The Vagenda

Esquire Magazine, You’ve Broken My Cold, Disembodied Heart

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 long ago,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. 

3 thoughts on “Esquire Magazine, You’ve Broken My Cold, Disembodied Heart

  1. I’m a guy who reads The Vagenda on a regular basis, considers himself a feminist and also buys Esquire from time to time, depending in part on who’s on the front cover.

    I think this is a great post and I sympathise with the points you make however I would say three things in defence of Esquire. Firstly, that Flanagan article wouldn’t make it into the magazine in a million years. You might say that doesn’t matter, Esquire published it and therefore you don’t want to support them by buying their magazine. It’s hard to argue with that but I also think there’s an element of cutting off your nose to spite your face if you genuinely enjoy reading the magazine, as I do. Secondly, any news website, in order to keep traffic numbers high, has to produce a lot of content and do so as quickly as possible. One way of doing that is to produce inane lists such as “The top 10 things men should…” They’re quick and easy to write and people surfing the web seem to love lists. I write for a news website and whenever we do lists of things, they’re always popular and they get a lot of click throughs via twitter. Thirdly, and I’m aware this is a pretty weak argument, publishing a lot of articles quickly means that sometimes an ill-thought out one slips through the net. I think, and for the sake of a much loved magazine hope, that the Flanagan article was one such article.

  2. Luke, it’s nice to read something respectful and reasonable coming from a man regarding a feminist perspective on our visual culture via Esquire. I still agree with EC, obviously. :)

  3. It’s a magazine aimed at men, as we are, not just as you would prefer us to be. Sometimes.. we like to look at tits. Not all the time, just sometimes. You’ve obviously forgotten that.