Dear Sexists: Women's Magazines Offer Serious Journalism

Publications geared toward women, specifically women of color, are not considered “serious” or “thought-provoking” enough to be included in the new, golden age of publishing.
Publish date:
June 21, 2013
gender equality, Clutch, women writers, journalism

Port Magazine, a Britain-based quarterly publication, imploded the Internet with the release of its latest issue. The cover story detailed the resurgence of print media by featuring six editors at prominent, award-winning publications including GQ, Wired, the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair. The giant “A New Golden Age” cover line hangs over the heads of these influential editors -– who are all male and all white.

Port Magazine’s cover is a visual representation of an eternal problem. The magazine business is dominated by white men, except at niche publications like Essence, Cosmopolitan and Vogue.

Port’s editor-in-chief, Dan Crowe, a white male maintains the whitewashing of the cover was unintentional. In an interview with Gawker, Crowe claims Anna Wintour – the editor-in-chief of Vogue –- declined an invitation to participate. When pushed on the lack of inclusivity in the issue, Crowe said, “It is a shame there isn’t, for example, a gay person or a black woman editor in there, but unfortunately these are not the people editing these magazines.”

Despite his half-hearted effort to deflect blame, Crowe’s excuses highlight an issue often not discussed in the magazine business. Publications geared toward women, specifically women of color, are not considered “serious” or “thought-provoking” enough to be included in the new, golden age of publishing.

Crowe could’ve requested Amy DuBois-Barnett for the cover. She and her stellar team of editors have transformed Ebony Magazine from a dust-collecting publication to many women’s first choice. As Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles points out, Crowe didn’t ask Janice Min, of the Hollywood Reporter, Foreign Policy’s Susan Glasser, and Gillian de Bono of the FT’s How to Spend It because “they were too busy editing to pull out the Thom Browne and pose for his cover.”

The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) supports this exclusion. The New Republic gathered statistics from ASME’s National Magazine Awards and found a startling trend.

"The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME)—the main organization for magazine journalists in the U.S.—has only regularly nominated women’s magazines at their annual National Magazine Awards (NMA) in a few writing categories over the past three decades: personal service, essays, and public interest. This represents only three writing categories out of a possible eight (going by 2013 categories—the writing awards aren’t exactly the same every year).

Not a single women’s magazine has been nominated for profile writing in more than a decade, while GQ and Esquire have received multiple nominations. (Men’s Journal even got one). What’s more, women’s magazines have received zero ASME nominations for reporting in the past 30 years and zero ASME nominations for fiction in the past 20 years. (This is not because women’s magazines weren’t publishing pieces that qualified in those categories; they were—more on that in a minute). And though Elle and Vogue both have excellent literary and film criticism, neither has received a nomination in the “essays and criticism” category in the past decade.1 (Neither have any other women’s magazines, by the way. You have to go back to 1999, when the now-defunct Mirabella got one.) While Elle got a nod for columns and commentary in 2013, no other women’s magazine had been nominated in the past decade in that category."

ASME’s chief executive Sid Holt doesn’t see the issue in this disproportion. “Literary journalism is not central to women’s magazines’ editorial mission -- which is one reason these magazines are rarely nominated in these categories.” Glamour won magazine of the year in 2010, leading Holt to believe no bias is present. “There are far more judges from women’s magazines than from any other magazine category,” he said. “Women’s-magazine editors are assigned to every literary journalism judging group.”

In other words, the profiles of the Castros in Vogue isn’t as important to the magazine world as the hard-hitting reporting produced in GQ. It isn’t considered “serious journalism” when women produce the content for women’s magazines, but men write pieces about sex and shoes and their work is still valuable. It is still golden-age worthy. It still wins awards.

Some critics, including Longform founder Max Linsky, claim women’s magazines have sold their souls for larger circulation rates. Cosmopolitan has one of the highest circulation rates in the world, but meaty, fact-filled, resounding, in-depth pieces have been sacrificed for “10 ways to have sex backward” fluff.

Linsky claims hard-hitting journalism isn’t engrained in women’s magazines. His Longform site curates investigative articles from a host of different publications. Since the site launched in 2010, it has been dominated by men’s magazines. The New Republic reports:

"Elle makes a single appearance, Vogue makes two (one of which was a Joan Didion article from 1961), Marie Claire appears four times, and Cosmopolitan does not come up at all. By contrast, 111 different Esquire articles were flagged as worthy, as were 163 GQ articles. Longform co-founder Max Linsky explained the disparity to me this way. “My impression is that the 2k-word, general interest storytelling criteria does not often overlap with what women’s magazines publish. Part of that impression comes from how we find stories -- for example, out of the thousands of submissions we’ve gotten over the last three years, only a handful have been for stories published in women’s magazines.”

Linsky puts his finger on the other possible issue (and perhaps the more troubling one, because there’s no one but the magazines themselves to blame): that women’s magazines don’t publish as much of the highbrow, meaty longform work and fiction. We crunched the available numbers in some recent issues of Harper’s Bazaar, and its longest features (excluding a “Greatest Hits” package) were still under 4,000 words.2 (Cosmo, it should be noted, ran a 5,000-word piece about domestic violence in its May issue.) By comparison, from 2006 to today, Esquire regularly published articles in the 5,000- to 8,000-word range. When it comes to subject matter, it is true that men’s magazines publish more stories about subjects of global import -- fracking, Bin Laden, Benghazi -- subjects you’d be hard pressed to find regularly in a women’s magazine."

Ebony is running a series on the plight of black males. Will it make Longform? It’s doubtful because despite the excuses, it’s clear magazines are a white, male club.

Don’t blame women for our own exclusion.

Reprinted with permission from Clutch.