The Glossies Tell Me I’m Not A Man


I’ve felt largely like an outsider since I was a kid, but these days I rarely experience the full force of it except when I visit a news agent’s and confront the glossy magazines. They carry hundreds of titles. And at a pinch I can maybe find one or two that might interest me mildly.

I don’t expect to find much of interest in the ladies section. The non-gendered mags are pretty few, and it doesn’t really matter to me that I don’t give a shit about interior decoration or design or antiques. What gets to me is the message the men’s section broadcasts to me.

“This is what interests men. If none of this interests you, you are not a man.”

The men’s mags are trying their very best to make guys about my age buy them. The editors study their target demographic and painstakingly make sure that the cover story is the one piece in each issue that will capture the interest of the 20/30/40-something male. Many titles are narrowly focused on a single topic of great interest to my peers. I think the people behind the mags know what they’re doing. They pretty much cover the topics the male (glossy-mag buying) Swede wants to read about. But me, not only am I unwilling to buy a magazine on any of these topics. It’s worse than that. In many cases I wouldn’t even care if the activities or classes of object these magazines cover came to an end today, never to be heard of again. (Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single woman who isn’t interested in the topics covered by ladies’ mags, but I’d be happy to be enlightened on this point by the Dear Reader.)

Waiting for the train at the Stockholm Sluice news agent last night, I copied down the following list of what the men’s mags mistakenly expect me to care about right now.

  • World War II
  • Poker
  • Wrestling
  • Men’s fashion
  • Michael Douglas
  • Cars
  • Microsoft Office
  • Old rock bands
  • Fitness
  • Football
  • Video games
  • Photoshop
  • Hifi
  • Gadgets
  • Golf
  • Boats
  • Motorcycles
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Guns
  • Whiskey
  • Spectacular criminal cases
  • Hockey
  • Tattoos

In other news, Dr. Fredrik Svanberg of the Museum of National Antiquities and the MUSEUM. NU blog has been kind enough to give me the Beautiful Blogger Award! Thank you Fredrik!

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40 thoughts on “The Glossies Tell Me I’m Not A Man

  1. More scary than that is the images they present to women. As a woman in magazines you are allowed to be: 1) Sexy, 2) Pregnant, or 3) A sports star. Nothing else is allowed.


  2. Suggestions of topics for a glossy magazine pandering to Scienceblogs readers:

    -How to duplicate the Miller-Urey experiment with stuff you have in your own basement
    -Ctulhu and N´yar-la-Hoteph in contemporary literature
    -Calculate the age of an old stone wall using the circles of lichen
    -Places you can spend your vacation looking for interesting pebbles/ticks/dung beetles.
    -The Ebola virus: ways to make it spread more easily
    -Five funny brain parasites


  3. But if there had been one mag with article on the manly subject of how to more effectively use a metal detector, would you have bought it? 🙂


  4. You wrote: Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single woman who isn’t interested in the topics covered by ladies’ mags, but I’d be happy to be enlightened on this point by the Dear Reader.

    You must have a very restricted circle of females around you, Martin. I for one have not looked at a women’s mag in half a century and have, I think, only one friend who reads them — but she is a retired dress designer, so that’s OK. Females can be just as much pointy-headed intellectuals as males; and we lady archaeologists are just the worst of them 🙂


  5. Hej Martin, I wonder if we could borrow your expertise to help settle an inter-blog dispute regarding a recent paper in PLoS One. Could you give us a brief comment on whether you think archaeology is an important part of the following article- linked to PZs post.
    William from Stoat thinks not (its just a modeling paper!) but many others disagree. Unfortunately none of us are archaeologists so it would be nice to get the opinion of one.


  6. It’s a hydrodynamics paper where the archaeology plays no important part. The guy only refers briefly to archaeological results like “these settlement sites were occupied at so and so a date”.

    Seen from archaeology’s perspective, the paper is of no interest. It does not help us explain anything we have seen in the field. It sets out to show that a certain event told of in an old story might theoretically have happened. It offers no evidence or argument as to whether or not the event did happen.


  7. On the debate of the paper on PLOS, yes it is just a modeling paper. Unfortunately, the author expressed himself in a way as to make it seem as if he buys the idea of Moses´ walking out of Egypt -personally, I think wind-induced “partings” of the sea would have impressed the locals enough to invent myths around it (like Poe wrote a story about the Maelström, another fictional use of a real phenomenon).
    But once religion gets involved, things get highly charged. Yes, the media exaggerated the implications of the study. But science journalism always stink. Yes, the fundies probably see it as proof of the Bible being right, but they always try to shoehorn facts into “proving” the Bible is right. Big deal.
    The study may not be particularly great science, but I find it more important to watch the various transgressions made by powerful people, rather than some bloke who gets published in PLOS. With all the rubbish in the media, the sane (minority?) have to pick their battles -for instance, right now my priority is the media coverage of the Swedish xenophobe party that made it into parliament.


  8. Oh dear. It seems I may not be a man either.
    Worse, since I have no interest in hockey, I’m not considered to be a Canadian….

    Birger- I think you may be on to something. Publish that magazine, I’ll subscribe.


  9. Haha, classic science journalism (courtesy of Stoat):
    Not quite like a glossy men´s magazine, but a good description of the upscale “popular science” analogue.
    In Sweden we have two major “popular science” mags (Illustrerad vetenskap & Allt om vetenskap)…they are somewhat more cerebral than the old “Reader´s Digest” but I get annoyed by the over-simplifications. We have no opposite number to the British “New Scientist”.


  10. Regarding the Moses paper, no there was no new archaeology presented in the paper although they did suggest the locations of the possible debris from Pharoahs army (implying that it might have been a real event).


  11. Well, you always need some heuristic before you go out into the field, but looking for the debris of Pharao’s drowned army kind of presupposes a fundie Biblical research goal at the centre of what you’re doing.


  12. Heh. I go to the magazine stand quarterly and buy Maison Decor, Cote Sud, Italian Vogue, Mental Floss (see no. 2), Scientific American, Science, RV Camping (I’m in the market for a camping set-up, and am not sure what I want), Games, Discover (for when my mind hurts too much for SciAm or Science)….


  13. I’ve long since given up on the glossies at the Slussen news stand, but they do carry a few international quality dailies. (They keep them hidden behind the counter, though, so you’ll only get at them if you’re man enough to ask for them out loud.)


  14. What the glossies are telling you is that you are not a man who buys glossies. This may be a good thing…

    Unfortunately teh Google has let me down and offers no images to the magazine rack featured in the movie Airplane! (Fiction, nonfiction, whacking material!)

    See number 21 in 30 Airplane! facts.


  15. That’s a longer list of topics than a typical women’s mag covers. Most of them are how you’re inferior in terms of:


    The only person I know who buys women’s magazines is a sixth-form friend who recently acquired a copy of Vogue for an art project, and was very embarrassed to be seen carrying it. When 17 year olds are ashamed of the stereotypes portrayed, something is badly wrong.

    There’s one mag. I take, which is the internal magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, and comes bundled with membership. Most other mainstream hobby magazines relevant to my interests (textile crafts, gardening, cooking) are very dull duplications of information widely available on the net. The few I would like subscriptions to (Vogue Knitting springs to mind) contain interesting and original content, but are too damned expensive.


  16. If you’re not a man, I’m not a woman.

    Most of what’s in the “women’s” magazines doesn’t interest me, and on most of the rest, I really don’t like their approach. Yes, I cook sometimes. And, like most of us, I eat. That doesn’t mean I want a magazine whose cover advertises “49 new diet tips and 9 delicious, indulgent chocolate cakes.” If I was looking for advice on improving my sex life, it would be of the form “10 new ways to drive a man wild.” I wear clothes, but the clothes pushed in those magazines are not designed for me; they either ignore me or want me to feel bad about myself so I will buy makeup or diet pills or something.

    Another way to look at these is “these are topics we don’t think are of general interest and/or can’t classify.” With a side order of “refresher course in sex roles,” since there are also sports and cooking magazines that aren’t filed by gender.


  17. The only illicit drug paraphernalia advertised in mainstream Swedish media is activated carbon that is used to purify moonshine. Also you may find ads for liquor flavourings to put some taste into your product.


  18. “I’ve felt largely like an outsider since I was a kid”

    Me too, but the last three novels I’ve read (Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, The Thirteenth Tale, and Bee Season) revolve around characters who perceive themselves as outsiders, so I guess just about everyone feels this way.


  19. Women’s mags- good lord! At least you have World War II, and gadgetry. Even our fitness pages are sickeningly saccharine or designed to make you feel inadequate and/or patronised. The chocolate cakes are ruined by the diet pages and the desperate claims about how ‘surprisingly healthy’ the cake is. How do you manage to make chocolate cake sound bad?

    Then there’s the lack of reading material. It’s amazing how such thick magazines can have so few words in them- there are a good few out there which seem to consist almost exclusively of glossy advertisements, and advertisements masquerading as articles about how the latest bronzer or lip gloss is completely different from the competitor’s one.


  20. I am not a woman. Apparently. No women’s magazines ever appealed to me, instead they try their best to drive me away 😦

    The only glossies I sometimes buy are Illustrerad Vetenskap (‘fun’ pop science mag) and Game, or PC Gamer, or some other gaming mag depending on what they’re covering.
    My room mate (who is a Girly Girl, history/archaeology student (it’s complicated) and general Skirt Girl) only reads the history mags, pretty much. But then again she reads a whole lot of those…


  21. There are bits and bobs of interesting mags, like classical music and Philosophy Now! and a few political rags that I like. But I’m feeling a bit sad for the popular science mags I used to read; they don’t hold up as whatever I read in them I’ve already read online. I think mags in general needs to shape themselves better, and I suspect – which is perhaps why it won’t happen – it has to do with good writing, good reporting, beyond the glossy bullshit of gossip and trivia news flashes. I’ll buy any mag that has serious people write well on pretty much any topic, but those people usually write books. Writing about stuff that we already read online is not a very satisfactory experience.


  22. Some very serious thoughts 🙂
    A magazine that wants me to subscribe would need the right kind of people to write the articles.

    Stewie Griffin: “Practical physics #1; Cool uses of that leftover suitcase nuke.”
    Dogbert: “Pheromones and induced slavery. Turning the tables on H. Sapiens.”
    Baron Samedi: “Recycling carcasses. Nanotech and workforce for the post-extinction world.”


  23. A lot of the topics in the mags are such that I wonder why anyone would read a mag about them instead of a book. Often it’s far from breaking news. It’s more like each magazine issue is produced as a short book with loads of pics and ads and sold for a brief period only.


  24. I have been known to buy video game magazines, not so much for the articles or reviews as for the demo CDs. However, when I can now get a game mailed to me, so I can play-test a full version and send it back, I don’t need the stripped-down demos anymore.

    And before someone else says “download them off the ‘net”, that didn’t use to be an option for the early iterations of Playstations (at least not without chipping them and, well, I have a complicated attitude to rights enforcement circumvention).


  25. I think the only UK glossy I might buy is Current Archaeology, and one doesn’t see that on news-stands (more’s the pity, I imagine it would shift). My son, who is a petrol-head (growing up into a post-petrol world), gets Top Gear bought for him occasionally, which is actually funny whether or not you care about cars but only in a very unreconstructed way. So yes, there is gender-typing at all levels alas, because mass market publications deal in mass market demographics, not individual’s niches.

    But, Martin! weren’t you engaged in testing for gender-type conformity only a little while ago… ?


  26. I must join the ranks of the non-woman female posters. The last glossy mags I’ve bought (and that, some time ago) were National Geographic (for some article related to Egyptian history), Scientific American, Popular Science and Skeptical Inquirer. These days, though, I get my stuff off Teh Intarweebs.

    I would totally read a magazine like the one Birger Johannson suggests up at #2.


  27. The glossy women’s magazines are really popular – among 14-year-old girls! They consist almost entirelly of ads and are mainly aimed at teenagers and women in their early 20s. I have not met many women who buy these journals as grown-ups.

    Home decorating, food and gardening magazines seem to be very popular though, at least you find lots of them laying around in our lunch room at work (there are many more women than men working there).

    If womenly journals should be classified by which ones I buy they would be: popular science/history/archaeology, cross-word-puzzles, TV-guides and sometimes comics.


  28. P.S. To everyone that gets annoyed that popular science is not identical to the scientific literature: No, I don’t read popular science magazines for information. I’m a scientist. If I want scientific information I read the real scientific literature. I read them for entertainment when I want to relax from the serious scientific literature or when I’m traveling.


  29. I believe Sb readers are pretty comfortable with the distinction between sci and pop-sci. I for one certainly can’t understand a technical paper in theoretical physics! But I’m interested in what those guys are finding out.


  30. Hmm. I might be a man. Your list of magazine topics sounds interesting. Though the only magazine I actually buy is something called “Healthy Food Guide” which purports to have “advice for healthy eating based on science” but which focuses a bit too much on weight loss. I mostly buy it for the recipes, though some of the other articles are interesting. It isn’t gendered though, it only has pictures of food on the cover.


  31. Guess I must be a non-woman, too. Not a man, either; none of those topics would interest me at a glossy magazine level. I could handle, maybe stuck in a doctor’s waiting room, a WWII history mag, or a computer/gadgets mag. But women’s topics? Never! I’d rather count the tiles on the ceiling.

    The only ones I ever buy are Games magazine and “Math” (really basic arithmetic) puzzle magazines.


  32. Could I imagine me buying a magazine about any of the subjects you so arbitrarily selected:

    World War II (yes), Poker (yes), Wrestling (no), Men’s fashion (yes), Michael Douglas (maybe), Cars (No), Microsoft Office (boring), Old rock bands (yes), Fitness (maybe), Football (yes), Video games (yes), Photoshop (yes), Hifi (maybe), Gadgets (yes), Golf (no), Boats (no), Motorcycles (no), Fishing (I like to fish, but not reading about it), Hunting (no), Guns (no), Whiskey (definitely yes), Spectacular criminal cases (yes), Hockey (no),Tattoos (no).

    I guess I fit in to the male demographic, sort of.
    But the most magazines I read is international movie, music and popular cultural magazines.


  33. I admit to buying women’s magazines from time to time. They’re a good way of learning a foreign language, sorta picture book: you have a picture and next to it, it says things like Blue sweater, black ruffled skirt, grey shoes. Aaaaand, admittedly, sometimes I get one for long train trips when I don’t feel like knitting all the time and I browse them to boost my ego – that I’m intellectually superior than those who produce the blurbs, because, well, I know orthography, if nothing else. Also, quite a few of my friends love to laugh about the stupidity of the women’s mags, be they paper or online.
    I’m art historian and I’d totally love to have a pop-sci mag in my field. Alas, pop history doesn’t exist, it tends to morph to tabloid history immediately.

    Jonathan Jarret @ #30: I totally love Top Gear. Not particularly intellectual but hilarious. I steal it from my father, he’s the petrol head of the family. I’ve just acquired some unwomanly knowledge because I grew up among parts


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