Review: Filament magazine

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 attracltive 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.