Disclaimer: Some links in this blog lead to pornographic images.
A new, 98 page book simply titled Porn for Women from Chronicle Books is causing a stir with its racy images . . . but not in the way you might think. Instead of full frontal nudity, the book mockingly features men (sometimes topless) doing household chores ranging from vacuuming to dusting to cleaning the stove, all with a smile on their faces. These hunky men say things like, "Well, I can't offer you any solutions, but I am a good listener" and "Is that the baby? I'll get her" and "Have another piece of cake. I don't like you looking so thin." All of women's aggravations and insecurities are seemingly offered by perfect, successful men (complete with bios describing hobbies such as "Big Brother volunteer" and "giving massages." Vanessa Valenti of the blog Feministing wrote, "it's sad that we would need pictures and descriptions of 'considerate men' to jerk off to rather than expect it or have it from the men in our actual lives. Porn generally consists of sexual fantasy; making me dinner should be a standard, not something I fantasize about." When I showed the book to one friend, she flipped through it, then practically smacked it onto the ground.
"I'm pretty irked by the highly regressive assumptions that women are so tied to their housework that it actually *arouses* them when they see a man doing it." He also offered photos of himself wearing jeans and no shirt plunging a toilet, stating, "making this look erotic is harder than I thought."
I found the book slightly amusing at first, then rather annoying in its simplistic take on what's truly a complex topic: how equally does or doesn't play out in our daily lives. Firstly, the word "straight," as it often is when it comes to the catchall phrase "women," is implied. Second, the book deals with an array of common complaints by women about men ─ they're obsessed with sports, don't cook or do enough chores, skimp out on foreplay ─ that could just as easily read as clichés. It's a greatest hits compilation of the unequal division of labor, yet to me, something about it rings false. Perhaps because the wink-wink assumption behind the satire is that men wouldn't or don't really do these tasks, and if they do, it's in such a grandiose way they aren't just performing the chores, but are thrilled about it. I know plenty of self-sufficient men who are far neater than I am (admittedly, not a high standard), and ones who share in childcare and housework. Maybe they don't love every minute of it, but who does?
Yet the clamoring for just this type of guy is real. For every woman dismissing the book, there's surely one who finds more than a grain of truth it in. Another recently released Chronicle book, I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile boasts on the back cover "You need this book if" and follows that with several statements, one of which is "you'd trade your husband for a housekeeper." Writer Lisa Fetterman of the Montreal Gazette called scrubbing a counter with a toothbrush "the sine qua non of turn-ons." Another friend laughed her way to the final page, then exclaimed, "I need this book. This is what I'm looking for in a man." She didn't mean that was all she was looking for, but after dating someone who lived in a pigsty, she was fed up. Me, I'm single, and I live in a pigsty, and I don't mind, or at least, I'm not expecting someone else to clean up after me.
John Gottman, author of And Baby Makes Three, as quoted by Fitterman, claims that "men who help out around the house have sex more frequently with their spouses and much happier marriages." That may very well be true, but it's probably because being overtired and stressed-out, and knowing that there's hours of cleaning ahead doesn't exactly put anyone, man or woman, in the mood. It's not necessarily that the act of cleaning is "hot" in the traditional sense, but that it may free up time and energy, and lessen resentment, when men do their share.
Aside from the housekeeping issues in the book, there is the title's provocation, begging to be answered: What is real porn for women? While foreplay and oral sex are given short mentions in the book, actual sex is mostly on the periphery, and actual porn, of the naked-people-going-at-it variety, non-existent. Recent figures put porn viewership at one third female, and there's even a Feminist Porn Awards ceremony, celebrating films showing "genuine female pleasure" where a woman was either a director or producer. This comes from Toronto sex toy shop Good For Her, where there's even a class on "Hot Sex for Feminists." What's been called "women's porn" or "couples' porn," spearheaded by the likes of Candida Royalle's Femme Productions and others, is clearly making inroads. In print, there's Playgirl and Sweet Action and websites like For the Girls and even Suicide Girls (the latter presumably geared towards men but featuring a lively female usership). Sex educator Violet Blue has written The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn, and offers suggestions for viewing on her website. But not all women want porn "geared" towards them. I know plenty of women, gay, straight and bisexual, who get off on watching gay male porn. But too often, the phrase "porn for women" is used dismissively to described things that are far from XXX. Romance novelist Eloisa James says that the biggest misconception about her genre is that it's, you guessed it, "porn for women."
I don't think there'll ever be one correct answer to the question "What turns women on?" and bravo for that! "Women" are not only a massive group, but what turns an individual woman on may change over time. The same goes for men. For some women, a man wielding a vacuum may be even more exciting than one wielding an erection, or at the very least, she might not hop into bed until the floor's mopped. Maybe porn here is a euphemism, like when we say "wedding porn" or "real estate porn." Either way, it brings up a question that definitely needs further investigation, and more options for "porn" of the XXX and G-rated varieties.