The UK's Filament magazine is having an uphill battle. It's a magazine for women featuring erotic imagery of men, and goes by the slogan, 'The thinking woman's crumpet'. The problem is, Filament can't get printers or distributors to support production of a magazine featuring images of men with erections. In a nation awash with tabloids featuring scantily clad page three girls, erotic imagery appealing to women is somehow too distasteful.
There are some very good arguments to be had from feminists who oppose porn, and believe that two wrongs - objectifying men similarly to women - don't make a right. And I'm going to conveniently avoid these arguments for now. The thing that intrigues me about this issue is how it reflects on pornography as a market.
Erotic imagery is as old as humankind, and porn has a long history too. It's unsurprising that the majority of porn has been targeted at men, not simply because it reinforces widely held cultural ideas that men are the active partners in sex and women are passive, but because men have had access to the financial resources needed to purchase commodities.
I find it really hard to imagine a world in which women and men could access erotic imagery equally. I can't think what it would be surrounded with magazine ads and billboards using sexualised imagery of men to sell everyday products, from soap to hearing aids. I can't imagine striding unselfconsciously into the restricted area of the DVD shop to make my selection, or being part of a culture in which I felt entitled to scrutinise other people's bodies rather than be the subject of scrutiny. It would be a vast cultural change, and an equally big commercial change.
Presuming there's a demand for erotic imagery that appeals to women - and Filament's research is clear that there is - what would it take for the market to respond to this demand? Economics tells us that where there's a demand, an entrepreneurial soul will use it to make a buck, and it's usually true: someone like Steve Crow will usually step into the breach (and if the thought of Steve Crow near your breeches alarms you, I apologise for my choice of words). In Filament's case, the idea of women asserting their sexual appetites is so repellent to some that it outweighs the desire to profit from women who are both willing and able to pay.
It can, of course, be difficult for women to actually express consumer demand for erotic material. Last night's Simpsons rerun featured Apu urging his wife to take the children away from the shop - they were preventing the lurking male porn buyers from 'making their move'. If men find it difficult to counter the stigma attached to accessing erotic imagery, it's surely worse for women. I'd be interested to know whether the more 'discrete avenues' for porn - particularly the internet - are favoured by females.
The Filament issue raises a bunch of interesting questions. What would a market that met women's demand for erotic imagery look like? How could women articulate demand, what sort of commodities would women want, and who could best produce them?