Sunday, 23 August 2009

Market failure?

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?


Hugh said...

It seems that printers aren't actually refusing to print erections, it's just the printers within Filament's price range. Hence the campaign to raise enough money to go to a more expensive, and less moralistic, printer.

The idea that printers flat out -refuse- to publish erections is pretty easy to dispel by looking at the existence of Playgirl magazine.

Anonymous said...

When I was single a few years ago I tried to access porn. It wasn't easy. There were shops selling and renting DVDs, but these were all aimed at men. I asked a couple of them, where's the stuff for women? The best they could do was: try the gay men section!

I turned to the internet where I found a site that hosted readers' stories. There were no pictures, only words, so you had to use your imagination to provide the visuals. You could post stories or just read, and access was free.

Stories were categorised by type - romance, for example, for readers who wanted romance but no sex, through to stories featuring particular sexual peccadillos. You have a rape fantasy? There was a section for that. You want to avoid rape fantasy? Then that's easy too.

I think there is a huge market in providing porn for heterosexual women. To be successful, though, I don't think it would just reproduce what is provided for hetero men with the roles reversed. I suspect there are a lot of women who don't need pictures, who find words enough to get their juices flowing, and who are interested in some sort of character development instead of endless humping and thrusting.

suraya said...

Awesome post, Anna.

In response to Hugh's comment, I should point out that Filament is being published in the UK, (unlike Playgirl, which was published in the US, and not even available in the UK even on subscription - I had to smuggle my copy in) which famously upholds the clear double standard that only "erections, ejaculations and penetrations" (splayed labia = no problem) constitute hard core pornography.

There are a small number of printers who are willing to print male explicitness - Filament has found one and even though they're more expensive, I'm delighted that they see BS for BS.

And I completely agree with 'anonymous' on there being a huge market for porn for heterosexual women that is untapped - the assumption is that we just ought to buy gay porn, which is quite bizarre and hard to understand. Throughout this debate, people have constantly appealed to the notion that 'erotica for women' ventures have largely failed. This is true, but what they're ignoring is that porn for men is produced by men, and porn for women has largely been produced by men too - with no market research undertaken about what women wanted. In the few cases where women have produced said material, and listened to what women wanted (Jacqueline Gold, Erika Lust, Annie Sprinkle etc) they have been met with resounding success.

I'm not a particularly vocal supporter of porn per se, but if we must live in a world with porn, let it be one where men are seen as erotic subjects, with women as the audience, too.