Magazines are cultural artifacts that reveal something about society. They tell us something about popular public ideological discourse concerning race, class, gender, and sexuality. Traditionally, men's magazines focused on health or pornography (e.g., Men's Health and Playboy). Today, a variety of specialty magazines that target the assumed interests of men focus on sports, cars, cigars, and so forth. However, the “new man's lifestyle” magazine has become a recent phenomenon within popular culture, and many rank as some of the highest-selling magazines in the United States. These publications continue to cover issues related to men's health, sex, sports, and cars but also provide advice to men on clothing, beauty products, video games, food, liquor, and more. Men no longer need to purchase multiple magazines in order to indulge in different areas of interest. Rather, men's lifestyle magazines, including GQ, Maxim, and Esquire, cover a number of topics within one magazine.
It is important to note that such marketing to men represents a turn in the consumer/producer dichotomy that was once largely divided along the lines of gender. That is, women have traditionally been thought of as consumers and men as producers. Therefore, the majority of product marketing was once designed to tempt women into consuming the advertised commodity. Men's lifestyle magazines reveal that today, men also are becoming targeted as consumers. Within the pages of these magazines, men are sold cologne, clothing, shaving cream, hair gel, and more. Interestingly, the ways men are being sold these items increasingly rely on marketing techniques that have traditionally been used to persuade women to buy products. As Susan Alexander (2004) notes, the magazine photos within feature articles and advertisements act to first create bodily insecurity and then offer a product solution. Alexander refers to this as “branded masculinity.” This strategy has long had consequences on women's self-esteem and body image. Because this phenomenon has only recently included men, researchers are just beginning to explore the meaning of such marketing and how the magazines create meanings of masculinity.
Producing Knowledge About Men
The new men's magazines advise men how to look and how to live, through features, articles, and photographs. They do so by presenting particular representations of “appropriate” masculinity; that is, what it means to be a man in a certain time and place. Images of masculinity are projected and controlled through media niches. In this way, men's magazines Page 546 | Top of Articleserve as one window through which to make sense of current social expectations men confront through their consumption of popular culture and media.
The topics presented in the majority of men's magazines clue the reader into what are appropriate “male” interests, such as golf, beer, hunting, video games, and women. It is significant that men's magazines do not seriously consider articles on ballet, parenting, and cooking. The latter are activities and interests that continue to be socially constructed as “feminine,” and thus contaminating to men. The feminine is often considered contaminating to men's sexuality. This means that a man interested or participating in what is considered feminine activity may fall under suspicion of homosexuality. Thus, magazine marketers continue to sell magazines by appealing to (heterosexual) men via their supposed traditional interests. Although these publications market to men as consumers and increasingly provide clothing and “beauty” products as solutions to insecurities, they continue to be inundated with mostly hegemonic (dominant) masculine symbols and instructions. In this way, these magazines perpetuate narrow meanings of masculinity that reinforce the hierarchical relationship of masculinity and femininity.
“Appropriate” masculinity is constructed as being synonymous with heterosexuality. Men's magazines reflect this in their objectification of women. Women are provocatively shown on the cover of many men's magazines, including Maxim and FHM (For Him Magazine), as sexual objects offered to men for consumption. In this way, a number of men's magazines encourage men to be voyeurs. While images of women are meant to sell the magazine, they also appeal directly to the intended readership: heterosexual men. This suggests a sexual relationship between men and women that is rooted in meanings of subject and object.
Bethany Benwell suggests that the use of irony within men's lifestyle magazines plays an important role in the perpetuation of inequality, especially gender and sexual inequality. Irony and humor within these magazines act as reactionary discourse to the call for sensitivity in the wake of both gay liberation and second-wave feminism. Benwell suggests that such irony is strategically employed to represent masculinity as politically incorrect but “fun loving” in character, asking to be excused because the homophobic and misogynist jest is “all in fun.”
Alexander, S. M. (2004). Stylish hard bodies: Branded masculinity in men's health magazine. Sociological Perspectives, 46, 535–554.
Benwell, B. (2003). Masculinity and men's lifestyle magazines. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Benwell, B. (2004). Ironic discourse: Evasive masculinity in men's lifestyle magazines. Men and Masculinities, 7, 3–21.
Blauwkamp, N. R., & Wesselink, P. (2003). “Master your johnson”: Sexual rhetoric in Maxim and Stuff magazines. Sexuality & Culture, 7, 98–119.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3073900281