Reading, eating, sleeping: are these not the very foundations of wellbeing? Most else, I could take or leave (exercising is only for emergencies; handsome lovers and disco dancing and holidays in sunny places are the extras we get if we’re lucky and/or persistent).
As a kid I avidly read cereal boxes at the breakfast table when I didn’t have a book handy. I devoured all the writing I could get my hands on. As a teenager I was very keen to get my mitts on teen magazines, with their provocative chat about make-up, shopping, and oh my, dating boys.
Magazines were my main love. When studying literature, I worked doggedly through reading lists of Important and Serious Books, but in my spare time I read all kinds of magazines indiscriminately. National Geographic, Vice, Arena, and New Scientist made up my motley reading habits, along with women’s mags like Glamour, Marie-Claire and Vogue.
What made them all so addictive? Books demanded commitment, gave delayed gratification.Magazines were another world in which reading was light-hearted, snappy, immediate. Articles were warm and witty and fast-paced, the writing spurred on by photographs and illustrations. It was junk-food for the mind – actually, not quite; it wasn’t junk but delicacies, offered one by one, page after page. A tasting menu, if you will.
I remembered the names of great writers and followed them across various publications (Sylvia Patterson, Hadley Freeman, Caitlin Moran). I cut out and kept great articles. (Red magazine, years ago, commissioned ad agencies to create advertisements for marriage, imagining a future in which British couples had taken against matrimony. The idea was speculative and brilliant; the results were wonderfully clever and funny. I regret to this day not keeping the article).
Then, well, the internet happened. I began to tire of mainstream printed magazines. For someone who can’t stop reading, the readily available, endlessly updated streams of funny clickbait on Buzzfeed and its breed, were altogether too much to resist. Traditional bog-standard magazines couldn’t compete for novelty or content.
Websites, by their very nature, were much better equipped to lure us in and much more addictive once they got our attention. Magazine websites offered a diversity of voices, present-moment updates, and conversation with commenters. I began to see the strange backwardness of traditional women’s magazines. Perhaps it had always been there, and it was me who changed. They banged on about the same topics, issue after issue (weight loss, fashion) and there was just one message behind it all: you are not good enough.
In real life, quelle surprise, women care about all kinds of things. They care about all the things that human beings care about, because women are human beings, not a deviation from ‘normal’ (read: male) humanity. We do not require specialised reading material on frilly ‘women only’ topics. Why couldn’t the traditional magazines own up to this?
More practically, what could I do about this admittedly first world problem? I decided, if I was going to spend my cash on something unnecessary like a magazine, it would be on a genuinely interesting, feminist, original magazine. Imagine if there was a publication that comfortably, confidently explored all kinds of topics: politics, travelling, music, art, philosophy, economics, story-telling, photography…
This is the tremendous Womankind magazine. The edition on sale just now in the UK is the Russia issue (they seem to have a different country as a loose theme for each issue). I’d already consumed the Italy issue in one day, and learned some horrifying and fascinating things about women in the mafia, FYI.
Each page is a joy. This is how magazines can be, if they meet the potential of their medium. A taster menu of ideas and inspiration, from an interview with the artist Andrey Remnev to an article about Yuri Gagarin’s 108 minute journey in space. The phrase ‘food for thought’ is perfectly apt – I came away from each article fizzing with questions and wonderings, notions and cravings.
The editor of Womankind, Antonia Case, put forth her vision for the magazine in a recent interview in Kodak magazine: “We seek empowerment by looking outwards, not inwards” she said. “Women are the biggest buyers of books, the most avid theater-goers, and patrons at art galleries and museums; women are keen travellers, and make up some 50 per cent of enrolments at universities. To give women dieting tips for their reading pleasure is nonsense”. Yes. YES. This warms my heart immeasurably.
Most interestingly, this magazine has managed to pull off what so many traditional publications can’t – it is better than the internet. It has no adverts and ofcourse no pop-ups or mad comments. Care has been taken. The articles have an authenticity to them, a sense of thoughtfulness and commitment in the writing. This is far more satisfying than a website that moves on every other minute.
I’ve broken free from my bad habit of staying up late reading things on the internet, because I have this now. Next I’m going to try Riposte magazine, which looks all kinds of funny and wonderful.
The website Fusion, a diverse news and entertainment site, noted in 2015 that ‘while the term “print is dead” might still apply to mainstream glossies that are struggling, smaller niche magazines are actually thriving’. This is good news. It seems that, in 2017, writing for women as if women are human beings is still undeniably niche – but hey, we’re working on that, right?
Ps: if you want to find out what happened when a community of British women in the 1930s decided to jolly well create their own magazine, then click here.
[None of the magazines I swoon about here have paid me to say things, by the way. This is just the outpouring of one rather obsessive magazine fan].