At a moment when there’s a serious debate about the representation of women in the pages of major American publication, and serious efforts to spotlight the great work women journalists are already doing, there’s something…disconcerting about Edith Zimmerman’s profile of Chris Evans that’s on the cover of the latest GQ. It’s not so much this profile, which is really not so much a profile as a chronicle of hanging out with an action star, that read as odd to me. It’s that Zimmerman’s piece comes on the heels of the March issue, in which GQ published Jessica Pressler’s account of spending the night with Channing Tatum, a couple of Snuggies, and a bottle of tequila. For GQ, sending out a female reporter to get tipsy and a little frisky with an otherwise indistinguishable slab of beef appears to be their stab at creating a novel and enduring journalistic form, akin to the New Yorker’s revealing anecdote, followed by a statement of a larger problem, followed by an origin story. At this rate, I’ll be making it rain in strip clubs with Ryan Reynolds by November.
If GQ wants to get more women’s voices in the magazine, that’s a great thing, and I really hope they keep doing it! But the point of Ann Friedman’s work on Lady Journos, and of running the numbers on what magazines actually publish by women is not to convince magazines to run “girly” stories, or to get one woman in the door one time. If the relevant information the profile is supposed to deliver is anything other than Lady Writer Potentially Slept With Hottie, there are other ways to obtain that information, and other ways to frame the story — the revelation that Famous Dudes Drink is the equivalent of the newsflash that Famous Ladies Eat Truffle Fries. And women can do that reporting, and that framing. I’m pretty sure that Mac McClelland could go out, get glassed with Sean Bean, and find some way to use her experiences as a reporter in Burma to get him to tell her cool stuff about Game of Thrones.
I don’t know what the solution is here. If the way only way for women to published in certain kinds of magazines is to take these kinds of cheesecake assignments, should we say yes, and dunk them and then insist on better for the next thing in the hopes that there will be a next thing? If you’re a GQ editor trying to get more women in your magazine, and you feel like the only way you can sell that goal to your higher-ups, is it worth it?