Robbie Myers, editor of ELLE magazine, is doing the important work of overturning the stereotype that female magazines do not publish serious journalism, and she is encouraging women to join in the crusade.
On June 18, Myers used ELLE's August letter to the editor, which she titled "Yes, Women's Magazines Can Do Serious Journalism. In Fact, We've Been Doing It For A While," to address (and rectify) the misconception.
Jessica Grosse sparked the debate early this month in her article published in The New Republic. She asked "can women's magazines do serious journalism," thereby revealing the assumption "that what women’s magazines publish is not as influential or important as what men’s and general interest magazines publish."
Now, Myers is picking up where Grosse left off. The distinguished editor criticized Sid Holt, the head of the American Society for Magazine Editors and a close friend for his words in response to Grosse, that it's not the "mission" of women's magazines to cover serious topics. In fact, as Grosse pointed out, ASME "puts women's magazines in 'a different camp' than other publications," a camp covering "service and fashion" in contrast to men’s magazines "GQ and Esquire ... that are considered in the general interest category."
As both a writer and a woman, this debate incites me, and if you are a woman with a brain and ideas, it should anger you as well. In her letter, Myers related an anecdote of a lecture she gave at Columbia University. After discussing an article on President Obama written by a prominent female journalist, Laurie Abraham, a male attendee raised his hand only to say “I had no idea you did such important stories. How does it feel to know nobody reads them?”
"He meant you, dear reader, the some 8 million smart, educated, chic, interesting women who consume ELLE in print, online, and on tablets each month. It’s your status as a woman that makes you 'nobody,'" Myers explains to readers.
It is a myopic view to take that magazines, which cater to a primarily female audience focus exclusively on trivial matters such as fashion, beauty celebrities, fitness and relationships at the expense of overlooking more "serious" issues. Female magazines, these skeptics say, are not the appropriate arena to play out serious issues, and more importantly, no one will read them.
The debate also begs the questions of what, after all, defines "serious" journalism? There are many ways that an article may be educational, thought-provoking or critical. Additionally, who is given the ability to define what is "serious" journalism?
In addition, the questions remain: how did such a stereotype arise? And how can we turn it around?
Many female magazine articles are often considered trivial due to short legnt. Nonetheless, "we do publish 'literary journalism' and long-form reporting," Myers insisted. "Of course the men on the cover of Port are lauded for doing really loooonnnnggg pieces, but then men have always confused length with quality," she added.
Maybe it's TV shows like Sex and the City or the popular presence of women's magazines in settings like nail salons and airline boarding gates that propagate the notion that these materials are not serious reads, but garbage. It's time to turn this stereotype around, and the responsibility falls in womens' hands.
As Myers corrects, "ELLE produces more editorial than 90 percent of magazines published in the United States," and most women's magazines produce similar content. Myers also reveals the fallacy that quality is not the same as quantity.
Recently, an article from the Atlantic published "21 Examples of 'Serious Journalism' from Women's Magazines and Websites," including articles from Oprah's O-Magazine, Vogue, and ELLE, among others. But even that such a list is necessary in order to quantify serious women's journalism is upsetting.
Female writers and readers are just as educated and informed as their male counterparts; they have interesting perspectives to share that are just as valuable as male points of view. It is not only up to men to relay issues deemed "serious" by some overarching consensus. Women write about politics. They write about revolutionary events, socioeconomic issues, conflict, and they can narrate and form opinions about those issues in the same way that men can. The women who read such magazines are equally as capable and aware.
At the end of her letter, Myers encourages readers to use Twitter to post their favorite literary pieces using the hashtag #WomenAtLength. Many readers have accepted Myers' challenge. They are using Twitter to demonstrate to the public that YES — women's magazines do, in fact, publish serious, thought provoking material. And YES — smart, educated and critical audiences, both male and female, are, in fact, reading them.