Attwood F (2005) '"Tits and ass and porn and fighting". Male heterosexuality in magazines for men', in International Journal of Cultural Studies, 8 (1): 83 -- 100.
[I should get lots of hits on this file! The spectacular title refers to a quote by a female journalist depicting the contents of men's magazines. Attwood uses the quote to allude to a new downmarket trend in men's magazines, reverting to traditional masculinity and moving away from 'new men'. She also refers to changes in the depiction of sexuality in women's magazines. I find the argument rather complex in fact, and pretty speculative and over-elaborated, but I would urge you to read the original, if only for the superb list of references at the back]
Certain themes emerge from sampling British magazines, offering both soft pornography and lifestyle advice, and focuses on the new magazines Nuts and Zoo. The analysis focuses on the male body and sexual pleasure, and on broader issues of the representation of gender.
Soft-core magazines used to be seen as separate from those promoting consumer lifestyles, but they may be converging. Some early magazines such as Playboy always mixed the two, and British magazines have built on that idea. There has been a range of other genre as well, in Britain, focusing on 'a cruder, "dirtier" and more light-hearted take on sex... a... reliance on images of highly sexed "ordinary" women and the "everydayness" of sex' (85). Finally, there has been a a general trend towards downmarket magazines.
Lifestyle magazines may reflect changes in the representation of masculinity, seen best in the emergence of the 'new man 'in the 1980s. These were followed by more 'laddish' publications such as Loaded, which mixed soft porn and lifestyle. This reflects 'a general post modern trend towards "porno chic" in which the codes and conventions of porn become indicators of sophisticated late modern sexual sensibility (McNair 2002)' (85). It might also reflect a reaction to a perceived homoerotic undertones in men's fashions and style. Finally, it might reflect nostalgia for vulgarity and naughtiness. This fondness for vulgarity marks off British from American publications, and may reflect 'a wider vogue for "retro cool"' (86).
The launch of new titles can be seen as an attempt to revive the market, especially to compete with internet porn. Publishers were attracted by the success of women's weeklies, and the decline of readership of tabloid newspapers 'which are perceived to be in pursuit of an elusive female audience' (86). The new titles are laddish with a 'similar focus on sport, news, media, sex and "fun"' (86) and pick up on that British liking for 'bawdy porn conventions' (86) rather than style or grooming.
Men's bodies are classic be represented in a very limited way in soft pornography. They are either absent altogether, or 'mechanized as a piece of equipment... although dominance, the man "expresses no pleasure or joy in the act"' (87). Even the dominance has been muted in modern magazines, in favour of 'a rough kind of equality', albeit a reductionist one -- both sexes are 'active, hot, wet, eager for more, eager for the same' (87). Male bodies remain intact and are never penetrated. The only signs of pleasure are mechanistic ones such as excessive ejaculation. Attwood suggests that these features, together with all sorts of advertisements to increase penis size and sexual performance, reflect substantial anxiety about male bodies.
Even in lifestyle magazines, bodies are instrumentalized, as projects, requiring discipline as a way to ward off anxiety and insecurity. Men's bodies are depicted as machines, just as in pornography -- 'the reduction of pleasure to genitals to orgasm to ejaculation... is evident here [as well]' (88). A great deal of care is taken to avoid homoeroticism, despite the new emphasis on grooming and fashion. Objectification may be one response, together with a frequent assertion of heterosexuality and an accompanying view of women as sexual objects. The new lifestyle magazines feature another response -- body maintenance is not seen as pleasurable nor as about vanity.
The new lads magazines revert to a masculinity defined by 'binge drinking, drug-taking, promiscuity and "extreme sports" (Jackson et al 2001)' (89). There are no lifestyle elements. Sport predominates, especially football. Footballers are seen as examples of the 'hedonistic and successful male', and their sexual adventures are reported. Occasional homoeroticism still creeps in, says Attwood.
British soft-porn has not really developed a genre found more commonly in America -- grotesque or bizarre sexuality. However, depicting male bodies as injured or 'in torment' has been a long tradition, and there are hints of it in the interest in 'a landscape that is characterized by danger, as lorries overturned, cars crash, crime soars and sharks attack' (90).
In women's magazines, women's bodies are often seen as objects to be displayed, and there is often a range of bodies, from 'the "fashion body"... to the "porn body"... and [then] ordinary women'(90). These conventions are not very different from those in men's soft-porn magazines, although there are other stereotypes as well such as 'the "new girl", the "bored housewife", the "lesbian" and the "deadly woman"' (90). There is also the "babe", who is both fashionable and glamorous.
Lesbians and housewives help to create the illusion of women's readiness and eagerness for sex, as does the focus on Readers' Wives, sex workers, or ordinary girls in the street. The focus on women's appearance and their easily available sexuality, and this focus overrides all the other distinctions.
In women's magazines, women do emotional labour and focus on relationships, usually within heterosexual couples. 'Sex is something women do in order to feel attractive, maintain relationships, express care and control men... it is part of a post feminist work of femininity' (91). Most men's magazines, by contrast avoid domesticity unless it involves sex, and developing intimate relationships is not relevant. Instead, men engage in 'missions' to explore sexuality, including experiencing new activities. Only in soft porn narratives is the pleasure of heterosexual relationships represented -- elsewhere the emphasis is on performance. Men do not actually do sex, but 'go somewhere... and... have' sex (93). There is, however, sometimes an 'ironic and bantering address' directed towards the issues of relationships and grooming (93).
One noticeable feature is coverage of the outdated porn conventions. This reflects a fascination with sexual representation, an interest in the early careers of female celebrities, 'bawdy' sex scandals and blue jokes [and the nostalgia for the bawdy early years mentioned earlier?].
There has been a shift towards 'laddism'. The so-called crisis of masculinity might be responsible for the infantilism and nostalgia of the stance, together with a reaction to feminism. However, it could be merely an outward defence. It might have been crucial in helping to sell consumerism to men, especially in removing any notions of feminisation or homosexuality. It seems to pick up on the peculiarly British notions of working class machismo, again, possibly as a defence, '[it]... focuses on leisure pursuits and eschews aspiration and careers... [as a partial response to]... economic recession' (94). Nevertheless, even this response is avoided by the new men's magazines in favour of a reversion to traditional elements of male sexuality.
Overall, the magazines display a concern with hedonism, especially with more traditional notions of sexual pleasure. Some more upmarket lifestyle concerns also feature in a return of a new version of 'porn chic' (94). There is also a 'post modern context of... production' (95). Sexual activity becomes an 'expression of individuality, a form of recreation and a means of constructing intimate, though not necessarily long-lasting relationships' (95). Sexual relationships become 'episodic', as in Giddens' work on modernity. This also involves treating sexual experiences as a commodity. In particular, for the 'rather infantile figure of the new lad... masturbation and the drunken one-night stand are the emblematic sexual encounters' (95) [surely not quite what Giddens had in mind?].
New promiscuous heterosexuality can be seen as a reaction 'against the narcissism, sexual puritanism, a sexuality and inauthenticity associated with the new man, political correctness, feminism, HIV and AIDS' (95). It is also represented as more natural, although it is also clear that involves stressful performance. This in turn requires 'a discourse of "coolness"' (95). This appears in lads magazines as some shallow celebration of sexual liberation, and male distancing from women.
Such distancing is found in representations of femininity as well. The individual has replaced the couple, and there is a general movement towards sexualisation as central for women as well in the fields of recreation and consumption, 'narcissism, hedonism and auto eroticism' (96). [Hang on, I thought there was a reaction against narcissism just now!]. Sexuality is seen both as a form of sophisticated expression and still as a natural activity.
Gender differences still remain, however. Sex in women's magazines is seen as much more wholesome and connected with health and fashion. Some men's magazines share this kind of concern but to a lesser extent. Male sexuality is still seen as 'physical, raw and earthy' (97). Women can still be addressed 'in terms that elevate and dignify an interest in sex', and appeals to them still stress quality and aesthetic value, and the importance of relational activities. On the other hand, men's magazines seem more fascinated with more vulgar and downmarket sexuality, although other issues occasionally appear too (97).
Overall, some representations have changed, but there is considerable stability, and older notions are recycled. Men's magazines are still best seen as 'a bricolage of those familiar and rather old-fashioned signifiers of masculinity "tits and ass and porn and fighting"' (97). Much more 'situated and careful analyses 'are still required to sort out change and continuity.