By JessieAnne Gartlan, 13th February 2013.
Originally published online at digitalagejournalism.com, which has now been taken down.
In case you somehow missed it, Esquire’s Stephen Marche wrote a story on Megan Fox recently (read it here: http://www.esquire.com/women/megan-fox-photos-interview-0213?click=top). Its questionable writing style and oddly flowery sexism has attracted enormous amounts of criticism. In response Guy Mosel, former FHM Australian editor, wrote an article for Crikey defending Marche and lad’s mag writers everywhere, entitled ‘We aren’t misogynist perves, just journos with bills’ (here: http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/01/24/we-arent-misogynist-perves-just-journos-with-bills-lads-mag-writer/). I’m renaming that article ‘Casual sexism is okay if you need to pay your bills’.
One of the first things Mosel says is that there are some good arguments in favour of why putting scantily clad women on the covers of magazines is disrespectful towards women. Despite that, and despite saying he is unwilling to get into a debate about that, Mosel spends the rest of the article defending the casual, and often more overt, sexism inevitable in articles like the Fox one. He applies many of the arguments to men’s magazines in general. Here are some of them:
Apparently sexism is a myth:
Mosel says that men’s mag writers are ‘not the lecherous women-haters of convenient mythology’. It seems that by denoting it as ‘convenient mythology’ Mosel is attempting to resist the (apparent) stereotyping of men in this position by feminist theory. What he has really done is highlight the sexism embedded within the industry. By characterising it as mythology he completely trivialises the issues. The term convenient is almost worse. I fail to recall the last time sexism, misogyny or patriarchy was convenient. Bear in mind that Mosel is a journalist, an ex-editor no less, and journalists choose their words deliberately. This dismissive attitude is a huge part of the issue women have been dealing with for…uh, ever. Perhaps Mosel was attempting to invoke the stereotypical ‘man-hater’ who labels anything men do as evil. Perhaps that image was created to further dismiss women (orly?!). Either way Mosel has demonstrated that gender equality, and those concerned with it (which is usually those who are affected by it) is something that just isn’t that important.
Mosel and Marche believe women are sacrifices. But it’s okay ladies, yours is a higher purpose.
Mosel says that men’s mags don’t hold their appeal for journos in ‘sexy woman’ profiles’, but in allowing them to write ‘smart, irreverent’ pieces that other magazines don’t allow. There are definitely some insightful and funny articles that I’ve read over the years in these types of publications. But Mosel says the ‘sexy woman profiles’ are the sacrifices that one must make in order to write the good stuff or, as he puts it, are ‘just the cost of doing business’. Yes, ma’am, you heard correctly. Your sum total can be boiled down to ‘cost of doing business’. Sorry about that.
This blasé attitude accepts that in order to write for these sorts of publications they must necessarily subjugate women. Not only that, but this subjugation is no more of a problem than, say, having to clean the communal fridge after office drinks. It seems as though Mosel is saying we should all just forgive them and get over it because after all, they’re all just joking about the sexism and we should all really know that, and pass conspiratorial winks around and make dismissive comments like ‘a male journo has gotta do what he’s gotta do, har har’.
We are but slaves to the system (that we designed):
Mosel’s final defence is bit of a non sequitur. He says that really lad’s mag writers are really a bunch of self-aware, self-effacing chaps who are in fact chained to the patriarchal values of the system. In actual fact they would rather be taken seriously as real writers and so we should all go easy on Marche. To be fair, as far as sexism goes there is certainly worse out there (usually in similar publications or on 4chan), but let’s not mistake any of this for progressiveness.
The thing is, Mosel himself was the editor of FHM. He was not a lackey chained to his boss’s will, as he characterises himself in this article. He had creative control and the latitude to set some sort of agenda. What I would like to know is who is deciding this is how things need to be, how social relations need to be, if not the editors and writers? I’m not buying into these excuses. Because ultimately, as long as they are contributing to that world, they are still engaging in acts of ‘woman hating’, whether or not they personally engage in the ideology themselves. The bottom line is that being aware of the sexism, or other prejudices that you are contributing to, does not abdicate you of it.