Who treats women more realistically?

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Back off girlfriends, there's a new bastion of women's empowerment in town. Behold the UK edition of Esquire magazine.

As part of a panel discussion at the Advertising Europe Conference last week, Esquire's UK editor Alex Bilmes told the assembled crowd that when it came to its representation of women, the title was "more ethnically diverse, more shape diverse" than its female counterparts.

And his efforts to ingratiate himself with the sisterhood didn't end there. "In fashion magazines women are much thinner," Bilmes continued. "We have older women, not really old, in their 40s."

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His case in point? Cameron Diaz who, at the "is-she-still-alive?" age of 40, adorned the November 2012 edition  legs spread and wearing her undies and suspenders.

Bilmes then told the assembled crowd that Esquire provides pictures of girls in the same way "they provide pictures of cool cars. It is ornamental. Women's magazines do the same thing."

That sound you hear is the echo of thousands of jaws dropping in unison. Of course we all know this is the underlying principle of all men's magazines, it's just that no one has ever been brave enough - nay stupid enough - to say it out loud before.

Even after potentially realising the hell he may have unleashed by comparing women and cars as if they are interchangeable, Bilmes didn't stop talking. In fact, he tried to play the "authentic' card telling the gathered crowd, "I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified."

So that's all right then. He's being honest and "just saying" and all, so that absolves him from being a sexist pig.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh to Bilmes? In a clarifying statement published on Esquire's website he rationalises reducing a woman's worth to that of a transportation vehicle by insisting that Esquire objectifies men too.

Aside from the small point that perhaps we should all try not to objectify anyone, Bilmes is still on shaky ground when you consider that Esquire's male "cool cars" haven't got their bonnets up and aren't showing off their gearboxes.

I'm not suggesting that women's magazines are any better. In some respects they're worse.

Not only do they portray an artificial and homogenous standard of beauty - and, by implication, worth - women's magazines systematically crush our self-esteem and induce intolerable insecurity by telling us that this standard of beauty is natural, healthy and, worst of all, attainable.

Neither mainstream men's or women's magazines offer a very diverse representation of body shape, ethnicity or age. And both are equally fixated with objectifying both women and men. Probably easiest not to ponder for too long over which one does more damage and just do yourself a favour and give them both a miss.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

37 comments

  • Both men's and women's magazines have the same issue: idealization and homogenization of women. But I think that it's not the magazine's fault - they are following a formula that is clearly working well for them. Why is this commodification of feminity so acceptable? Why are women lining up to participate either as models or as consumers? Why are men still OK with objectifying women in this manner? Is looking at their pretty bits really that much of a draw? Clearly it is.

    Until the public at large decides that they don't want to participate at any level then it won't change.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    March 26, 2013, 8:41AM
    • Men also have the same issues. Those magazines (both mens and women) there are always nicely chiseled, handsome, nicely dressing men etc etc. I am balding, overweight with a less-than-perfect self image and if i would believe all magazines and what the media shows me, no women could ever be interested in me. Thankfully i am too smart and thick-skinned to know in truth that isnt real. Women aren't alone in what you state.

      womens magazines are full of pictures Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Robert, William etc etc who are being objectified by women. So why is the reverse of that situation any different?

      Commenter
      blakeavon
      Date and time
      March 26, 2013, 10:35AM
    • I think the problem is that men’s magazines focus on what men consider attractive in a woman and women’s magazines focus on what they consider to be attractive in a woman and physical appearance is a major factor in both. The poor woman growing up in society, no wonder there is so much teenage anxiety. The typical feminist response has been to push back against these perceptions of beauty and against objectification. Lacking has been any voice directed at men. There is very little in the way of what is attractive in a man. It doesn't have to stop at physical appearance, they could focus on character. Perhaps if there was a popular women’s magazine that focused its attention on men, men might take notice. What if there was a voice that called men who want to sleep around without commitment cowards for avoiding responsibility. Or one that questioned a man’s character for being unaccepting picky as a reflection of his own insecurities. What if men who objectify women were seen as shallow and boring, unable to hold an intelligent conversation and hence unworthy of a woman’s attention? I think if this was a focus for women’s magazines it would have the added advantage of demonstrating that women are more than objects for men’s enjoyment but are capable of having an opinion of their own about what is attractive and desirable. As it stands men’s magazines give us the top 10 things to look for (/at) in a woman and women’s magazines give us the top ten tips on how to achieve what men desire (diet tips, sex tips makeup tips).

      Commenter
      Aaran
      Location
      Townsville
      Date and time
      March 26, 2013, 3:02PM
    • @blakeavon - You're absolutely right. And I don't think it's any better to objectify men than it is to objectify women. Which is one of the reasons I don't subscribe to or read any of those magazines. I prefer a good book, thanks.

      Commenter
      TK
      Date and time
      March 27, 2013, 1:32AM
  • We women will always be judged by appearance first and intelligence second. And it will always be the way till we stop doing it to ourselves. How can we expect men to do this if we won't?

    Commenter
    Dhammachick
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 26, 2013, 8:43AM
    • I would rather flick through a men's magazine than a women's magazine any day, not that I read either all that often. Men's magazines, in my experience, have photos of women and state that this is attractive. Women's mags constantly go on about the things a woman -must- do and things they -must- buy to be attractive. Thankfully in my case, both my husband and I feel that as far as magazines go, there is nothing more attractive than a debate about an article in Time or National Geographic.

      Commenter
      ST
      Date and time
      March 26, 2013, 9:44AM
      • totally agree!

        Commenter
        deni
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        March 26, 2013, 11:34AM
    • Dear oh dear. I don't know where to start with this article. Mens magazines are FOR MEN. The fact the Esquire editor said out loud something everyone already knew anyway is so shocking to you? By the way, the cars in the mags do also have their bonnets up. Quite often actually.

      Commenter
      Hamish
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      March 26, 2013, 9:46AM
      • +1 to this Hamish.

        So are we now trying to say that men shouldn't be allowed to enjoy pictures of attractive women?

        Commenter
        SK_
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        March 26, 2013, 10:28AM
      • If admiring pictures of pretty women is considered sexist then I must be the biggest sexist pig in existance. But you know what? I am comfortable in my sexism & don't give a you know what for what other people think. Peace man/woman.

        Commenter
        Mike basil
        Location
        hobart
        Date and time
        April 16, 2013, 2:16PM

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