Pondering (and purchasing) men’s magazines


image source: hellopoe’s flickr photostream

This week for class we’re reading about “lad culture” and masculinity. The first reading is the introduction from a 2003 book called Masculinity and Men’s Lifestyle Magazines, which explores the way men’s magazines articulate masculinity, and the way they negotiate and contribute to modern gender politics.

It’s an interesting read and I think the students will get into it. I’m not an expert in masculinity studies, but from my understanding, it’s a burgeoning branch of gender studies that is largely feminist and draws on recent gender, feminist and queer theory to interrogate masculinity in today’s society.

In this sense, masculinity studies overlaps quite a bit with my research interests in postfeminism. Both are focused on an examination of gender and a negotiation with feminist politics and discourses. (Please jump in with a comment if you would like to elaborate on what “masculinity studies” means. I think it differs quite substantially from the worrying anti-femnism of some of the “men’s rights” politics, although I suppose there are some connections to those discourses. None of these things happen in a vacuum.)

So, anyway, because the reading is about men’s magazines, I thought it a good excuse to buy myself one. I haven’t looked at one for years. I used to occasionally pick up Ralph or FHM for a laugh. Or I’d peruse copies that flatmates had left around the house. I find them pretty entertaining on the whole. I suppose I’m half caught-up in moments of “OMG! That’s, like, so sexist!”, while simultaneously appreciating some of the humour and silly bloke-ishness of them.

(Incidentally, is ‘bloke’ a useful replacement for ‘lad’ in the Australian context? “Lad” seems to me to be a very British term.)

This afternoon I visited my local newsagent to hunt down an FHM or a Ralph or a Loaded (the latter being the mag most mentioned in the academic chapter I’d been reading). It took me a moment to find them. Women’s lifestyle magazines take up a huge section of the shelving. Next to them were the bridal magazines, and then a massive section of pink, which turned out to be crafting+quilting mags. Then, fishing mags and car mags. Ah ha! I must be getting closer, I thought. Blokey things like hunting and fast-moving machines. Newsagents’ shelves are gender-stereotypes in action!

But nope, still no “men’s magazines” as such. I turned the corner to look at the second long shelf. Photography mags, sports mags, fitness mags. And then I remembered where the men’s lifestyle mags are always shelved. They’re in the sealed magazines section! Among the Hustlers and the Playboys and the other titles I couldn’t quite read because there were more boobs than words on the cover, I finally found the magazines I was after. I settled on this month’s Ralph.

It has a bikini-clad women on the front. To be expected. In fact, it has twelve bikini-clad women. But I chose it because alongside the “sexiest star” and “hottest bikini models” headlines, it also includes:
* diary of a male stripper.
* the 100 biggest wankers of the year (and when I flicked open the mag, the first ‘wanker’ pictured was Tony Abbott).
* boozing with an Underbelly bloke.

Surely all these things will stimulate some interesting class discussion about how these magazines are constructing masculinity, I thought to myself.

After spending far too long browsing the front covers of the mags in the porn section, I decided it was time to make my selection and get out of there.

The owner of the newsagent kind of knows me, in that I buy the paper there fairly regularly. He also knows I’m some kind of teacher because I said something about “my students” last week when I was buying three different kinds of newspapers for their coverage of the Budget.

As I approached the counter I wondered what I might say if he asked me why I was buying Ralph – although I didn’t really expect him to say anything. Somehow I didn’t think “I’m getting this for my students” would sound convincing. I hand over my change. As he passes the magazine back to me, he looks at me quizzically and says, “Is this for you?”. I laugh and tell him half-seriously that it’s for research. And we both laugh. “Ah, I know, that’s what they all say!”, I continue, and we both laugh again as I head out the door clutching my magazine.

I may as well have said I was buying it for the articles.

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8 Responses to “Pondering (and purchasing) men’s magazines”

  1. Rachel @ Musings of An Inappropriate Woman Says:

    I spent much of my weekend reading old issues of ZOO magazine, for a thesis chapter and a couple of conference presentations I’m working on. As you well know, I normally roll my eyes at “raunch culture”, but after reading a bunch of ZOOs, I’m wondering why the Maggie Hamiltons and Melinda Tankard Reists of the world don’t spend more time talking about it, and less time talking about Lady Gaga and 10-year-olds getting Brazilian waxes (something that strikes me as rather difficult, given the amount of public hair your average 10-year-old has).

  2. doctorpen Says:

    Oh great, I’m glad you’re going to write about them. The articles we read for class were UK based research into masculinity and men’s magazines. I was wondering if there’s much work on this stuff in the Australian context.

    We started talking about “lad culture” in terms of “bloke culture” to make it a bit more Aussie, but I’m still not sure if it’s a totally accurate parallel. πŸ™‚

    And yes, I agree with your point about raunch culture.

  3. Sass Says:

    Agree re. Raunch culture with rolling eyes, again (though my interest in the work of some like MTR is for other reasons (performance/ platforming/public so-called “activism”) AND it drives me bonkers). Pen, you’ve inspired me re. buying certain items. Next time I’m going to NOT say they are for a ‘hen’s’ night (grrrrrr), but for research.

    • doctorpen Says:

      Ooh, have you been questioned for buying a men’s mag too?! What’s with that? I wonder if a man would get questioned for buying a Cosmo or Cleo.

  4. Sass Says:

    Oh no, not questioned for buying a men’s mag…I was being tongue in cheek about buying certain items at adult shops. I have friends who say their goods are for ‘hen’s’ nights. I was thinking I could say they are for ‘research purposes’… I must say, however, that I HAVE been questioned, judged and ridiculed for buying ‘women’s’ mags (both within and outside of the academy).

  5. Helen Razer Says:

    Somehow or another, I have found myself on the mailing list for Ralph. I believe this gratis subscription had its origins in “research” as well. I can’t be certain, of course, but I suspect the days of this sort of mag are numbered. Is it just my age (a creaking 40) or are Gen Y men so much more easy with the contours of their masculinity than their older brothers? Will they need to see the clubbish refuge of UK and Al men’s titles or are they comfortable enough to take their hobbies out of the shed?
    DO I care? All’s I know is I don’t find the ladies in Ralph very hot. They look like chicken tikka and they scare me.

    • doctorpen Says:

      In my classes we were joking that the only people who buy these mags are gender studies tutors. Also teenage boys.

      I’d like to think Gen Y men are comfortable with a diversity of masculinities and that the types of masculinity portrayed in these mags (ie. beer, footy, macho, sexist) are a bit outdated. But I’m not sure. Needs more research. πŸ˜‰ I suspect noone really takes them seriously.

  6. Tim Says:

    I always figured that Ralph and FHM were broadly equivalent to Dolly and Cosmopolitan and the like – they’re designed for teenage boys who are actively seeking something that helps them internalise the standard ideas of masculinity and what men are meant to desire and all that. I never bought them when I was at the appropriate age but my brother did, and I read through them on occasion.

    Like Helen, I don’t find the girls in those mags sexy either, but I doubt I’m meant to – in all their airbrushed perfection they don’t seem like actual people at all, and I suspect that’s what the audience *wants*. They want a safe, unattainable Platonic ideal of femininity rather than the real thing, because the real thing is often a bit bewildering and terrifying when you’re a male teenager.

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