When it comes to the reasons men’s magazines publish much more ambitious journalism than women’s, Ta-Nehisi suggests that it’s because the expectations of how to be a classy man or a classy lady differ:
The “gentleman” is expected to know about politics and the world, hence his “journal” would cover such matters. The cult of Ladyhood includes no such requirement, indeed in many cases it considers politics impolite. The result is that a Ladies Magazine would not be particularly likely to run a hard-hitting profile of, say, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman. It just isn’t very lady-like.
His outline of that dichotomy (which I think is more about gender roles than class, which he suggests) reminded me of this piece Jon Zobenica wrote for The Atlantic in 2007 about the aspirations he took away from Playboy:
The typical Playboy guy — arm candy, sports car, Canadian Club, pinkie ring — may or may not have been an exponent of marriage (I knew some who were), and certainly his getup wasn’t complete without a cool splash of patriarchalism, but it’s just as certain that girlfriend didn’t threaten him. So when, at nineteen, and living in my very first apartment, I cleared out half my medicine cabinet and half my closet, and gave them over to the California blonde who’d just moved in with me, it felt as true to the life I’d seen and imagined as my red Camaro and my Brutini Le Sport shoes. This was no capitulation; this was part and parcel of the dream. She and I would get dressed up (in ensembles no less silly in hindsight) and go to classy restaurants. Or we’d cook in and watch a movie, and drink wine and grown-up cocktails. We went to clubs on Sunset, hit the slopes in northern Arizona, caught a striptease act in the French Quarter with another couple, and spent a night among friends hot-tubbing and sipping daiquiris in the Santa Cruz Mountains after a day of crabbing near Half Moon Bay. This was, it seemed to me, exactly what Playboy had espoused: finding a nifty chick and sharing the good life with her. Not that it was all good, of course (the Advisor had prepared me for that, too). We had our fights, fretted about school and work, nursed each other with less and less sympathy through various hangovers, moved into separate places, lived together again, got furious, got bored, and after five-plus years and a long, cold decline, gave it up. At the age of twenty-five, I felt like I’d been divorced but never married.
There seems to be an emotional imbalance between men’s magazines and women’s magazines and how each tries to prepare its readers to satisfy the other’s readers. Is an Esquire man really looking for a Cosmopolitan woman — and vice versa? Sugar and spice and everything nice may be what little girls are made of, but nifty chicks seem to be allowed a good deal more complexity and sophistication.