Condé Nast Boardroom, three people sit discussing the potential covers for the GQ ‘Men of the Year’ issue.
Person 1: So I say: five guys in black tie. Holding puppies.
Person 2: No puppies, Nigel.
Person 3: Should we put a lady in?
Person 1: Instead of the puppy?
Person 2: No one’s going to be holding anything Nigel, be it a puppy or what would have to be a distinctly tiny woman.
Person 3: Anyway, a woman. On a cover. But she’s not a man. So we should probably have something to distinguish her so the readers don’t get all confused. Because we’re GQ. And she’s a woman.
Person 4: Maybe she shouldn’t be wearing any clothes. Then no one will be confused.
Person 1: I thought there were only three people in this fictional boardroom skit
Person 2: Quiet Nigel
Person 3: Pharrel should probably have paint. Like…war..tribal paint.
Person 2: No Black tie? Why?
Person 3: …No reason.
And thus came to be the new covers of GQ’s ‘Man of the year’ series. The ‘high-brow’ Gentleman’s magazine, that thinks it can stick some (white) men in black tie and everyone will just be so overwhelmed with the implication of money and cheekbones, that they’ll forget about the Sun-style-sexism. Because when you hold up the covers next to each other, all you see is the white, suave, men in their black tie, the black guy with gawkish face paint, and Kim, chillin’, with no clothes on. The juxtaposition is almost farcical. In the most simplistic display of conservative pigeon-holing, white man becomes the norm, black becomes ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’, and woman becomes the sex object.
This is not really news, as GQ made the same, albeit less racist mistake last year with their Lana del Rey cover. You’d think it almost warrants no analysis, but for those who think this is just one of those picky fem articles written by someone who has too much time on her hands now she’s cut out the 15 minutes of leg shaving – think about it this way. Switch it. Imagine there were five women, all in black tie. And then a naked dude. Just…no clothes. It doesn’t work. And I don’t doubt that because our society is so neutralised to the idea of the naked, writhing woman as a set piece for an advert/magazine/album cover, that a large number of the GQ’s audience won’t clock the implication of ‘man as something to be respected and revered, woman as thing for me to wank to’. Oh and btw Pharrel’s black everyone, in case you missed it. He’s wearing face paint. Yeah.
This year they’ve really upped the comment-article-possibilities by throwing in some good, ol’ fashioned racism. An employee at Condé Nast told me that “It’s like Lana del Rey all over again, with added racism to the sexism” The photo of Pharell just screams party-style dress up: Africa theme. It’s an uncomfortably naive interpretation of the ‘African tribal’ aesthetic – that’s Africa, that big generalised mass, with a population of starving children or tribespeople wearing loin cloths. Not a collection of countries, with distinctive heritage and image. Just a bunch of people, with face paint. Urgh.
But back to Kim. Condemning these covers doesn’t mean condemning the liberation of female sexuality. Maybe, if both the men and women were seductively eye-fucking the camera, and they weren’t all the same size or colour, then maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much. Female sexuality in and of itself is nothing to be condemned, but a bunch of men who get to dress up in clothes that denotes ‘power and money’, and then one woman who doesn’t even get some pants is not progressive statement of sexual oppression, it’s a weirdly exploitative, voyeuristic portrayal that women. In a Gentlemen’s world, women are there to be sexualised and not respected. Because it’s hard to act normally when someone’s got their vagina out.
Women’s magazines are known for homogenous beauty standards, hidden under the guise of chummy life advice or fun ‘under 20 calories’ recipes. The Sun, the Daily Mail, are all famous for their bullshit commodification of the female body. But GQ?? They’re classy. They’re respectable. They know what they’re doing. They’re not FHM. Not Nuts. They’re GQ. According to the Condé Nast employee “I haven’t heard a single person discussing it. All I can think is that cover sales are a mysterious and sometimes dark art, and controversy in multiple edition format will shift copies.” Women are gimmicks to be used to move copies, not real people with real lives. GQ probably feel they occupy this ‘bespoke’ space in the market, for men who want £40 wet shaves and ‘classy’ naked women, and as a consequence, feel they can get bypass the atrocious sexism.
Or maybe all magazines are kind of the same. Shitty mass-media items used to create norms around women that stop them from being anything other than a naked token to sell copies. Probably should have stuck with the puppies.