Men’s magazines peddle in the same gendered stereotypes as your average issue of Cosmopolitan or Vogue
As editors and curators of a women’s magazine, it is a constant struggle to resist making gendered assumptions. We want to curate content, ideas and stories that will appeal to you- our target segment- but are also wary of making assumptions about what this segment wants. The women we know are multifaceted -interested in more than one thing, not all of which are covered in the glossy pages of a fashion magazine. Every time we publish a recipe or a shopping list we worry that we are falling into a “women’s magazine” trap, but ruling those topics out makes the assumption that “cooking” is somehow “lesser” than “driving” or “travel”- and isn’t that a sexist assumption in itself?
But of late, we have been noticing that more than ever, advertising and marketing targeted towards men is just as guilty of making these gendered assumptions as advertising towards women is. And while women’s Vogue and Cosmopolitan have started serving a healthy side-salad of feminist opinions to balance their greasy burger of beauty tips and unattainable fashion perfection, media targeted towards men has been slower to react.
Closer home, friends with children are far more comfortable having their daughters dress up as a fireman than having their sons wear a pink T shirt or play with dolls. And it is in these rigid roles for men that perhaps patriarchy has been most insidious.
Let’s take a look at the home pages of a few men’s magazines, shall we?
You know what men love most? Women in black bustier-adjacent dress with a slightly open mouths. GQ is guilty of having not one but two such stories on its home page- one which converts house favourite Nimrat Kaur into generic starlet (but cannot conceal her fire), and the other which looks for a classic Amy Dunne-ish cool girl through a slideshow called “15 Hot Girls who love tattoos”. Then, there are articles about bacon dishes (ironically in a column called “Live Well”), gambling holidays, manly men such as Frank Underwood and Mahesh Bhatt, fast cars (and jet skis), technology, and sunglasses.
There are other more interesting profiles- of the original Byomkesh Bakshi Rajat Kapoor and chef-restaurateur Gaggan Anand – but if we are to judge this publication by the same prism as we do women’s magazines, where are the business success stories, the scientists to emulate and the discourse on men’s evolving roles in a changing landscape?
And if we are to take the magazine on its face value as “India’s Leading Style and Fashion Magazine”, then where are the more believable male bodies (there is a pre-ponderance of female bodies, and not enough male bodies to begin with) that men can aspire to emulate?
This digital magazine (earlier called Guy Life) from the Times of India group has more exalted aims than GQ. It attempts to be a community for the modern Indian man “exploring manhood in a unique way that no other Indian publication ever has”. And going by today’s front page, that modern Indian man is not dissimilar to your average Pinkvilla reader. He is interested in “bold photos”, “wardrobe malfunctions”, “Arnab Goswami jokes”, women’s mysterious flirty ways, and silly viral videos. But perhaps the article we take most exception to is the one called “8 Reasons Why Delhi Boys Make The Best Boyfriends”. This better be an April Fools’ Joke.
If GQ is for the men who can afford their own jet skis, MensXP is for younger more impressionable one still coming to terms with their masculinity. There is an occasional interesting piece there (there are also many more women’s writers than you will find men in a women’s magazine’s byline), but the whole front page is really too cluttered to appeal to anyone but the extremely attention deficit (so- everyone below twenty five, then).
If the GQ woman wears a black bustier, the FHM readers seem to prefer their women in a white men’s shirt, over (optional) black lingerie. There are at least four such women on the front page – ranging from starlets to “girls next door” to old favourites like Carmen Electra. Everything else on the page is about cars with one sudden (and surprising) detour into “8 American Books Every Man Should Read” (conspicuously, not one LGBT classic here, whether from Truman Capote or James Baldwin). The only man on the front page is Ranveer Singh- who is also FHM’s Man of the Year- and who we like a little bit less after reading this interview and learning that he likes Ari Gold.
Look, publishing is difficult. Everyone starts out planning to change the world with clever journalism and then eventually alternates between outrage, viral videos and an occasional pretty face. But it is important to recognise that sexism cuts two ways- men too are victims of a media perpetuated image of manliness, just in different ways from women. Fathers who choose to stay home for their daughter’s piano recital are met with disdain in the same way that mothers who choose to stay at work and miss the recital. And men, too, struggle for role models and discussions about modern male hood as it evolves from a Neanderthal ideal.
And it is this image of an ideal manliness which is often responsible for violence against women, against people with non-heteronormative sexual preferences and against men’s own ability to achieve their full potential.
Until men realise that it is ok to not conform to a “male ideal”, they will continue to expect women to conform to traditional femininity.