AA Gill On... Misogyny

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Dear Uncle

I've got this friend who's in charge of this big media thing. Actually it's a magazine, coincidentally
— really surprisingly coincidentally — not unlike this one.

Anyway, my friend was giving an informal talk to colleagues and he pointed out that the ladies that appear in men's magazines are decorative. That their point, in the general mix of flattery, vanity, avarice and morbid curiosity, is essentially to offer a little lubricious, chubby sweetness, a chance to sit back and say, "Isn't life grand?" in much the same way as readers of Country Life look at the Girl in Pearls with a Queen Anne box, paddocks, staff flat and
a family shoot, or Top Gear readers ponder a fit Lambo with her bonnet up and an oiled big end hanging out.

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My friend got a righteous kicking from the feminists and the liberals and, actually, the conservatives and the whole-Earth greens and the dolphin paddlers and the politically undecided.

In fact, everyone said he was an inexcusable sexist misogynist who isn't fit to edit the cast sheet at Stringfellows. What do you think? I'd like to pass something encouraging on to my friend as he's not feeling himself at the moment.

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Alan Semlib, London


Hello, Alex.

I know you're under the desk, Alex. The "my-friend" thing is only used by people who want to be outed.

If you really want to be anonymous, don't write on notepaper headed "From the Editor's Office".

OK, so this is about your little — well actually, let's call a 40DD cock-up what it is: a huge, all-over-your-face cock lob. Here's the thing: female nudity or
girls in their underwear, fingers tugging the elastic, is all about intent.

What were you thinking when you said, "Wahey! Print that!"? What are the readers thinking when they look
at them? What are other women thinking
when they see them? Most important, what do the girls themselves think as they pose for them?

Do you imagine they think, "This will
sell my film/book/record/range of Valentine's underwear"? Or do they think, "I need to humiliate and expose myself like this to feed my children and stop them repossessing my mother's transplanted kidney"?

Objections
to the objectifying of women change but the naked women remain poutingly the same. Thirty years ago, complaining about underdressed decorative ladies in print was a right-wing thing: Mary Whitehouse, people with thatch and gnomes. Overt sexuality was offensive.

While on the left, all nudity and nakedness was viewed as liberating, so naked shots in magazines showed that you were countercultural and revolutionary. Go and look at Germaine Greer in Suck.

Today, it's essentially a left-wing thing: sexist, misogynist. And the right, contrarily, has moved over to point out that it's about freedom of expression. This isn't cynical or funny, it's politics. And it's context.

Nude in a gallery is art, in a phone box it's pornography. The Iliad
 is probably the most misogynistic poem ever written, after "There Was an Old Slapper from Cheshunt". Your problem is that the context is wrong.

Tatler can put top totty tits on its cover and we all snort down our noses like Derby winners. But you pointed out that the context here is essentially wankability.

So, if you want to keep printing pictures of girls, you have to ensure that the reader sees it not as a humiliated or dim bird who appears to be thinking, "I need the cash/I hope the director's going to hit on me/They promised to airbrush my cellulite."

She's got to look like she's thinking, "I'm strong, independent and beautiful and I've got your attention." More Helen of Troy than Tracey from St Helens. And she's got to appear to say, "If you get your little willy out I'm going to staple it to Jeremy Langmead."

You see, nobody thinks nudity is innately bad. It's what you're selling with it that counts.

[From the editor's office: I don't dispute any of that except for one bit. I've never said, "Wahey! Print that!" Never. Thanks for bringing it all up again, by the way. You're a brick.]