harassed (once a woman randomly asked me in front of male friends if I owned a vibrator; still trying to figure that one out!). I do not think that behavior was caused by the existence of pornographic media and I do not think that additional images of men consensually being degraded would create more instances of such behavior. I think people who misbehave can be punished within the law or by individuals acting in self-defense.

4. If the notion is that everyone’s preferences have validity, then we are in agreement that women who seek to objectify men should have a voice and so should men who want to be objectified.

handle in the wind // Posted 23 June 2009 at 10:44 pm

Jack – […]and women have made comments to me about butt plugs”

Followed by:

“I do not think that behavior was caused by the existence of pornographic media”


Look, I’m a bit older that a lot of the readers on here, (40s) and no stranger to a long-lived, rampant and to include, casual sex-life. I can honestly say that the manifestation and popularity of “butt-plugs” (not anal stimulation or sex) is a direct response to the proliferation of pornography. This is how young women and men are receiving their sex-education and believe me – it aint healthy.

Jack Leland // Posted 24 June 2009 at 1:18 am


My point was that one can watch porn about butt-plugs, even own a few, without feeling the need to make rude, unsolicited comments in public. I know plenty of women who watch porn and have manners.

Jehenna // Posted 24 June 2009 at 5:36 am

Jack, my argument that I know what men want because they are human was to point out that you cannot lump everyone into the same group and say they all want the same thing. Even if one of them wants to be treated as a human being, and I know there is one, then you cannot deny them all.

Which, if I understand correctly, was what you were saying – some people think differently and they should have a voice.

Unfortunately I don’t agree with your last point.

Not every opinion should be voiced/acted upon. We know there are people who like to torture children and small animals. I don’t believe that these people deserve a voice or the ability to act out these wishes.

If something is harmful, and that harm extends beyond the person who wants to be harmed, then we should not permit it. Freedom of speech/action is used to excuse far too much suffering and evil in the world, and personally I don’t believe that we are doing the right thing by allowing these things to be normalised and voiced.

I see nothing wrong with the objectification of a man or a woman who wants that, by a man or a woman who wants that, behind closed doors. When you film it, photograph it, or otherwise record and disseminate it, then I have issue with it.

Because that extends the harm beyond the person who agreed to it in the first place.

Jehenna // Posted 24 June 2009 at 5:52 am

I just realised I didn’t wholly explain very well what I meant, so apologies for a second comment.

Arguably people who want to do bad things to little children, small animals etc – we can deny this because it is not in the realm of ‘consenting adults’.

But pornography which degrades people is between consenting adults so we cannot apply the same standard, and what right do we have to censor etc etc…



This is what consenting adult pornography is doing to the way people think about sex, about sexual expectations and about sexual behaviour.

Consenting adults have every right to do whatever they want to do behind closed doors, with other consenting adults. (I’m not, for the moment, going to go into the politics of consent). But when you are talking about the mass production and dissemination of a worldview that then forces the views of those consenting adults (and the marketers of the porn) onto other adults who may not consent, or like very much, to how their being told they should behave, then that’s not ok.

That’s the problem, as I see it, with porn. It isn’t about people expressing themselves or having a voice. It’s about taking other people’s voices away from them and telling them that something quite different to what they want, is really what they should want.

Qubit // Posted 24 June 2009 at 11:56 am

I think I am disagreeing here, the main problem is not porn but men’s and women’s magazines. The difference these have to porn is that both of them sometimes inadvertently spread the message the other gender likes to be harassed. This can be through comments in women’s magazines about how all men want to be annually penetrated with a finger or similar in men’s magazines about women.

I don’t think this is essential to the enjoyment of either magazine and I think the messages in words are far more of a problem. Displaying the same images of women would be perfectly possible without such a commentary. Similarly women’s magazines could continue to provide sex advice etc.. just more cautiously. I believe this would make little difference to the enjoyment of the magazines.

I am not sure whether I believe all sexual kinks are equally valid or whether some should be considered unhealthy. I think we tend to ignore how unhealthy fantasises are when they are sexual. The problem I have is when you confess to have repeated non-sexual fantasise about personal pain then people will suggest you seek psychiatric help. However if you have the same fantasy with a sexual component it is a kink that needs defending. I find it really difficult to believe that both these types of fantasy don’t come from the same place. Now I have been lectured enough to know that I should think self harm etc.. is a sign of something wrong so why should I not think the same of BDSM desires? Similarly if I sometimes wish to have someone obey me non-sexually it is wrong but as soon as it becomes sexual it is healthy. Why is there such a dichotomy there?

Laura // Posted 24 June 2009 at 12:21 pm

Qubit: I really don’t want this thread to degenerate into another circular argument about BDSM, but please believe me when I say I have self-harmed and engaged in BDSM and they are not the same thing. That doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t engage in that type of sex out of a desire to self harm – that could well happen – but it isn’t necessarily the case, and I certainly don’t think we can say it is the norm.

Jen // Posted 24 June 2009 at 3:20 pm


This is what consenting adult pornography is doing to the way people think about sex, about sexual expectations and about sexual behaviour.

I think this takes a lot more than pornography, it takes a lack of distinction between desire and reality, a sense of entitlement to that kind of dream-success that is more consistent with advertising and with capitalist notions of success than it is with pornography. I wouldn’t actually trust a Channel 4 documentary to provide an accurate representation of high school kids’ ideas about sexuality anyway. Could they be selective about the answers they publish, if they were trying to prove a point (even if that point was only something along the lines of “phwoooooaaaar!”?

And Qubit, something about your combination of the words “sexual kinks” and “valid” isn’t computing. You can’t legislate what happens in people’s heads in terms of it being valid or not, and quite often violent fantasies (like those depicted in pornography) don’t reflect an actual desire to be violent to someone. And then, it’s such a nuanced thing – some people like it rough, but a little too rough would make it unpleasant, a lot of people like powerplay as well, even if they don’t always like the same kind of powerplay. I’d say there usually is a bit of that. It’s far from simple – and, even without having ever engaged or being tempted to engage in BDSM, it’s pretty easy to tell that there’s a great deal of difference between that and wanting to be hurt. Already the fact that it’s just a fantasy makes it completely different.

For instance, it’s not unheard of for people to fantasize about being raped, but that wouldn’t mean they’d want it in reality, nor would it make it any more acceptable to rape them. And anyway, in BDSM it’s not all that uncommon for the bottom to actually be the dominant partner. After all, the top would be submitting to the bottom’s desires to be tied up – can that really be called domination?

The other obvious thing is that it’s play, so there’s going to be a certain amount of symbolic harm rather than actual harm. And, well, I think we all have quite violent stuff going on in our heads probably, maybe (I’m no neurologist) because in small doses there’s not that much difference between various kinds of sensation.

So, in short, you’re comparing things that aren’t really comparable – and sending people to a psychiatrist for having incorrect sexual desires, well, I needn’t even tell you (I hope) that that’s a bit of a slippery slope.

Saranga // Posted 24 June 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’d just to like echo Laura’s comment about self harm and bdsm. Absolutely not the same thing.

Shan // Posted 9 August 2009 at 3:21 am

I was enjoying this series. I didn’t think much of Filament magazine but then I only saw a report on the pictures which I thought were tacky (see me blog piece which I’ve linked). Filament mag would have come across better if I’d seen the kind of articles described here.

The comments were fascinating and I was really learning and widening my thinking. But then the series was hijacked by this guy Jack and the whole tone changed.

Instead of simply exploring ideas, the series then became combative, a lot more aggressive, that boring style of arguing that scores points which had been refreshingly lacking before.

I also found it disturbing that the discourse was wrenched around to focus so much on how a man saw it. A male view is valid and interesting yes, but in a space like this, not if it becomes the centre of the debate as it did here, with women’s contributions pushed into being reactions.

I think this happened because Jack was hammering away insisting on his points without any give or learning on his side. I did see the others as accepting some of his points, but this wasn’t reciprocated.

While both women’s views and men’s views are relevant to feminism, I feel that in an area like this where women have so rare an opportunity to share what WE feel about doing the erotic looking for a change, it would be supportive for a man not to insistently pull the debate to centre on his point of view. To contribute yes, but not dominate.

In fact it really made me want to stop reading as what had been such a rare space for women’s erotic needs to be voiced, disappeared under the onslaught of a set of male erotic needs. (Nor are they unusual needs: men who need sexual humiliation are not rare.)

Thanks for the blog I like it. My critique is because it moves me to care.

sharon // Posted 9 August 2009 at 11:32 am

I am sure the men in the mag are beautiful. Most are probably gay. So when we lust after them, we know they will not desire us. We know their dreamy gaze is fixed on a man. That is one of the big differences between the images of male and female soft porn. And it’s a bit of a turn off.

Laura // Posted 9 August 2009 at 1:52 pm

@ Sharon,

Why are they “probably gay”? Is it really so hard to believe that a het guy might want to pose for het women?

Suraya // Posted 9 August 2009 at 1:59 pm

@sharon What makes you think the guys in Filament would be gay? I think that their girlfriends would be rather bemused by that suggestion! For what it’s worth I totally agree with you that it’s a turn off to look at obvious gay porn – that’s why Filament is the first women’s magazine with images of men to refuse to buy images off the gay market – which is what Playgirl, For Women, Viva, Sweet Action and every other magazine of male image designed for women has openly done. Read our website for more information.

Karen // Posted 9 August 2009 at 7:30 pm

If anyone is interested re bdsm, there is a great article called “the pleasure of pain” if you google “bdsm pschology today” which explains various parts of it in a safe, scientific but intelligible way. As someone who also has a season ticket to the dark places where suicide feels like the only way out, but also enjoys bdsm, I agree with Laura that the two are not neccesarily linked. I have self esteem issues yes but they cover over my basic personality type (as described in the psychology today article) which is one that bdsm seems to go hand in glove with. I have enough trust in my partner to let him tie me up and know that I only have to say the word. One in ten people have or will try bdsm, I only have experience with the bd bit but hopefully this is of use to bdsm-ers and f-worders. Cheers!

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds