Friday, March 1, 2024

When Men Do It, It’s Art. When Women Do It, It’s Gossip

Women’s stories have kept the media industry alive for decades – so why do they get so little respect? Emma Clifton gets mad.

It was about 12 hours after I’d lost my job when my mother rang me and said, “Stop drinking and get off the internet.” Always, always good and evergreen advice – I was three wines deep into a Facebook row with a former colleague over an article that had sprung up about the sudden shutting of Bauer media, where the majority of the sadness was over three titles: Metro, North & South and The Listener. And look – I get it. I admired these journalists and editors TREMENDOUSLY and also fell into the internalised misogyny trap of considering them ‘proper news’, over the content I was writing. The awe these magazines were held in is big for a reason and those journalists were – and remain! – completely legendary. But as the think pieces came out thick and fast, I noticed that time and time again, it was the ‘serious’ magazines that everybody felt allowed to publicly mourn. North & South, The Listener, Metro, repeat, repeat, repeat. When the ‘it’s been a year since’ think pieces came out a month ago, it was the same thing.

I’ve been in those newsrooms and I can tell you it’s less Dustin Hoffman poring over a pile of censored papers, more ‘can you make that shark photo on the front page a bit bigger?’

It is fair to say that I have a giant chip on my shoulder about being a “women’s magazines'” journalist in a country – world? – of male-skewed media. But I’ve been in this industry for 15 years and have had to grit my teeth so often when people say “women’s magazines”, most often in a withering tone. The last two stories I wrote for the Australian Women’s Weekly before Bauer shut down were a) an interview with Farid Ahmed, whose wife was murdered in the mosque attacks and b) an interview with chef Mike van de Elzen about cancer, mental health and starting his own business. And yet, the fact that I even need to defend my former job by saying “I wrote about men too, you know!” shows you how much that internalised misogyny remains in me as well.

Male journalists are treated – by themselves – as if they are on the beat in a kind of Robert Redford, All The President’s Men manner. I’ve been in those newsrooms and I can tell you it’s less Dustin Hoffman poring over a pile of censored papers, more ‘can you make that shark photo on the front page a bit bigger?’

Female journalists are treated – by pop culture – as ruthless bitches who will crush people under their towering heels OR as absolute flibbertigibbets who will go to bed with you. Seriously, show me a movie or television show where the female journalist doesn’t ‘accidentally’ end up sleeping with her subject. But worse than this is how “women’s magazines” are treated. People love to complain about “women’s magazines” and then turn around and ask you if you’re watching Married At First Sight, or spend five hours looking at Instagram.

“Women’s magazines” exist because the lives, interests and successes of women are still considered so niche, they need their own genre.

The content of “women’s magazines” is the content of women’s lives: yes, we can do a full-on feminist insight into the fact that marriage and babies are still a curious mix of over-expected and under-appreciated when it comes to the female life-span, but have you picked up a men’s magazine recently? It’s wall-to-wall cars, cologne and women in their underwear. “Women’s magazines” exist because the lives, interests and successes of women are still considered so niche, they need their own genre. You might ask yourself why chick-lit is seen fit as a full descriptor, why “women’s fiction” needs to have its own special shelf at the bookshop.

As writer Jodi Picoult recently said, via Twitter: “This is my periodic reminder that when a WOMAN writes about family, it’s called women’s fiction. When a MAN does it, he’s suddenly ‘the leading novelist of our time.'” Even now, magazines like Vogue, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair are still more likely to send a male journalist to interview a female cover star, in what must only be an attempt to add some ‘credibility’, and where the resulting article features the male gaze positively seeping off the page. Want more proof? Head along to the Men Write Women Twitter page and prepare to have your eyeballs bleed out of your face as you see how many euphemisms for ‘f—kable’ these men manage to slip into their works of art.

Pop culture is surrounded by male stories and the male gaze. For so long, our news media has been dominated by loud, angry white men complaining about how nobody lets them be loud and angry any more, with absolutely no sense of irony. When the Bauer magazines folded and we were no longer “women’s magazines” journalists, we felt a great sadness that there were suddenly far fewer places to tell female-centred stories. It’s the major reason we created Capsule, because we knew there were so many stories left to tell and we wanted to make a home for them, as well as a home for our own rants (this is very much one of those rants). Sometimes those stories are inspiring, sometimes they’re angry. Sometimes they’re art, and sometimes they’re gossip. But no matter what, we take them seriously – because we take women seriously. And so should you.

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