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Why would anyone read a magazine written and edited by men to learn about women?

But the longer they can keep young men and women swimming in their insecurities, the more product they'll sell.

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Under the Covers            June 7, 2000

Turning the page on men's and women's magazines

by Scott Kirkwood


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From high atop plush office buildings in New York City, a handful of powerful people are hard at work keeping millions of men and women from experiencing the wonders of a mature relationship. They are magazine editors whose propaganda is sold under well-known titles like Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, GQ, and Esquire. And there's a reason why these magazines look so comfortable poised next to the National Enquirer and Weekly World News. Like their less respectable neighbors in the check-out lane, their covers make pledges that their contents can't keep. Each issue promises to bestow women with 'allure' and 'glamour,' while helping turn men into perfect 'gentlemen.' But their editors have no intention of helping any of us, and every intention of returning readers to the fearful, self-conscious adolescence we thought we'd left behind years ago.

Thanks to glossy covers with plenty of cleavage and eye-popping headlines like 'How to Make Him Propose,' 'Sure-Fire Ways to Seduce Her' and 'Top 5 Things Never to Do Before a Big Date,' it's easy to pick out these publications from the hundreds of other magazines available at your local bookstore or newsstand. But while more sedate glossies such as Golfing and Travel & Leisure aim to help readers become better golfers or more savvy travelers, it would be quite a stretch to say that men's and women's magazines aim to make their readers better men and women. Indeed, by keeping readers focused on the superficial - the makeovers, the fashion spreads, and the ridiculous diets - publishers direct everyone to their partners in crime: the advertisers whose messages fill every other page.

It's hard enough to believe that a rational person might subscribe to the advice contained in these magazines, and harder still to believe that anyone subscribes to the magazines themselves. After all, Cosmopolitan has been printing the same twelve articles for ages. The only things that change are the cover models and their clothes - and even those are recycled as fashions become stylish again. Every article leads to the same predictable conclusion: If you want to find a man, you've got to measure up to a certain standard - and he's got to meet an equally arbitrary standard. Fortunately, you can attract men by changing your hair and makeup, and you can determine if you've attracted the right one by completing a simple quiz: How often does he call his mother? How many pairs of shoes does he own? Does he prefer prime rib or hamburger?

Given the magazines' incredible ability to reveal the traits of desirable bachelors, I've often thought that men would do much better to subscribe to Mademoiselle and let their subscriptions to Details lapse. Why would anyone read a magazine written and edited by men to learn about women? If you're on a pathetic quest to 'get more babes,' just find the latest Cosmo article entitled 'Is He Mr. Right?' and do what it takes to meet that description - you'll soon have three million readers convinced you're the second coming of Don Juan. It's the football equivalent of reading the opponent's playbook - or to use a more apt baseball analogy, it's like stealing the other team's signals to get to second base.

Unfortunately, women won't be able to learn as much from men's magazines because, judging from the articles, most contributors spend less time talking to actual women and more time playing video games and ranking the top ten Jim Carrey films of all time. Most men's magazines offer little advice to help struggling Romeos, choosing to offer plenty of eye candy as motivation instead of instruction.

Not only do these publications fail to help men and women enter into successful relationships, they actually contribute to the opposite outcome. With lists of 'Ten Tried and True Pick-Up Lines,' men are constantly encouraged to mount the next conquest. Meanwhile articles like 'Do You Pull Him in or Push Him Away?' encourage women to bend over backwards to hold on to whatever guy they've already got. The one makes men more bold and shameless, while the other makes women more self-conscious and worrisome. When the genders get forced into opposite corners, it's no wonder they come out fighting. Fortunately, articles like 'Ten Ways to End a Lover's Tiff,' offer ageless wisdom for those in need of assistance.

In the end, these magazines sell millions of copies a month and earn tremendous profits convincing women that if they can just find the right nail polish or the right shampoo, the right man won't be far behind. And if men can just get their hands on a nice leather couch or a nice pair of jeans, then they'll be able to get their hands on a nice looking woman, too. There's not much room for articles that discuss the need to open yourself to another person or admit your mistakes. And who would want to spend time and effort learning to communicate with their partner or, God forbid, seeing a therapist, when you can spend $2.99 U.S. or $3.99 Canadian and get a pretty good shot at lasting love?

Of course, the point of these magazines isn't to enlighten people - it's to fill advertising space. Women who are perfectly content with themselves don't spend every penny on eyeliner, lipstick, overpriced jeans, hair-care products, and Weight Watchers dinners. And men who are looking for meaningful relationships rarely spend their disposable income on video games, satellite television, cheap cologne, and expensive Scotch. But the longer advertisers can keep these young men and women swimming in a sea of insecurities, the more product they'll sell.

It's difficult to watch so many young women being led down this path, and just as upsetting to see so many men chasing after them. In fact, it's enough to make a grown man cry. But I suppose there's nothing wrong with crying, because, as avid readers of women's magazines know, if there's one thing the ladies can't resist, it's a guy with a sensitive side.

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