November’s cover (image below) of Wired magazine features a close-up of two large breasts with the cover story title “100% Natural.” The main article (read the article’s comments at your own intelligence-sucking peril) is a great piece written by Sharon Begley about new advances in tissue engineering that promise to, among other things, offer survivors of breast cancer options after a mastectomy. The provocative cover certainly screams out from store windows and magazine stands, and as one magazine cover blog so unsurprisingly noted: the picture will likely result in increased pick-up from young men. Duh.
Yet on the other side of the intellectual pond, there are two critiques pointing out the sexism and the discrimination inherent in the cover. Shelby Knox, the star of the excellent Women Make Movies documentary The Education of Shelby Knox: Sex, Lies and Education, writes:
If you’re a tech mag running a serious, scientific piece on tissue regeneration as it pertains to breast cancer survivors, what’s the tackiest, most sexualizing, undermining-of-the-science thing you could do? Wired magazine knows!! Put two shapely breasts on your cover — sans the owner’s head because who cares about her face or brain when you’ve got BOOBS?! — right next to the words ’100% Natural.’ Classy.
She then goes on to berate the magazine for another image, shown below, of female Wired staffers holding up the cover of the boobs in front of their own chests. But wait! The Wired women retaliate:
I understand your frustration. Wired Yourself was conceptualized, produced, and maintained by we, the women posted in its inaugural pictures. Not our bosses. And certainly not by coercion, prompting, or suggestion. To assume so would miss the perhaps-too-subtle-for-the-internet-when-boobs-are-involved point. Also, it hurt our feelings a little. Our intent was to stand behind (literally) the magazine cover by reclaiming the anonymous image as our own, in celebration of the idea that she is all women and we are all her.
Certainly a plausible explanation for sexualized cover, but is it a good one? Is the so-called “post-feminist wave” post critiquing images like this? Is Knox’s critique antiquated, misguided even? Or has a massive and seductive acquiescence crept over the consciousness of all? I think Discovery magazine writer Sheril Kirshenbaum has perhaps the most practical, if not philosophical, critique:
Recently I asked why science magazines seem to be marketed to men. On newsstands, they frequently appear alongside GQ, Esquire, Playboy, and other male-oriented content. Yes, men purchase science magazines more frequently than women, but I also think this is–at least in part–a chicken and egg problem: What’s traditionally marketed to male audiences gets purchased by them. A solution might be to change the target a bit, gear some more content to women, attract a wider audience, and–in doing so–maybe even encourage greater numbers of women to pursue the STEM areas over time. (Culture matters!) Needless to say, I am disappointed to see Wired’s latest cover choice….A wonderful magazine full of terrific articles that looks a lot like ‘Hooters’ on the cover will not encourage a lot of women to make it to the articles. They are choosing their audience, which is their decision, but when it comes to STEM, I’d like to see more influential S&T publications reaching out to appeal to more of a female audience too.
Anyone have anything to add?