Friday, May 21, 2010

Looking at Esquire Magazine 70 Years Later

In the “In Spite of Women” excerpt out of the text, Kenon Breazeale speaks about how advertisements began pushing this commercial culture that we now have in America through manipulating and appealing to their audience. As the author mentions, this was all occurring during the 1930s, and it is said that “ ‘Esquire’…was one of the first and clearest sites of this consciousness [of building a consumer-based culture] at work” (Breazeale 231). Additionally, all the examples provided in the text highlight this, using the “Esquire” magazine’s articles and pin-ups to further prove a point that the magazine was (at the time at least) specifically geared towards appealing to a very stereotypical straight male audience. One might think that given the historical context that the magazine was in at the time (women had only just been given the right to vote and did not make a salary comparable to men, if they even had a job), that might provide some justification for the blatant appeal to these male stereotypes, but if they just leaf through an “Esquire” magazine today they would be sure to find these types of advertisements, articles, and headlines that they might have expected 70 years ago.

A point is made in the excerpt that in the editorial staff’s goal of creating a magazine for men, what they actually created is a magazine for women (Breazeale 231). Furthermore, it only continues with a quote by the creator of the concept of “Esquire,” Arnold Gingrich who essentially delivers “the crucial dynamic of his [Gingrich‘s] new magazine - simultaneous exploitation and denial of the feminine” (232). Articles on seemingly anything from food and drink to gardening to etiquette seemed to always include ways on handling “the looming rhetorical prop of a woman who is doing things all wrong.” Additionally, not only were the editors fearful of appealing to women in any sense, they were worried that their take on clothing and dining (which is admittedly generally not seen as masculine) would appeal to homosexuals and “it had to be made unequivocally clear that women were the natural objects of its readership’s desire” (235). To do this, they feature provocative images of women and pin-ups featuring unrealistic body types as well as drawings and cartoons only furthering this straight male agenda that the editorial staff were so keen on pushing.

Many of the advertisements shown in class have featured more stereotypical and obvious misrepresentations of men and women alike (though mostly women) to sell a product. In the case of “Esquire” magazine, these practices are still being done, only now the product is the magazine itself rather than a cosmetic one or an article of clothing. In looking at the content of the magazine, the overly-sexual portrayal of women is absurd, with some articles or features seemingly serving only one purpose; to show a scantily clad woman or one in an unnatural pose for men to stare at. In fact, some articles, such as one asking women questions (largely sexual and in some way appealing to male fantasies or pointing out a void in a woman's knowledge in regards to something a stereotypical male may know).  In talking about the spread of image-based advertising, Sut Jhally talks about how sexuality is being used as a means to communicate information quickly and easily (Jhally 253). The point is made that “many commercial messages use images and representations of men and women” and “of course, they do not use any gender images but images drawn from a narrow and quite concentrated pool” that is more focused on a stereotype’s interest rather than the audience’s, until they become one in the same over time (253). In fact, in looking at these images from “Esquire,” it’s plain to see that they are drawing from this very same pool Jhally referenced. Although “Esquire” is the example presented in our case, if it were the only one pushing this sort of agenda, then we as a society would not have such deceiving images ingrained into our mindsets. In fact, as Jhally states, “the problem is that the vast majority [of advertisers] do so [use these gender misrepresentations in their ads],” and it has yielded a more sex-focused culture. As Breazeale had noted, this is a sometimes stereotypical trend that began a long time ago and as can be seen, is consistent even to this day.

Works Cited:
Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 230-243.

Granger, David, ed. Esquire May 2010: 1-147. Print.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 249-57.


  1. I really like your overall argument. I think the way you used a combination of words (the surveys) and the sexually driven picture speak volumes about how Esquire goes about gendering its magazine. I also found it very relevant that you used the idea that they use a very narrow depiction of gender and further go on to discuss how advertisements impact the culture.

    While I understood most of your arguments, the beginning of the second paragraph could use some clarity. You brought up that it actually made a magazine for women but then the rest of your points didn't seem to clearly tie in with that. I can see how they could tie in, so for the future make it more clear how they relate back. Also, I like your thesis, but because it references both now and 70 years ago be careful throughout the rest of the paper to clearly state which time period you are referencing.

    Overall, very good analysis of Esquire!

  2. Heather, thanks for pointing that out. It's supposed to say "in the editorial staff’s goal of creating a magazine for men, what they actually created is a magazine about women." That is quite possibly the biggest typo I could have made.

  3. I definitely agree with Heather's comments and also glad to see your response here too, Alex. One issue for improvement is the intro paragraph. You chose a great focus and a relevant Magazine to analyze with the readings; however, I don't think it's necessary to cite the article right in the first paragraph (even though it is linked to Breazeale's argument, it's not the same as the point you're making).
    Aside from those issues (including the ones that that Heather pointed out), you did a nice job with your collage and the write-up overall!