Friday, February 25, 2011

Busting A Nut

Womens magazines that actually seem to like women are few and far between. Forget Cosmopolitan and its ilk: that's all about how the sex you're having is lackluster and boring, and what you really need to be A Real Woman is beachy, tousled hair, a tropical-print dress, a boyfriend who was chiseled out of granite, and a sex life that would exhaust bunnies. Oh, plus a career. And endless nights on the town. And embarrassing moments! All the while avoiding the pitfalls of whatever Scare Of The Month Cosmo has drummed up: abortion clinic arsonists one month, home-invading date rapists, the terrors of aspartame and secret cancers that will invade your body and make you sterile, fat, and ugly.

I miss Jane, which was funny, raunchy and had great clothes that sometimes (gasp!) came from chains or department stores. If Cosmo is that girl who posts pictures on Facebook of her enormous engagement ring and her fifteen sorority sisters all posing in front of a sunset during their all-inclusive vacay to Veradero, then Jane was that girl from your office with chipped nail polish and a snarky sense of humor.

But Jane is gone and is stagnating in some lonely corner of the internet. What's a magazine-loving girl to do? Shameless is geared towards a slightly younger crowd, and the voice of Bitch can be, well, a little bitchy. I love women's magazines, but I don't always need a stridently feminist voice in my readings. Bitch is great for when I want to feel righteously affronted, in the same way that I read Utne when I feel like vegging out and feeling groovy (and out of its intensely American loop), but for the times I feel like being a girl, a woman, a babe and a bitch, Bust fills that niche in all kinds of ways.

Where Jane leaned heavily on celebs, Bust takes a cool-nerd approach. Recent cover girls have included Sofia Coppola and Portia di Rossi, neither of whom do massive box office, but who have a je ne sais quoi regardless. Between the covers of the most recent issue, readers can find travelogues, recipes, sex surveys, interviews with various entertainers, thoughtful articles, comics, and reviews. It's all done with a femme viewpoint, is queer-friendly, and the fashion and photography is accessible and well-designed.

So why don't I read Bust more often? It fills a void that was left behind by other glossies, but it's sufficiently aspirational that I don't feel like I'm reading someone's crappy basement DIY 'zine. It's radical in its politics, likes to talk about sex, and exposes me to interesting women and cool movements. But there are issues, too. It's a little skimpy on content. I guess the biggest problem is that I feel like an outsider when I read it, and I am, like, the definition of its demographic.

Magazines should invite their audience in - even though I'm not a dude, I occasionally read GQ and have a blast. It's funny to read, handsome to look at, and meaty to hold. Their feature articles are great, long, 8000-word monsters about Iraqi war vets or dramatic rescues at sea. When I read Wired, I feel like the articles I don't really care about - tech reviews! So! Many! Tech reviews! - are balanced by interesting and esoteric articles about things I didn't even know I was curious about. Bust, while it's trying really hard, just leaves me sort of...meh?

The thing is, and I hate myself for even suggesting it, but here we go anyway: Bust isn't hilarious. GQ? Funny. Wired? Funny! Bust? Not so funny. Us chicks already suffer from a dearth of humor in our lives. According to Leah McLaren, it's because we're too busy nursing and being offended at poop jokes. I think she's terrible, but she does have a point: there aren't a ton of ladies out there whose stock in trade is "the funny girl." We're pretty, well-dressed, sexy, honest...but funny? Nah.

Which is boring. And it doesn't have to be that way. I think jokes about breastfeeding are boring and weird, in the same way that I think jokes about buttholes and foreskins are boring and weird. I don't think I'm alone in this, and there are dudes out there whose noses wrinkle up when someone cracks a joke about Dutch ovens. And Bust could totally bust out of their earnest-girl editorial voice and learn how to take a leaner, funnier stance on things. Maybe add a few pages to their feature articles - I was seriously disappointed by the lightweight article about the women who crusade against ladies who watch porn, because that seems insanely interesting - and try for some non-Etsy advertisers. I know ardent Bust readers would loathe changes in their mag, and I feel for them. But Bust has the potential to be a great, powerful counterpoint to Cosmo's ridiculous consumerism: a magazine with a zesty feminist appeal, a smart and funny editorial voice, and that has become a place for women who truly do have something to "get off their chests" a place to be heard and seen.

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