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Biased, obviously, but I’m sad about the demise of FHM

fhmI’m gutted that FHM is going to suspend publication. That might sound odd because I’m a feminist, and surely I should be ready to dance wholeheartedly on its grave, the way some people were accused of doing when Nuts magazine folded. It should also – to those who read FHM – sound perfectly natural for me to be sad, because for the last few months I’ve been a contributor.

I’m gutted on a simple level: I won’t be able to write things for them any more. But I’m also gutted for the other people who work there, many of whom were publishing some good stuff. Looking back on the FHM I first pored over in my teenage boyfriend’s bedroom and its more recent editions (October’s issue, for example, had an awesome feature on ‘rule breakers’ including interviews with a female CEO, a North Korean defector, and a 95 year-old sprinter), there’s a world of difference, although I appreciate that many of you might disagree.

I’ve been critical of some things FHM has done in the past (like their ‘sexiest women’ in 2012), but I’ve also been fairly open about the fact that I don’t think we should ban lads’ mags, or even imply that there’s no place for them in a society that has healthy views on sex. Sex is not the opposite of feminism, and being a feminist doesn’t mean ignoring or quashing straight male sexual pleasure. What it means, I think, is pushing for a broader representation of sexual pleasure – making it clear that the glossy magazine pictures are just one of a million things that might turn some people on.

I get a bit spoiled by blogging, I think. Here I get to say whatever I like, however I want to say it. While I might consult some of the people who feature here, ultimately it’s me who gets to decide. I can write a piece about how sexist The Apprentice is without worrying that some other editorial department is running an interview with Alan Sugar the same day and I’ll get bollocked for mixing messages.

When you start writing outside of a blog, though, you have to make a decision as to who you’ll write for and what you’ll say. It’s a decision you keep making over and over, placing yourself at some point on the scale from ‘totally comfortable’ to ‘total sell-out.’ You could only ever write for places that 100% match what you believe, and as a result end up having a voice in just a tiny corner of the internet. You could write anything and everything you’re asked to, getting yourself a massive audience but publishing a fair amount of shite that makes you cringe inside and hate yourself. It’s not as simple as this, of course: most people pick somewhere between those two extremes. That’s what I do. I write, and have written for a few ‘mainstream’ things, many of which publish articles by other people that I strongly disagree with. None of them match exactly what I believe – that would be impossible – although some do get closer than others.

It’s useful. If I want people to understand, for example, that the key to a successful chat-up is not simply ‘dogged and terrifying persistence’, then I’ll leap at the chance to put that somewhere other than just my blog, where I’m essentially preaching to a very lefty choir.

There are obviously some things I’ll say no to, although I can count them on my fingers because I’m far more of a ‘yes’ person. The reasons usually come down to either money (they aren’t offering any), tone (the piece they’re writing goes against something fundamental that I believe) or the publication itself (I wouldn’t, for instance, write a puff-piece for BNP Monthly or what have you). Do I get it right all the time? Fuck no. Will I get it right in future? Fuck no. The only thing I can guarantee is that – given how much navel-gazing I do each day – I’ll always consider things carefully.

I think there are lots of things that are important when we’re considering how to change the narrative around men, women, sex, and all the other things that occupy 90% of my waking thoughts. Some of them involve creating new media and telling stories that haven’t been heard before. Some involve taking older platforms and shaping them into something more inclusive. Some might involve marching with placards or doing cheeky shit like ripping down tube ads that ask if we’re beach body ready. Some may involve editors of lads’ mags writing thinkpieces about why gender equality is important or inviting an ethical porn producer in to offer advice on good porn to watch with your girlfriend. I think all of this stuff has a place, because although I’ll choose one of many options, all of them are part of a wider conversation.

I know that people who read this blog are probably not the target market for FHM, and I know that FHM – like a whole bunch of mainstream stuff I write/have written for – doesn’t perfectly match all of my ideals. I’m also fully aware that my personal bias on this (FHM was the magazine I favoured as a youngster, and I’ve always preferred lads mags to womens’ magazines, mainly because they did excellent gore stories and features on drug cartels and what have you). What’s more I doubt I’d be bothering to write this post if it were a magazine I’d never contributed to. But for what it’s worth, I think they did some great things, and I’m really pleased to have been able to work with some of the brilliant people who produced it.


  • Jillian Boyd says:

    Not entirely sure it’s the lads mags we should be worried about doing harm…

    Never actually picked up an issue of FHM, but I did frequent their site as a youngster – happy and also very confused memories.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yeah, I think that with anything mainstream there’s always going to be the issue that to a certain extent it will reinforce the status quo, because it’s produced by it. But there are lots of magazines and other outlets with great people working there who are trying to break out of the mould.

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    Yeah, it’s too bad, but so it goes. The bottom fell out of the lads’ mags market a long time ago, I’m impressed FHM kept going as long as it did.

    I was never a regular reader but used to borrow friends’ copies sometimes, and as I recall it was a pretty decent magazine. It wasn’t just about the tit pics, it had some good articles about lifestyle issues, sex and relationships as well; yeah, I know ‘I read it for the articles’ is a cliché, and I didn’t, but still I don’t think there’s anything quite like that any more for today’s generation. ( Unilad on Facebook? Hardly.)

    I remember saying in the comments of the post you linked to that I had an issue with Page 3 of The Sun, but I didn’t with the likes of FHM – lads’ mags were always upfront about being something to wank to, and there’s no shame in that. (Nor should there be any shame in writing for it.) They could be criticised for presenting a rather narrow, and hopelessly mainstream, image of female beauty though.

    I think that last point may be the main reason they stopped selling. Of course, everyone can get porn on the Internet now, but it’s not just that: everyone can find exactly the sort of porn that turns them on, rather than having to settle for the thin range of mainstream stuff. Porn magazines had to try to satisfy everyone, but could never compete with the sheer variety of the Internet. (There used to be fetish magazines for the more niche tastes, but they suffered from the same problem and have gone the same way.) I guess the small remaining market for FHM was teens who have porn blocked on their computers, and those who really *were* reading it for the articles.

    So, now we really do have the ‘broader representation of sexual pleasure’ you mention – but with the loss of magazines that provided a focus for discussion and occasional education rather than just wall-to-wall smut, that comes at something of a cost as well.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ugh Unilad. Not only irritating from a content perspective, but they’ve also ripped off some of my Debrief articles – argh. I think it’s interesting the whole porn/lads mag thing, because I don’t think I ever really saw them as porn (I know, I am not the target market for a wank about a lady in her pants). But I do agree with you on the porn vs Page 3 thing – the difference in terms of presenting sexual content as just a ‘thing’ to brighten up the news versus the main point of a publication.

      Really good point about porn variety as well – I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it that way, especially because at the moment discussion tends to focus on a trend towards hardcore rather than an overall broadening of taste, but you’re right. Hmm. Still a way to go, but yeah.

  • Interesting perspective. Haven’t seen a lads’ mag since Men Only in the sixties. Hated page three in the Sun, but did see the odd centrefold in some of the factories I visited after setting up my translation business.

    I wonder if there could be a market for illustrated stories. A good cartoonist or illustrator like your guy, combined with relationship stories true or fiction. Wonder if that would sell. Done properly it might even have a market with both sexes. Just a thought.

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