We all know someone who’s attractive and cool and maybe a little
bit arrogant, but something about their sense of humour, or their smile, makes
you like them anyway. They’re sexy and they know it, but somehow they manage to
make you feel pretty good too. Sure, you hate most of their other friends. And
sure, you have a feeling that they might not always behave the way you’d hope.
You won’t call them when you’re feeling shit and just want to cry and eat
curry, but you always have a good time when you hang out – or, y'know, so you thought.
Esquire magazine, you are that person in my magazine
universe. And as may often happen with that magical object of one's affections who seemed for one brief moment to be
both seriously hot and, miraculously, not
a dick, I’m suddenly beginning to wonder what I ever saw in you.
There was a time when I really thought that you were
different. You used to be my third choice WH Smith purchase at transport
terminals. And I am a girl who wouldn’t buy the likes of Cosmopolitan or
Glamour if they paid me.
We first met several years ago now, through my boyfriend. At
first I liked you for purely shallow reasons. Your layouts are still some of
the best I’ve seen and I rarely disagree with your fashion choices. You
recommended several recipes that I’ve still got, folded up in that recipe
notebook I’m always meaning to actually use.
And as time went on, I started to see something more. Your culture
section was sensitively compiled and interesting, and your cover interviews
were well paced and compelling. You didn’t shy away from using the word
‘feminism’ but your use never seemed derogatory back then, and there remains an
appealing self-consciousness in the way you hint at an awareness of the
misogyny that stalks our society. I’ll never forget the time you published
Giles Coren’s beautiful letter to his newborn daughter, which made me cry. Not
you wrote this, and I chuckled at almost every line. You
don’t always get your humour on pitch (everyone, but in particular the weird
uncle that we also all have, has made the borderline racist joke about
mentioning jihad at the airport) but hey, who does?
OK, so you’re friends with AA Gill, but even
he says feminism is the best thing to have happened for men in the last fifty
years, because wouldn’t it be crap going to the pub without women, and I
kind of wondered whether that might be your influence. And yes, you do have a
nearly-naked lady discreetly tucked in somewhere near your middle page, which
always takes me a bit by surprise. I didn’t want to ask you about it. I thought
you’d be embarrassed, blush a bit, and make some comment about how you expect
you’ll grow out of that kind of thing eventually but in the mean time, isn’t
she beautiful, and in fact, aren’t all women absolutely wonderful, and
beautiful, and thank god for feminism so we can go to the pub and talk to women
we like, and read Esquire unashamedly on the tube on the way home and look at
the bodies of women we’d like to think we’d like to know (if we actually met
them, we’d freak out, but that's cool).
But then, what always happens happened. We spent too much
time together. It all started when I followed you on Twitter, and began
catching your incredibly gender normative lists about what ‘men’ should, as
men, have and do (and have to do.) I must have skipped over those bits in print. Why the hell
shouldn’t a man wear a shower cap if he bloody well wants?
Maybe you don’t understand feminism after all.
The final straw, though, was an article about soap actor Helen
Flanagan’s breasts. Apparently, Flanagan recently appeared
on page three of The Sun and said that she was really happy to show the world her breasts
because she thinks they are ‘the best in the world’. The headline of your article
was ’22 reasons Helen Flanagan might be wrong’. I clicked on it, thinking – oh,
hindsight - that it might genuinely engage with the whole debate surrounding
page three, men’s magazines, and female nudity in print.
But, no. The 22 reasons were 22 separate breasts (belonging,
since you ask, to eleven famous women) that might rival Helen Flanagan’s.
Complete with pictures.
If you think that I can’t see the joke, you’re wrong. I can
see that you’re trying to be funny, in that painful way that anybody can about a person whose finger had ceased to be on the pulse. Esquire, your irony is ironically terrible. You've done the full somersault, and landed in a place where I never
wanted to see you - though perhaps you were there all along.
I understand the joke perfectly. I’ve been the woman
laughing thinly in the pub with you when you’ve made that joke a hundred times
before. I recognise you now. I understand that AA Gill is celebrating being
able to go to the pub with women in a world where feminism is accepted entirely
on his terms, while you and he reserve the right to treat female body parts
like weird de-individualised appendages floating around in the world purely to
tease and to please you.
I am not a floating pair of breasts that are reasons to dislike my own body. And I'm not a floating vagina, either.
So I don’t think we can be friends after all.