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Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
John Berger

I’ll start with the obvious point: when you see what are dubbed Mens’ Magazines, they are predominantly full of naked or partially naked women. Great giants of the publishing niche such as FHM, Maxim, Playboy and Hustler, even if we’ve not all seen a copy, we know what they’re about. The polite way of expressing it is eye candy. They display an artificially polished beauty,  photoshopped, which we call sex appeal and pretend it’s not the the standard of beauty of our times; we’re too hip and trendy to use old fuddy duddy words like beauty.

On the other hand, we have those magazines that no guy would be caught dead reading. Names such as  Vogue, Cosmopolitan or ELLE. Women’s magazines. And yet the few times I’ve flicked through them, I’m brave enough to admit it, what I’ve noticed is that they’re almost entirely like mens’ magazines. They are full of pictures of naked or partially naked women. Oh sure you’re thinking, dirty perverted, man (man used here as a pejorative), just remembering the parts that caught his eye. But take a good look at Vogue and Maxim side by side, and you’ll notice that a similar page count is dedicated to the same thing: Naked women. Almost no space is given to naked men in either magazine. The few that are grudgingly there are either underwear model (back pages, black and white, or tucked inside the front cover where you won’t see them on the way to the main feature) or runway models that are substantially clothed.

It is this similarity that brings me to a pause. Why should magazines aimed at two disparate targets as men and women come to such similar layout choices? It’s like there’s a consensus that men are ugly, not aesthetically pleasing at all. The shape’s all wrong, they have all sorts of odd lumps and bulges, and well they’re just not very good to look at. So we’re going to stock up our pages with pictures of women. It simply might be that while men want to see the hottie, women might prefer to see the competition. Or it might be a reflection of the suggestion I recall reading in the IHT, but can’t find a link to now, that while men get turned on by the their partners bodies, women are actually more sexually responsive when they think they are looking good. And so to know what good is, what the standard is at the moment, a women’s magazine performs the signaling function of informing on the societal standard of beauty.

Oh sure there’s a lot more text and the text is not so gender biased. It moves with the audience, so that the text in a women’s magazine is about getting to grips with men and the text in men’s magazines are more on the yes she’s crazy, but look at Random Pretty Girl to distract yourself. Okay so the men’s magazines aren’t really about the text. Even I couldn’t pretend to defend the position that we read Playboy for the articles.

Me being a bit of a simpleton, sometimes all I notice are the pictures, and it seems odd to me that given what we’re told about men and women – that men are very visual and women are very emotional, that there is this strong component of the visual in female magazines, and that visual component isn’t what we would think it should be given that the vast majority of the population is heterosexual. I’d love to know if there is any research done that could explain this, but so far I haven’t found any.

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3 Comments

  1. Funny. My impression of women’s magazines is that they are full of make-up ads.

    • Caitlin
    • Posted May 23, 2007 at 4:57 am
    • Permalink

    Here’s my answer:

    First, here’s my perspective. I’m a lipstick lesbian. I love beautiful, feminine women. I am a pretty, feminine-looking woman myself. Why? Because I find men aesthetically ugly, although I love having them as friends. My bet is, most straight women find men ugly too. This is one reason that “women’s magazines” (I prefer to call them ‘straight women’s magazines’ because no lesbian could care less about 99% of the crap in there–almost all of the fashion stuff is pretty cheesy too) has women on the cover instead of men. The other reason that they put women on the cover is related to the second topic of the magazines (the first being how to land a man, how to fool a man, how to get a man to like you, etc. etc.). The second topic of the magazine is: “You’re ugly and covermodel Annie Rexic is pretty. Buy this magazine so you can learn to look like Annie Rexic, because if you don’t, no MAN is going to like you!!!!” And, as we all know, lad magazines do not propose that if a man doesn’t have a girlfriend, he’s worthless. Quite the contrary, he can buy one of the gadgets on page 45, or snowboard the mountain on page 58, or buy the cd on page 112, or call the prostitute in the classified ads, because he’d rather hang out with his buddies anyway than have a girlfriend. So Annie Rexic is on the cover next to a tag line, “Lose 20 pounds in two days” and “Look hot this summer with new makeup tips!” Basically, “Here’s physical perfection. Buy this magazine and learn to look like her”.

    The final issue that I haven’t answered: Why are straight women heterosexual if they find men ugly? The answer is clear: Because, like the magazines, their mothers, female classmates, and the media has taught them from birth that their primary goal in life is to get married and have children, and that sex is something that’s for men’s enjoyment and for women to use as a bartering technique with men. Lesbians resist this because we have a strong physical attraction to women the way straight men do. Therefore, we could care less about pleasing men. Therefore, we don’t buy these magazines and instead develop our own interests and hobbies other than starving ourselves and getting manicures. If we choose to look feminine and sexy, we do so for other women who are choosing to look good for us too. But looking a certain way is not our only interest the way it is for straight girls. If straight girls really found men sexy, and if they had interests other than obsessing over their looks and getting men, then “(straight) women’s magazines” would have the wide-ranging content of lad mags and the type of cover of gay men’s magazines (good looking scantily clad men).

    In summation:
    1. Men’s magazines have women on the cover because straight men find women sexy. They have articles on various sports, music, and gadgets because men find these interesting.
    2. Straight women’s magazines have women on the cover to get women to feel anxious about their looks and buy the magazines so they can improve their looks. If they don’t, the magazines imply, they won’t “get a man”, and the magazine offers tips for that too. There are no articles other than those on face-painting and dieting and fashion, because those are assumed to be women’s only interests. They are women’s only interests because the end result of them is ‘look good to get a guy’.
    3. They do not have good looking men on the cover because straight women are not sexually attracted to men or into sex period. They use sex to get a man’s kids, to get his money, to trick him into feeling like a real stud by faking orgasm. Like most lesbians and most straight guys, they know objectively when a guy is good looking/hot and when a guy is a balding, fat, hairy, big nosed ugly pud. But give them a choice between the ugly guy who has tons of money, marries them and gives them kids instantly, and doesn’t bother them for sex OR having a whirlwind romance and lots of sex with, say, a not so rich, very sexual, child-hating, Jude Law or Jonathan Rhys-Meyers lookalike who demands that they participate equally in the relationship in the financial and conversational sense, they would choose the former anyday. In short, I have never found a straight female who wasn’t pathetic. Some straight guys like this. Others (like my best friend) hates girls like this. He dates only bisexual girls, the up-side being that they have a personality, a sex drive, and he gets to have threesomes.

    • mtalib
    • Posted May 24, 2007 at 10:33 am
    • Permalink

    Well made points from an interesting perspective.

    I hadn’t considered it from any other perspective then heterosexual men and women, but its clear now that non-straight people have a very different perspective on this.

    I’d love to read the perspective of a definitely straight woman. Especially if they actually find guys either interesting too look at or physically attractive. I suspect that there must be some physical attraction, because its total absence would be incredibly counter intuitive.

    Also I can’t understand how women can be so interested in attracting a guy then be equally uninterested in them in terms of physical appearance. It either makes them incredibly mercenary or incredibly insecure. Neither or which would sound to their credit, so I hope there is a more nuanced middle way that I’m missing.


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