By Holly Russel, Regular ContributorAugust 18, 2015
Maxim magazine entered a new era last week when, for the first time in the magazine’s 20-year history, they ran a cover featuring a photo of a fully-clothed black man (Idris Elba, of The Wire fame).
image via standard.co.uk
For many magazines, this would be a non-story, but for Maxim – the quintessential British/American “lad” mag – it’s a striking departure from the arched backs and parted lips of nubile white-or-light-skinned 20-something women who are usually thrust on the cover.
Accompanying the portrait of Elba is the headline “Man Up,” which feels as much like a nod to Elba as a call to action directed at its readers: man up, grow up – there’s more substance here than girls, sports, and jokes (Google Maxim, that’s really its tagline).
Driving this evolution is Maxim’s Editor-in-Chief, Kate Lanphear. Since she took the editorial reins last year, Lanphear has been credited with bringing a more nuanced regard for women to the magazine’s pages.
Case in point: the 2015 “Hot 100” top spot was awarded to Taylor Swift based, Lanphear says, on her accomplishments rather than just her looks.
The mere mention of the word “accomplishments” in a sentence about a woman being celebrated in Maxim is a promising step forward for a downmarket publication regularly accused of presenting women as passive sex objects existing solely to satisfy the heterosexual male gaze. And I would argue that this step is less about evolving young men’s attitudes toward women as it is about changing the lad mag genre’s treatment of women.
A recent Maxim online interview with OITNB’s Matt McGorry highlights his interest in gender equality. “If I wasn’t acting, I think my newfound interest in feminism and gender equality might make me want to pursue something in that world – in a world of advocacy,” he says. Later in the piece he praises Emma Watson for her gender equality work. He admits there’s an aesthetic component to his admiration, but says, “there’s a significant portion of me that is just really attracted to a smart, strong, intelligent, and outspoken woman. That’s my type through-and-through.”
Matt McGorry is 29; the median age of Maxim’s male readership is 27. I think young men already recognize that women are whole people with intrinsic value unrelated to their ability to arouse. And I think Lanphear knows this. Yes, her leadership is ushering in a new and better regard for women, but she’s also breaking Maxim out of the reductive stereotype of young men as porn-obsessed, sports fanatics who drink a lot of beer.
See, it’s not just women who are damaged by “lad mag” content. It’s men, too.
Men who are intelligent, multi-faceted humans with varied interests and tastes; men who have more on their minds than sexual arousal; men with a deeper interest in women than what they look like in lingerie. That a “men’s magazine” caters only to their base sexual desires is a disservice.
There’s so much polarization out there in the media – everyone has to choose a side. Lanphear’s efforts are bringing those sides closer to a middle ground I believe most people dwell in. Men want to talk with us, learn about us, debate and create and laugh with us. It’s not “us” and “them.” Reflecting this reality on the cover and in the content produced by the largest young men’s lifestyle brand in America does both sexes a favor – and nudges the mainstream media ever closer toward true gender equality.
High five, Kate Lanphear – keep fighting the good fight!
How do you feel about Maxim's new face? How can altering the media help alter the mindset? Do you think this will spark change? Tell us below!
Holly Russel has a BA in Journalism from New York University. She’s a Senior Marketing Copywriter for a pet health company and counts dogs among her favorite things on the planet – along with tacos, books, social media, and the City of New York. When she makes it out from behind the computer screen, Holly spends her time practicing yoga, kayaking, and indoor cycling. She lives and writes in Wilmington, NC.
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