While knowing your audience is fundamental to success in publishing, the concept of gendered content, as itâs framed by leading titles like Esquire and Elle, seems wildly out of touch with the zeitgeist of liberal media.Â What makes one article âmaleâ and another âfemaleâ?Â Is it a matter of tone, presentation or subject matter?
The problem with gendered content is that it often reinforces some of the laziest and most outdated tropes in our society, presenting us with endorsements of toxic masculinity and stereotypes induced by the patriarchy.
At least this makes it fairly easy to identify which verticals go where, as weâve been conditioned to accept them from birth.
Men get cars, watches, sports and rippling abs.Â Women get hair, gossip, lipstick and weight loss.Â Both get fashion in varying degrees, usually in a subsidiary manner for men because sartorial prowess is still presented as a primarily feminine pursuit âÂ an entirely different issue in and of itself.
If you want to understand societyâs most hackneyed views on gender, all it takes is a quick trip to your nearest newsagent.Â There, you will see how conventionally âfeminineâ and âmasculineâ womenâs and menâs magazines are, even just from a purely aesthetic point of view.Â Pinks, reds and yellows dominate the covers of womenâs mags in a hyperbolic display of flowery femininity.Â Meanwhile, darker shades adorn the menâs titles, which feature bolder and harsher fonts to assert supremacy by way of a more aggressive and testosterone-spiked design.
It sounds absurd because it is. The menâs covers are also almost always fronted by men too, just in case you missed a trick, with the exception of sporadic female cover stars wearing little to no clothing, presenting them as sex symbols in a bid to exploit female sexuality and sell copies.
Thatâs the other thing about menâs publications, even without the now-defunct âlads magsâ like FHM and Zoo, glossy titles sitting on the upper echelons of publishing remain steeped in heteronormative ideals.Â For example, many have âwomenâ tabs on their websites âÂ for GQ, this section was named âgirlsâ until recently.Â
However, the content that these titles produce is far more modern and subversive than such sexist framework would imply.Â Take a deep dive into Esquire and GQâs respective âwomenâ sectionsÂ and youâll find a myriad of intelligent and well-written articles on consent, #MeToo and sexual identity, the prevailing tone being one of empowerment rather than a reinstatement of patriarchal ideals.
Clearly, these publications are making efforts to push against the frontiers theyâve been adhering to for so longÂ âÂ a prime example is British GQâs latest cover featuring Lewis Hamilton wearing a skirt, a savvy PR move from the F1 championâs team after he was lambasted for sexist remarks regarding his nephew.Â Equally, todayâs most successful womenâs publications are platforming issues relating to both sexes, despite what theirÂ stereotypical contextÂ mayÂ suggest.Â So, if the content is good and could be enjoyed by men, women and unicorns alike, why frame it in cloistered terms?
The primary issue with gendered print magazines specificallyÂ is that it does publishers a disservice by excluding readers âÂ an obvious problem amidÂ rapid circulation decline.Â Not only does the idea of a menâs publication inherently imply that it is not for women âÂ a draconian concept in itself akin to aÂ YorkieÂ campaign âÂ and vice versa, but it obviouslyÂ also isolates those who identify as gender fluid, non-binary and intersex.
Yes, people want to read about topics they can identify with, but to suggest that these parameters are predisposed by our genitalia rather than our basic interests is practically Orwellian.
Besides, how can one suggest that spheres of interest like politics, culture and social commentary are gender-assigned? Imagine if this was the case for newspapers âÂ though some would argue that this is what The Daily Mail has been doing for years.
Could it be that success in a fragile media landscapeÂ is as much aboutÂ diversifying platforms as it is about diversifying audience?Â This is something publishers mightâve already cottoned on to with the advent of Them, which presents news and lifestyle contentÂ through an LGBT+Â lensÂ under the mainstream framework of a CondĂ© Nast publication.
In the modern world, our jobs, voting rights and societal roles are no longer dictated by our gender, so there is no reason why are reading materials should beÂ divided so starkly across gender lines.