It says a lot about our culture when a popular, men’s magazine feels compelled to dedicate one of its issues to addressing women’s rights.
Esquire’s April issue, aptly titled “Women and Men,” is a must-read for anyone grappling with the current realities facing women. As editor-in-chief David Granger points out in his editor’s letter, the last seven months should have provoked us to do some soul-searching.
We’ve witnessed a professional football player knock his girlfriend unconscious. We’ve watched that same player’s team grapple with the seriousness of the incident, slapping him on the wrist and suspending him for two games until its owners saw the video, changed their minds, and expelled him.
We’ve read about the horrors of sexual assault on college campuses—gang rape, powerful fraternities taking advantage of women, colleges being willing to kick such matters under rugs when they’re afraid of tarnishing their own reputations. At the same time, we’ve seen these same stories get picked apart and rape “victims” get accused of lying. When dismissed, we’ve watched victims “carry that weight together” by carrying mattresses around their campuses to protest their schools’ dismissals of their cases.
We’ve seen sports figures held in such high regard that police departments are accused of not following through on leads and not conducting thorough investigations of sexual assault cases in order to protect these star players. We’ve watched a comedy legend unravel as dozens of women have accused him of rape.
These events, at the very least, should have left a sour taste in our mouths and pressing questions at the forefront of our minds. As Granger wonders, so should we be asking: Are men really this abusive towards women? And if so—and if we’re just now realizing this as a fact—how, oh how have we been so blind as to not see it?
As a woman, I feel indebted to Esquire, a men’s magazine, not only for asking these questions, but for taking the time to try to answer them when it would have been much easier for its editors to simply go about their business and continue publishing “men’s” magazines about “men’s” issues.
What the editors of Esquire recognize—and what we all should recognize—is that women’s issues don’t just involve women. They also involve men. And solving these issues requires effort from both groups.
For one piece in this issue, Esquire partnered with Cosmopolitan magazine to conduct a survey of 1,000 American men and 1,000 American women by asking questions like: What constitutes rape? Have you ever been the target of sexual assault? Do you think most men are capable of rape?
In other pieces, Esquire asked other questions. What does it mean to be married in America today? What does it mean to be a grown woman? What happens when universities are given the power to side-step criminal investigations and make their own decisions regarding rape cases and the futures of the students involved in those cases? What does sexual violence look like online? What percentage of women have REALLY been sexually assaulted, and what exactly do their stories look like? The answers, which are laid out in a 40-page special section that constitutes nearly a third of the magazine’s April issue, will astonish you.
Esquire, I admit, can be a hard publication to swallow at times. The first issue I received as a subscriber featured a cover image of a scantily-clad Cameron Diaz wearing a leotard reminiscent of Baywatch swimsuits that stopped at her hipbones. (In their defense, the actual story about Cameron Diaz was phenomenal.)
Despite all of its playfulness and sometimes overly macho content, Esquire has done precisely what most men, and women, are afraid to do—that is, boldly talk about rape, domestic violence, and other critical issues facing women today.
And while talking about these issues may seem like a small step, it isn’t. Esquire’s investigations, which are backed by similar messages that we’ve heard for decades, revealed that women hesitate to report instances of sexual assault because they are afraid. Afraid that they won’t be believed. Afraid that even if they file a report, nothing will be done. These problems are exacerbated further by the fact that most law enforcement agencies are dominated by men.
Again, as Esquire so simply states, these issues involve women AND men, not just women.
Even more moving is the magazine’s longtime tagline, “Man at His Best,” which takes on new meaning in light of the magazine’s most recent issue. If speaking up for women’s rights when it matters most isn’t “man at his best,” then I’m not sure what is.
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