By Crispin Sartwell, ≈2003.
Glamour this month: 11 Sex Moves Men Wish We'd Try; Plus: 100 Other Vital Man-Facts Worth Knowing. A Toned Body—By Tonight. You Can Do Anything! Extreme Dos ＆ Don'ts: The Hair, the Thongs, the Cleavage—We Couldn't Make This Stuff Up. Pages and Pages of Hair Magic! All the Tricks and Styles You Need for Total Hair Happiness.
The portrait of American women painted by their magazines is devastating. There are two themes, both them explored with an unbelievably repetitive total puerility that is well crystallized in the phrase “total hair happiness”: sex and appearance, which, in combination, seem to constitute both self-esteem and (thus) the meaning of life. It's difficult for a fellow not to notice - perhaps with a certain pleasure - that these interests converge on us: understanding men, pleasing men, manipulating men, showing men your breasts.
Women's magazines are, in short, monthly guidebooks adding up to thousands of glossy pages on how to achieve a chirpy, kicky subordination to men. They're actually not too far from Slave: How to Grin, Shuck, Jive, and Pick Cotton. 117 Things Massa Really Wants. The Right Body for Grinding Physical Labor - By This Afternoon!
Marie Claire: Make the Most of Your Shape with Best Haircut for Your Figure. 7 Silly Sex Tricks That Really Work. Would You Marry for Money? Four Designer Looks for Christina Aguilera. Get Beautiful Skin - Instantly. How Much Time Do You Really Spend Thinking About Your Body?
If the most superficial appearance was the deepest insight, Marie Claire would be profound. If the deepest human values were dissimulation, exhibitionism, and anxiety, then Marie Claire would be the Tao Te Ching, the Sermon on the Mount, the Dialogues of Plato, and it would show that American women are strong, intelligent, and wise. As thing are, it shows something . . . else.
Of course, not all American women read such magazines, and even those who do don't necessarily agree with the values deployed there. They are often interpreted by their readers with a touch of irony. And perhaps my personal condescension has something to do with the misogyny that is my heritage as a man as well as my personal burden. True, true.
But I don't think you can walk around town or go to a party and seriously deny that Glamour shows something about who a lot of women are and aspire to be. The people who create these magazines (mostly women) are selling them by giving women what they want, and they've tried other approaches with less success. You can't buy and read such magazines in preference to whatever else you might buy and read and then tell me that it means absolutely nothing about who you are.
Cosmo: Get Him Hot: 8 Naughty Dares to Try Tonight. Morning-After Beauty: It Doesn't Get Any Sexier That This! His Four Secret Sexual Needs. You, You, You!
I'm not really sure what happened to feminism. But at a gander it looks to me like patriarchy won, and that all segments of our society are reasonably satisfied with that result. Perhaps I will be accused of blaming the victim. But you'll never be free if what you most deeply desire is to submit. And there's no point in being free if there's nothing of enduring value that you know or seek.
Twist: He Doesn't Know You Exist? That's Because You Haven't Tried This Yet. Self: Get a WOW Body in 31 Days. 9 Teen Vogue: Update Your Face. Jane: The Wildest Sex Move Ever, and it's Klutzproof. Cosmo Girl: Make Your Guy Want to Commit, Now. Latina: La Verdad About Why He Isn't Calling.
One thing we could say by way of exculpation is that the American magazine industry, like American politics, is diseased by formula and a global failure of courage and creativity. And popular magazines practice a sort of least-common-denominator moronism that is common to all American mass-media, from major-label pop music to network television to, um, men's magazines. In fact, magazines such as Maxim are essentially Cosmo for men, and display no deeper set of truths. But the theme of what's wrong with men, though rich, must be left for another occasion.
Woman, what's wrong with you?
The above essay is found on Crispin Sartwell's website at http://www.crispinsartwell.com/women.htm , in as early as 2004-01. It is placed on this website beginning on 2006-08, with author's permission.
For more info about the author, see Wikipedia: Crispin Sartwell.