Yesterday, I was wrapping things up at the office when one of my best friends gchatted me to say “This Is What A General Interest Magazine Looks Like,” and included a link to this picture:
Now, Sofia Vergara is an estimable, talented, and very funny woman. But it’s not just her presence on this cover in lingerie that suggests that this magazine isn’t for women. The facts in text around her are all about men: “10% of men don’t believe that oral sex counts as ‘sex’,” “52% of men have sex less than once a week,’ ’80% of men have never used Viagra,” “34% of men in a committed relationship have cheated,” “14% of married men say they have had sex with a guy,” and so on. All of them appear under the headline “What’s Normal Now”—the issue’s meant to be a kind of measuring stick against which men can metaphorically whip it out and measure it. But perhaps in a general interest sense, ladies, who, judging by the magazines aimed at us, are meant to be constantly boning up on our Sex Knowledge, are meant to swing by as well to have this arsenal of information at our disposal to go along with our Cosmopolitan-provided “50 Things Guys Wish You Knew” or “1000 True Sex Confessions.”
When I talked to Sid Holt, who runs the National Magazine Awards, a couple of weeks ago, I asked him about why there’s a women’s magazine category while men’s magazine are judged as general interest. He explained that “There clearly are men’s magazines, but the number of men’s magazine doesn’t justify having a separate category for men’s magazines…There was a perception, and it was a reality, that women’s magazines weren’t recognized. So we specifically created a category for women’s magazines to recognize women’s magazines…It was a specific problem, and there are women editors who liked it the other way. We were trying to address an issue in which magazines that competed for readers and for advertisers were competing against one another. It was a system that made sense from a magazine perspective and wasn’t entirely arbitrary.” That may be true, but it doesn’t prevent things like this from being funny and sad, and making the category breakdown look silly.
Meanwhile, people like the estimable Kevin Fallon have been pushed to write pieces with titles like “Can Guys Watch ‘Girls’?” A commenter on that piece huffed “Many would be insulted if women were told they can enjoy male comedies,” but it’s a question I got from readers who I think are entirely people of good will*. We live in a world that constantly reinforces that looking at Sofia Vergara’s breasts is a broadly engaging pastime but that men have nothing to learn from the women of Sex and the City‘s conversations about what men do to their bodies and how it feels. It’s not irrational, given that environment, to ask if shows or movies with female leads and about female problems is the exception to the rule that women are niche and men are general interest.
*More to come on this, but Girls is definitely not for everyone even though I love it, and I have thoughts on how it can be a lever for things that speak to other audiences.