I have a long and complicated history with women’s magazines. I had a pretty big commitment to Glamour, although Cosmo was my long-term bit on the side. I’ve flirted with Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I had a fling with Elle. Marie Claire and I are still casually dating (we’re taking it slow). Yep, when it comes to women’s mags, I’ve been around them all. Since my tender adolescent years, they have nurtured my innocent mind and attempted to teach me how to successfully work the pyjama trend, how squatting like Tracy Anderson can make me more fanciable, and how I can have multiple mind-blowing orgasms in a wheelbarrow. The fact that I have achieved none of the above surely does nothing to undermine their credibility.
So what about the other end of the proverbial pond? What do today’s fun, fearless men like to peruse when they fancy some light reading? It was with great curiosity that I picked up the Gentlemen’s Quarterly - also known as GQ - to get me through a plane journey.
I’ve got to admit, I was nervous. The only real exposure I’d had to men’s magazines in the past were the rogue copies of Nuts strewn around the bathroom by my male housemates, filled with sexy laydeez and classic headlines such as ‘This man got his dick bitten off by a lizard, LOL!’ I did have hope that the Gentlemen’s Quarterly would contain slightly more high-brow copy than the weeklies kept by the bog, but if Facebook banter and campaigns such as Everyday Sexism have taught us anything, it is that the average man and the average feminist might not see eye-to-eye all the time.
The cover did nothing to alleviate me of this fear: GQ covers tend to feature well-groomed celebrity men smirking at their readers in Armani suits, but when a woman is involved, clothes are just way over budget or something. The most memorable example of this was artfully presented in their 15th annual Men of the Year covers, with all kinds of smart, fully-clothed men posing alongside their female equivalent: the Woman of the Year, a stark naked Lana Del Rey. Rita Ora actually covered her breasts as she gazed at the camera for this month’s GQ, but the inequality still oozes off the page. I can only (hopefully) assume that if Cosmo or the like stuck a man on their front cover, he wouldn’t be wearing much more.
So what about the magazine itself? Well, it isn’t long before GQ gets its sleaze on. The mag interviewed the delectable Simon Pegg (oh go on, he is pretty dishy. No? Just me?), but the accompanying image does not do his sex appeal justice. The premise is simple – as a self-confessed nerd-done-well, topless sexy ladies (yes, more of them!) make the Peggster uncomfortable.
I get what they’re going for. It’s endearing; a lot of blokes can relate to being uncomfortable in the presence of a beautiful woman who ignores them whilst they sweat so much they look like walking Lynx adverts. Yet something about the execution feels just a tiny bit wrong. Is it the fact a suited, accomplished, older man is standing next to a semi-naked young woman, when we’ve already established that because of this approach, NO-ONE wants to hug Robin Thicke or do anything that rhymes with it? Is it the fact the model has a vacant, goggly expression that renders her closer to an inflatable doll than an ordinary, attractive woman who’s about to put Pegg through his paces? Or is it the fact Pegg is actually grabbing his crotch and shooting the camera an expression that implies he has to physically restrain himself before he has a chance to sneak away and masturbate like a teenager? Either way, I’m uncomfortable. I have nothing against the model, and god knows I’m all about the Peggster, but I feel a little bit grubby reading it in public, as if my fellow female passengers might eject me off the plane mid-flight in the name of womankind.
Onwards and upwards. The next page looks at who’s in line for Conservative leadership should the PM lose the job in 2015. This is interesting. This is good. This kind of political chat continues throughout the magazine, and as someone relatively uninterested in politics, the humorous approach is both comforting and informative. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty jealous of the gentlemen of GQ who get this kind of discussion when the pages of our own topical magazines are scattered with the likes of which fluorescent Chanel bag is THE bag of the season, or which One Directioner would look better bald - FYI, it's Liam (one of our Twitter followers recently mentioned that she took Cosmo home thinking that it was chockablock with recommended reading material under the headline '30 Books You Must Have!', before getting back and realising heavy-heartedly that it actually said 'Boots' - Ed.)
Anyway. Soon the first big article of the magazine comes along, a beefy feature that concerns moneymaking. Michael Wolff points out that men have an insatiable appetite for making money, and hell, GQ is going to write about it. At first glance, it seems the feature might teach men the ways to make money so they too can curl up on piles of gold like Smaug (or Peter Jackson, for that matter), but Wolff actually identifies super-rich tycoons as a separate entity to the GQ reader, his tone somewhere between admiring and condemning. Still, the point remains – men like to read about making money. Men like to feel, as Wolff points out in his first paragraph, that they can make big money, too. Women also feel this way, but when we see similar pieces in women’s magazines, they tend to focus on smaller business owners specifically in the women’s sphere, running nail varnish companies or cupcake brands, not looking to become the world’s big power-players because, well, that's man stuff. Those types of companies do have their own respectable markets, but this piece is appearing alongside Glamour’s claim that the highest-paid job for a woman, as a Chief Executive, can only earn you a little over £63k. A beautiful amount of money (compared to my £18k job, at least) but come on. CHIEF EXECUTIVE. £63K. I can only assume this is the money you’d have left after spending your entire salary on £5,000 handbags designed to look like fruit.
Evidently, the ability to pull in six-figure salaries is still a man’s role and a man’s goal. It’s interesting to note that later in the magazine, when GQ gushes about a personal trainer, they identify that his clients are ‘transatlantic CEOs’. Men: if you can’t be one, you might as well work out like one. Business leaders and moneymakers are glorified as role models, which certainly differs from the cookie-cutter skinny women with fit boyfriends we are told to aspire to in our own glossy pages. This divide is worrisome. Does this type of media, in fact, contribute to the imbalance between the sexes when it comes to career ambitions? Are men conditioned to see success as power and riches, whilst women are told over and over to aim for thin legs and designer togs?
Soon we reach the piece we ladies are well used to ogling in our glossies – the sex feature. What are GQ’s men being taught? How to conquer S&M? The pros and cons of investing in strange-looking love balls? Or even (spotted in this month’s Glamour) how many brain-paralysing fantastic orgasms one anonymous reader had the other day (the jammy bitch)? Nope, GQ blokes are being taught how to pleasure their partners when said partner has got a bun in the oven. So far… so normal. I can’t comment on the techniques when I’ve never had preggers sex myself, but with no whips or wheelbarrows in sight, it looks promising. I don’t have anything against whips or wheelbarrows, I might add - indeed, both can be extremely useful in certain situations - but it’s nice not to feel like an alien because I’m not having the same three-wheeler-based orgasms as everyone else, even if I have to get that satisfaction from a men’s magazine.
Aaaand we eventually come to the cover article, an in-depth interview with Rita Ora. GQ seems to take what I call The Times approach: rather than sitting their celebrity of the month in a room and letting them drone on about their new baby range, enlarging bland quotes such as ‘I believe all women should be equal’ (seriously, ladies’ mags, we’re one step away from ‘I want world peace’ here), GQ sends its journalist on a night out with Rita and lets him report the findings. It’s a fly-on-the-wall style that feels authentic and not at all like a publicist is keeping their hands poised around the writer’s neck while he sweats over his keyboard, but I can’t be sure. Either way, it’s a much more dynamic read than what I expect from a celebrity interview, and in a world where celebrities practically do their own carefully-edited interviews on Twitter, it seems like GQ is on the right track.
So what have we learned today, kiddos? Overall, GQ was not the misogynist experience I shamefully admit I expected it to be. There was little mention of women, let alone condescending remarks, and I get the impression it treats its readers like intelligent human beings – which is totes amaze. When I bought it I was already rolling it into a ball preparing to bash it on the head of the hypothetical patriarchal ruler (or possibly some other nearby creepy crawly), but in reality, all it did was make me despair at what women have on our shelves in comparison.
There are some real gems on those shelves, and GQ is by no means perfect (I refer you back to Exhibit A: the fully naked Lana del Rey beside her tuxedo-wearing masters), but it’s fascinating to see what the other half are reading from their end of that glass divide. It would be encouraging if women’s journos had a flick through themselves and saw what they could draw from it. Because when both men and women have well-rounded publications with articles about business, politics, culture, and fashion, it will be a happy day indeed. No bald One Directioners in sight.