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The New York Times' "Men's Style" Section Is a Win for Women in Journalism

New York Times

When I read the news that the New York Times would be introducing a “Men’s Style” section, I checked the date (April 1) and wondered if Kristin Tice Studeman’s report might be a parody: 

Inside this month’s debut copy, you’ll find a mix of sartorial musings (like the cover story on spring suiting), as well as travel (hang-over-free bachelor-party ideas), tech (to emoji or not to emoji?), and grooming features (men’s beauty is also fairly uncharted territory for NYT, according to [advertising executive Brendan] Monaghan).

This was no joke. The section has arrived, and it feels a bit like old news. An article about men who embrace uniform-dressing, “The Men Powerful Enough to Wear the Same Thing Every Day,” comes several months late to the conversation about Mark Zuckerberg wearing gray T-shirts. Content runs the gamut, targeting men who may not be at fashion's cutting edge (like a piece on non-iron shirts, a perennial style story) as well as those on the other end of the fashion-victimhood spectrum (why not a nearly $2,000 Lanvin backpack?). There's some Michael Musto nightlife coverage, but otherwise the masculinity theme seems a bit forced (ahem, the emoji article).

It’s easy to look at this section, which the paper itself admits is ad-driven, as a loss for journalism. It’s bad enough that women are shepherded towards articles about strife at upscale health clubs. Must men be dragged down with them? Won’t this just increase the number of “this isn't news” complaints?

What the “Men’s Style” section is, though—however inadvertently and surreptitiously—is a win for women in journalism. 

The counterpart to a women’s magazine is a men’s magazine. But until now, the counterpart to the fashion pages of the Times was… the rest of the newspaper. And the more stereotypically male soft-news sections have had a way of getting the benefit of the seriousness doubt. The “Sections” sidebar on the top left corner of the website includes “Sports” among the hard-news categories rather than down below, with the likes of “Arts,” “Food,” and “Fashion & Style.” A subsection called “Personal Tech” (sample headline, and candidate for best headline ever: “Analyzing Your Twitter Life”) falls under “Technology,” well above the faint gray horizontal line dividing the serious from the frivolous. It doesn’t take a degree in Gender Studies to arrive at a hypothesis about why a gadget-themed story would be treated as more serious than a fashion-themed one. 

But are fashion pages, as it stands, the women’s section? The Guardian’s “lifestyle” section leaves little doubt—it includes, along with “food & drink” and “family,” a section titled, simply, “women.” While the “women” section might be the least fluffy of the bunch—a piece called “Kidnap, rape and ‘honour’ killings: on the road with a female reporter in rural India” is not going to tell you which shades of nail polish are in vogue this season—the juxtaposition of serious and silly news is standard for women’s magazines.

The Times' “Fashion & Style” pages are more ambiguous on the gender front. The supplemental fashion magazine has separate men’s and women’s components (i.e. every so often, the weekend paper comes with a glossy chock-full of male model photos), but the newspaper part is ostensibly gender neutral. What do articles about late-in-life gender transitions; gay male AIDS victims’ grown children; or the sexism faced by female “academics, journalists, tech entrepreneurs, novelists” have to do with advice columns, celebrity fashion choices, or weddings? Or, put more bluntly: Why is all the not-straight-cisgender-male news in one place?

Jacqui Shine’s recent sweeping history of the “Styles” section addresses its origins as a women’s page, viewed as less important than the rest of the paper: 

The conception of "women’s news" as an anchor for advertising and the contempt for the women’s pages were pretty naked expressions of contempt for women themselves, both as readers and writers (and sometimes even as consumers). Some of the brightest minds and sharpest talents at the paper were overlooked for decades and, in many ways, are still not part of the Times’ received history.

While the section has expanded to include groups other than women, that the one group it’s effectively left out is the most (for lack of a better word) privileged on the gender spectrum means that the section never quite de-ghettoized itself.

Adding style pages aimed at men, as a counterpoint to the ones primarily aimed at women, isn’t going to smash any gender binaries, but those awaiting that revolution might need to look to places that aren’t propping up luxury ads. The Times' new section, by its mere presence, will challenge the implicit conflation of seriousness and masculinity. And if the lifestyle versus hard news distinction stopped being so gendered on the lifestyle end, this might open the field up more for women on the hard news end.