The other day I was on a long train journey. There were two abandoned magazines on the adjacent seat, one a woman’s magazine, lots of pink, yellow and blue on the cover, and fuzzy photos of women I’d never heard of wearing bikinis. The other a men’s magazine, shiny reds and blacks on the cover and studio photos of men I had heard of, the men in expensive clobber, the girls in underwear.
I have not bought, and seldom read, a magazine in over 10 years, and when I did it was ‘Scootering’ (monthly). So I laid them both out in front of me and perused them in tandem, hoping to be enlightened…
There were some similarities in the mags, both had health tips, fashion observations reader contributions and advice pages. The most obvious aspects, and thing I found disturbing, were the manner in which women’s magazines treated their own gender, and, (far lesser so) the machismo and daftness of the men’s mags.
If, in 100 million years, after ‘The Smog-Age’ or whatever we are heading for, these two magazines are unearthed by the species that succeeds us and they decipher the code of our language it would be fair for them to conclude that ‘Pre-Smog Women’ wanted to defeat each other and were deeply unhappy with themselves and each other, and that ‘Pre-Smog Men’ wanted to worship each other, and had very simple requirements.
The leading story of the ‘Pink Top’ was about how some rubber-titted, botox-pumped X-factor reject is ‘devastated’ by her cellulite, as it’s nearly time for the beach, alongside long lens photographs of her putting her bin bags out while wearing shorts, by way of verification. This situation is a ‘dilemma’ apparently. Then there’s another similarly flavoured story with interchangeable details on the following pages, this time with the addition of a boyfriend, over the page and there’s more of the same with the addition of kids, then more with the addition of something else, and on. They are not trying to inform the reader of anything progressive that the subjects may be working on, accented by incidental tribulations to add texture to the article, they only highlight the supposed problems and shortcomings in their lives, and bodies, and the misery of the relationships they are (or were) in with similarly vacuous men.
It appears that it is women chipping away at other women. One can only assume that the typical reader is an embittered voyeur, riddled with envy, wanting to see these women, supposedly more ‘successful’(?) than herself, being clawed over (what are perceived as) her imperfections. What happened to sisterhood? For a few coins at the newsagents you can excuse yourself from the responsibility of it.
The men’s mag is in stark contrast to that. Far simpler, full of footballers, Formula 1 drivers, comedians and actors, groomed, styled and preening in slick studio photos, bragging about their lives and deconstructing their achievement. Their lives are presented as something the reader should aspire to, idolise, and given the success of men’s mags, I can only presume this works. Never are the featured men’s insecurities or failures the currency. The pages are like a validation of boys clubs, produced using the trees that they may have wanted to climb all those years ago.
Between the winks and chest beating there are photos of young ladies with infeasibly perfect curvy bodies. They can only be the products of Photoshop, rather than evolution, they are objectified, perved over, embellished into a fantasy girlfriend, but remaining ‘street’ enough to be achievable.
The features in men’s mags seek to raise aspirations, sometimes in a superficial way (cars, surfboards, loafers), sometimes in a far more profound way (via boxing champions, big name chefs, mountain climbers). Never do they deride other men.
But it seems that the sole motivation of women’s mags is to tear strips off other women, belittle them, berate them, humiliate them, ridicule and kick them when they’re down. With no respect whatsoever. They want to illuminate women’s failures, squabbles and stress, and they want to reader to revel in it. In turn the readers solidarity is in anonymously and unanimously wishing unhappiness on people that they should be supporting. Sorry ladies, it’s a piss poor show.
Men’s mags are simply spotlighting the desires of the lowest common denominator of their gender, women’s mags to the bitchiest common denominator of theirs. Seems like a flimsy premise for a publication, and an industry, but they’re writing it, binding it, distributing it, and people are buying it, and these people must be numerous, as numerous as the printed volume at the very least. I, as a ‘Pre-Smog-Age Man’ am not exactly chuffed that we are being represented as aftershave-soaked-footy-obsessed-skirt-chasing-petrol-heads, but I suppose it does little harm. However, if I was a woman, I would have my head in my hands.
Robin lee wrote this while adding finishing touches to his new art exhibition. Take a look at www.Robinleeart.co.uk