I got an email pitch recently to review a book called Hands On: A MANual for Getting Things Done and yes, the “man” in manual is in italics and big letters. The author is Susan Anderson who also has produced a number of Porn for Women photo books.
The book arrived as I was taking a break from working on my novel outline to eat a cheesesteak: ding-dong, UPS left it at the door. Great lunch reading, I thought. I started flipping the glossy color pages to an assortment of fabulous-looking, mostly naked men “fixing up” a house—each chapter is a different room: “Hands On in the…” bathroom, kitchen, den, bedroom, etc.
The book, in addition to emphasizing that one must “match the tool size to the job” offers additional sexual euphemisms like:
"You just can't know how sexy he really is until you've seen him performing with a cordless drill."
“An hour break will give your handyman the energy he needs for all that afternoon pounding and banging.”
“A well-charged battery keeps you safe from calling an old boyfriend in an emergency."
And perhaps most blatantly: “This caulk isn't the only thing that's loaded with creamy white filling."
Sexy men in glossy pictures beside projects with names like “Well-Hung” have quote captions like “Just hold it steady and I'll nail it in." You get the idea. Mainly because you’re being hit over the head with it by a shirtless hot guy.
If the tables were turned on this book, and it was about women serving men (dinner, laundry, sex), the feminist establishment would go positively apeshit. Objectification of women! Degradation! Sexism! The book would never make it to a Barnes & Noble. But these books don’t seem to be met with any outrage.
Consider the blurb from the first Porn for Women book: “Give the fairer sex what they really want: beautiful PG photos of hunky men cooking, listening, asking for directions, accompanied by steamy captions: ‘I love a clean house!’"
Is that what women (and you did not just call us “the fairer sex,” did you?) “really want?” Perhaps I’m non-traditional, but I’d honestly rather have hot R photos of hunky men doing far sexier shit than asking for directions.
We know sexism against women is still alive and very much kicking. Does anyone ever even talk about sexism against men? In his piece “When Men Experience Sexism,” my colleague Noah Berlatsky writes that “men suffer because of the same gender role stereotypes that hurt and restrict women—though men, being of a different gender, fall afoul of those stereotypes in different ways.”
The home-improvement soft-porn book clearly puts men in “manly” stereotypes: the tool belts, plumbing equipment and log-splitting images are almost cartoonishly man-centric. So is this what women seek in their sexual fantasy worlds- male gender role stereotypes?
Actual porn for women can be difficult to find in a sea of imagery revolving around pleasing men. What intelligent woman wants to sift through the male-dominated print or Internet porn industry and its barrage of fake tits, fake girl-on-girls getting guys off and fake orgasms?
In the article “Your Hottest New Sex Toy: The Internet,” Marie Claire reported that 17 percent of American women (seems low?) go online for porn, and the piece took a stab at finding “female-friendly” sites, giving “how hard-core” star ratings. Jezebel jumped on the women-thirsty-for-porn bandwagon recently in the piece “This Groin Gazing Fashion Spread Starring Boners is Amazing!” (am hereby admitting I’m in agreement; I’m a fan), asking:
“What if these sorts of photos were the norm? What if we stopped perpetuating the myth in advertising and art that men are more visual? What if women's appetites for sex were catered to just as much as men's? What if this was a common spread you saw in women's magazines growing up? How would that have changed your feelings about your own lust, your own sexual appetite, your own attraction?”
The Hands On and Porn for Women books are cute and would make great bachelorette or 40th birthday party gifts, but my sense is that as women, we really wish there was more quality actual porn available for us to “get the job done.”
-Follow Mary McCarthy on Twitter @marymac.