The trouble with female celebrity profiles and the men who write them

• 1,639 words

Photograph by Thierry CaroThierry Caro

In the first three paragraphs of Thomas B. Morgan’s 1960 Look profile of Brigitte Bardot, the writer refers to the actor’s “magpie hairdo,” her “girl-woman earthiness,” her rich father, her promiscuity (his inference, not hers), and her refusal to embrace a traditional motherhood role. He calls her “the sassy kitten,” puts her in a category alongside French wine and small cars, and resents her for being so wildly popular. One rather important detail is missing from this heap of vitriol: her name.

Fifty-three years later, in an Esquire profile of Megan Fox, Stephen Marche (a Walrus contributor who once wrote a piece—for Esquire—about “the rise of men and the whining of girls“) calls the actor “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy,” and “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.”

How far we’ve come.

The garish similarities between Look’s 1960 piece and Esquire’s 2013 profile reveal a disheartening lack of progress in between. Male writers have had decades to remedy themselves, but still write jejunely about women, accentuating one isolated, exploitable trait (attractive, rebellious, sweet, rude, slutty, rich) for the sake of producing more easily understood subject matter. Until they learn (or at least try to learn) how to write about female subjects in a way that does not purposefully weave paternalistic generalizations into every paragraph, I propose a moratorium on this stagnant approach to literary writing. Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.

I’m not saying that women are better writers than men, and I’m not saying all men lack the will to rise above stereotypes in their work (do you hear that, comment section?). I’m saying that something needs to change in the way literary profiles are written and the way the lives within them are handled, and that this would be a good step toward smoothing out what is currently an unbalanced gender structure in literary journalism. Too often, the privileged male writers whose bylines dominate the publications we read fail to write about women in a way that doesn’t simplify female existences into condescending phrases like “sassy kitten” and “bombshell.”

The status quo results in pieces such as Chuck Klosterman’s “The Pitfalls of Indie Fame” (Grantland), which mercurially identifies musician Merrill Garbus as “a somewhat androgynous American woman,” and Tom Junod’s “The State of the Female Singer” (Esquire), which describes Lana Del Rey’s lips in fanatical detail, and relegates Florence and the Machine’s 2011 album, Ceremonials,to “something our wives can pick up… at Starbucks while waiting for Adele to get out of the hospital.” The latter goes on to shame Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Ke$ha, and Beyoncé for adopting stage personas—as if Kanye West and Justin Bieber don’t lay it on thick.

But one can only place so much blame on Klosterman, Junod, and now Marche. They are following a standardized formula that editors have long approved of. Esquire’s 1962 “The American Woman” issue, for example, features a profile of singer Brenda Lee written by Sarel Eimerl (a male). An excerpt: “She has achieved her present eminence largely by projecting a persona which is about as sexy as a polyp.” Later, Eimerl makes a point of contrasting Lee’s stage persona with the gentler demure she exudes when not in the spotlight. Girls can be catty or polite, but never both.

That was half a century ago. What’s changed since then? It remains practically impossible for women to be profiled without being subjected to the male gaze, although the gaze is not necessarily the problem. The real trouble happens when the writer goes away to record his judgments, then paraphrases and assumes and generalizes and simplifies and projects. Morgan cannot understand Bardot (or doesn’t want to), so he calls her a sassy kitten with an attitude problem. Del Rey—a confident, attractive female who is subservient in her lyrics—is confusing, so she’s labeled a brat. It’s easier than trying to unpack that she is a strong but weak, rude but sweet, seemingly innocent provocateur who usurps power and sexual prowess over males by relinquishing it to them, thereby laughing all the way to the bank as music writers ponder how on earth a pretty little songstress got so hard to explain.

In a uniquely thorough deconstruction of Del Rey in Spin, Jessica Hopper quotes Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson, who says that Del Rey “has many different qualities that women in our culture aren’t allowed to be, all at once, so people are trying to find the inauthentic one.” This is typical. When a woman embodies a persona, we see words like “disingenuous” and “fake.” When a man does the same, we get “Jack White Is the Coolest, Weirdest, Savviest Rock Star of Our Time“—the actual subtitle of last year’s New York Times Magazine profile of Jack White by Josh Eells. The article is richly well rounded. Jack White probably is the coolest, weirdest, savviest rock star of our time, but he’s also obsessively controlling and highly neurotic. Eells manages a holistic profile of White without ever calling him a skinnier version of someone else (as Jacob Brown did in a T magazine comparison of Del Rey and Adele) or reducing the polarity of his personality to fakeness or a mood swing. White’s physical appearance is mentioned in the third paragraph, not the first, and that description is limited. What’s so hard about that?

Last year, celebrated music journalist Maura Johnston came up with four suggestions for those struggling to not write misogynistically: do not assign descriptive words based on a subject’s gender, do not “make shit up about an artist in order to sexualize her,” do not exclusively compare female artists to other female artists, and do not mistake a subject’s politeness for flirtation, then write about it extensively. Klosterman, Brown, Morgan, Junod, Eimerl, and, most recently, Marche each employed several of these troubling tropes when writing about women. Hopper used none.

“It really is shocking to me that there are still writers out there, and more importantly, editors out there, who treat women artists of all kinds like they’re zoo animals,” says Johnston, over the phone. “These are magazines that are supposed to represent the best in journalism, but they’re just as sexist and gross as Maxim. That’s a big problem.” Johnston agrees that assigning more profiles of female celebrities to writers who are women “would be a good chance for female writers to show their chops.” She also points out that GQ’s recent Beyoncé cover story was written by Amy Wallace.

When men (again, not all men) write about men, they glorify. When they write about women, they minimize. When women (again, not all women) write about women, they empathize, identify, and render thorough conclusions, even if those conclusions are brutally critical, such as Lynn Hirschberg’s infamous 2010 profile of M.I.A. in New York Times Magazine. The writer may have disliked her subject, but she used 9,000 words to meticulously explain why.

In a 2011 Forbes article entitled “Women Write Differently Than Men (Duh),” Susannah Breslin writes that she was simultaneously more compassionate and more ruthless when she wrote about the pornography business, because she could identify with women in a way that men could not. “The fantasy and the sex didn’t interest me,” she recalls. “I was looking for the ordinary in the extraordinary, the mundane in the hardcore, the human beings in the sausage factory.”

The fantasy, the sex, the extraordinary, the hardcore, and the sausage factory are the places male writers can’t seem to climb out of. They linger there like losers at last call, sipping away at warm pints while the barmaid rolls her eyes. Consider “She’s got Bardot’s eyes and Daffy Duck’s lips. But Lana Del Ray disturbs me“—the title of a Guardian piece by Sam Leith that does precisely what Breslin criticizes. The writer can’t determine what about the singer irks him, so he compares one part of her face to the face of another famous female, makes fun of her lips (surely a British music critic has heard of Mick Jagger?), and cites an unexplained, irrational distaste. Del Rey could be the Prettiest, Weirdest, Media-Savviest, Most Derisive Pop Star of the Internet, but Leith doesn’t call her any of that. Instead he opts for “regressive adolescent fantasy.”

In a 2012 Vanity Fair profile, Lisa Robinson reveals Lady Gaga’s affinity for Dunkin’ Donuts. Lady Gaga is very rich, but Robinson does not call her flippant or fake because she likes cheap pastry. She presents the good, the bad, the genuine, and the hypocritical, without judging the singer for any of it. The result is a pretty fair shake. Also last year, Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker piece about Portlandia began by discussing riot grrrl-cum-actor Carrie Brownstein’s work (as well as co-star Fred Armisen’s), not her lips or her nose or what she happened to be wearing when the writer met her. Her appearance is not mentioned until the article’s third page. When it is, she is compared to Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone. In bringing up Brownstein’s personal life, Talbot simply writes that the singer “has dated both men and women.” Just like Breslin writing on the pornography business, Talbot doesn’t get stuck in the sex part of writing about her subject’s sexuality.

Women are usually better than men at writing about women, because women have felt the distinct stab in the soul that happens when their gender is pulverized through oppressive language. It is time to let women write about their own gender and contribute to the recording of their own literary history. In writing poorly, male writers tacitly admit that women can do a better job.

So let them.

Carly Lewis is a writer living in Toronto and New York. Her work has appeared in Vice, The Atlantic, and the Globe and Mail.

  • disqus_Ra7FHYAYtZ

    What hypocritical tripe this article is. Is this what passes for journalism these days?

    • muzak for curmudgeons

      Care to elaborate on the alleged hypocrisy?

      • disqus_Ra7FHYAYtZ

        Hypocrisy: A woman writer writing superficially about men who write superficially about woman.

        • muzak for curmudgeons

          OK. A superficial critique of a woman writer allegedly writing superficially about men who write superficially about women. The cycle continues.

        • Days of Broken Arrows

          …whilst not realizing she is doing so on technology invented by men which runs on an infrastructure devised and maintained by men. Without men, this profile could never have been written, ironically enough.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    I read the paragraph beginning “When men…” to mean that “not all” male writers minimize women—but I can’t find a direct mention of any of these counterexamples. Wouldn’t it help to give them more prominence than the men who perpetuate the status quo?

    Also, I understand that celebrity profiles are widely read and thus their style is influential, but celebrity being celebrity, the genre is not the first place to look for depth, sensitivity or nuance. For instance, it might be possible to write intelligently about why Jack White is cool, weird, savvy, or whatever, but it’s harder to make the case that it’s important to do so, and it’s also possible (and common?) to write junk.

    In public affairs, science and literary criticism women and men have been writing about each other’s work and ideas (as opposed to their sex) for a bit longer (or at least claiming to, and occasionally making gender-bias accusations and counter-accusations). Perhaps they have ideas on how to do so without relying on heuristics as simple as “women should be discussed by women.”

  • Bill_Bell

    I can suggest a remedy but not a solution. When you find yourself reading unpromising drivel about anything remind yourself that we live in an age when there is usually lots of material available about just about any topic, and stop reading. Now if you’re still interested in the topic, go and find another source. Men are not going to stop writing about women or vice versa but none of us is forced to read any of their output if we do not wish to do so once we leave school.

    • stefinmotion

      As Maura Johnston is quoted as saying in the article: “These are magazines that are supposed to represent the best in journalism, but they’re just as sexist and gross as Maxim. That’s a big problem.”

      These are magazines/publications at the forefront of our culture, and they need to do better. It’s quite simple, really.

      • Paul Kishimoto


        • stefinmotion

          I’m not going to go back into the article and pick out the names of the publications mentioned. You can do that.

          • Paul Kishimoto

            The publications are mentioned by the author of this article; Johnston’s “these” comes in a quote from a phone conversation, the rest of which we aren’t provided. Does she mean the same ones?

            You seem to, but I think a lot of people would strongly dispute the assertion that GQ, Esquire, Grantland, T, Vanity Fair and Look are “at the forefront of our culture.” The same claim about New York Times Magazine might get a bit further, but it wouldn’t get universal assent.

          • amanda hess

            Last year’s ASME nominations provide a key for understanding how men’s magazines—those largely run by, written by, and many times explicitly targeting men—are considered the best in the business. Since we’re talking about features here:


            Esquire for “Heavenly Father!” October
            GQ for “The Man Who Sailed His House,” October
            The New York Times Magazine for “You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!” June 12
            The New Yorker for “A Murder Foretold,” April 4
            Rolling Stone for “Arms and the Dudes,” March 31


            D Magazine for “He Is Anonymous,” April
            ESPN The Magazine for “Game of Her Life,” January 10
            Men’s Journal for “The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See,” March
            Rolling Stone for “Santiago’s Brain,” December 8
            Sports Illustrated for “Dewayne Dedmon’s Leap of Faith,” November 14

          • Paul Kishimoto
      • Bill_Bell

        You represent half the human race. Any magazine that consistently fails to publish articles that succeed in portraying members of our species accurately cannot be said to be at the forefront of much except commercial success. Withdraw your contribution to that status.

        Ridiculing specific examples in places like this or on fb (say) wouldn’t hurt either. I for one would enjoy reading what women have to say about some of this stuff, when it’s clear and specific.

    • Ashley Ashbee

      No, changing attitudes, making sexism socially unacceptable, are the solutions.

      • Bill_Bell

        FWIW, I accept that (although I think it could be a long time before we see the benefits). Even when (if) sexism disappears I imagine that any sex will find it difficult to comprehend any of the others well enough to describe them adequately or fairly in a magazine article.

  • Chris Tindal

    I cannot believe you’re saying that women are better writers than men and that all men lack the will to rise above stereotypes in their work.

    • Chris Tindal

      Now that I see how many comments are actually missing the point I’m not sure if I regret making this joke or should pat myself on the back for being prophetic.

  • Chris

    I agree wholeheartedly that men should write less shallowly about women in general. I want to know about the real woman inside the “bombshell”. But regarding this: “Women are usually better than men at writing about women…” I would argue that women are usually better at writing about women FOR women than men. Our brains are just different and men’s magazines (Esquire, for example) are written for men. Yes, many of us want something more in-depth, and I’ll agree that most of the pieces referenced in this piece are less-than-good, but sometimes we crave the simple. We are often simple. We simplify because we are often simple. That’s just how we came.

  • gentlemanstimes

    I know movie stars and pop stars (male and female) are mostly famous for their ideas on politics and pieces in scholarly journals, but sometimes it seems appropriate to also describe how they look, if only just for scene setting.

  • Disqussionist

    It’s a bit odd to read a post like this and see no discussion of the target readership of the magazines cited, and to see an Esquire (and to a lesser extent Grantland, though Klostermann’s riffing hardly qualifies as a profile) profile stand in for all profiles, as though Stephen Marche’s absurd sexist peregrinations apply to e.g. Tad Friend’s profile of Jamie Pressly in the New Yorker years back.

    The reason why men are commissioned to write sexist profiles of women for Esquire is because Esquire’s advertisers give Esquire an incentive to run profiles tinged with fantasy. They’re selling young men a glossy, objectified version of unattainable women (with a dose, which Marche’s piece tried and failed hilariously to deliver, of literary quality — to call Esquire the crafting of literary history is equally hilarious, and gives celebrity profiles far too much credit). Part of the formula is that they be written by men, because it creates the vicarious fantasy among male magazine buyers that they’re the writer, looking right up close at their fantasy woman.

    Is it right? Of course not, and ultimately I hope the culture will shift so that that’s NOT what readers want. But to place the problem at the feet of men’s ability to write on women is entirely misguided, not to mention the lamest kind of gender essentialism — if you’re trying to help men feel “the distinct stab in the soul that happens when their gender is pulverized through oppressive language” you’re off to a good start, though in the process you disprove your assertion that it leads to better writing.

    Francine Prose and other women have written eloquently about why such reductionism is dumb and wrong when men do it; it doesn’t look any better on you.

  • Alix Kemp

    That’s a pretty gross mischaracterization of Marche’s piece about Hanna Rosin and “The End of Men.” I think Lewis’s problem may have less to do with bad writing by men and is in fact a result of her poor reading comprehension skills. For the record, I laughed out loud at Marche’s piece about Megan Fox, which was clearly written with tongue firmly in cheek.

  • Jennifer

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  • Leila Marshy

    All the men getting uppity and defensive here, just calm the fuck down. If you can understand issues of colour (for example, focusing on Will Smith’s blackness every second paragraph), then pull up your brains to your skulls and think about this a little harder. She’s not saying women are better writers. She’s saying that she’s tired of reading ABOUT women written BY men. Because when men write about women – in the top newspapers and magazines, no less – they focus on superficial things like sexiness and how much or how little they are attracted to said woman. I can’t believe the inane comments here.

    • Ashley Ashbee

      I totally agree with you. The fact is that it is socially acceptable for men to write about women this way. That’s why it’s so pervasive and that’s why so many can’t identify it as a problem, nor can they see the problem when laid out for them. Can this social acceptance of sexism be disputed as fact because not every single man writer objectifies women he writes about? No. The logic!

    • Chris

      “Because when men write about women – in the top newspapers and magazines, no less – they focus on superficial things like sexiness and how much or how little they are attracted to said woman.” Do they really? All of the time? Or just when they’re writing to an audience of other men, i.e. in Esquire? Men and women are very different, that’s it. Men have a tendency to simplify, to objectify, to destroy, to protect, etc. We’re wired that way. Women have a tendency to analyze, and to nurture. I observe my girlfriend thinking and doing things that I would never, ever consider (laughing at my ridiculous impressions of squirrels, or dying a hundred times when she sees a cute dog)—she’s just wired that way and I love it. I love seeing how different we are, and being privy to her perspective. It’s a privilege. She loves watching my man-brain do certain things that hers wouldn’t, too. If a man is being a jerk in an article, belittling a woman and being a creep, then he’s a creep, that’s it. Men can be creeps, and so can women (especially to each other). But you and this article are trying to argue that men CAN’T write well about women, which is completely ridiculous. They do so all of the time. Just not every single time, and especially when they’re speaking to other men. In that case, they do and say the things that you would never do and say, because they’re different from you. Not evil. Just different. Get over it.

      • Chris

        Ha ha ha, also, for the lols, imagine the flack I would get if I’d written something like,

        “All the WOMEN getting uppity and defensive here, just calm the fuck down. If you can understand issues of colour (for example, focusing on Will Smith’s blackness every second paragraph), then pull up your brains to your skulls and think about this a little harder.”

        Incredible. Ha ha ha.

        • Leila Marshy

          Well I said that. And it was borne out of that familiar frustration that comes when men chime in to defend vociferously their position, as opposed to sitting back and going “oh, okay, maybe i can learn something here.”

          • stefinmotion

            This. Immediate defensiveness in the face of criticism is the worst.

        • Kam

          Exactly! Incredulous. Blatant. The gall to use characterization like that to shut you up. Those words have power, you know! Who can hear what you’re really saying when people shout “uppity.” You do know the next adjective in line is “hysterical,” right?

      • stefinmotion

        “Get over it.” Hey fuck you

        • Chris

          This commenter was pretending that I’d said “get over it” as in “get over your feelings, get over fighting for what you believe in, and get over trying to improve the culture” so she could have an excuse to swear at strangers on the internet and feel proud and mighty, but yeah. That’s not what I meant. Sorry if I offended.

          • stefinmotion

            Ooooops I said a swear! So “get over” what, exactly then? I’m interested in hearing a clarification of what you meant.

          • Chris

            That men’s thoughts and feelings function differently than women’s do, generally. We’re on a different scale, so of course a lot of the stuff we say and feel doesn’t make sense to women. In the case of men’s magazines, we write about women’s bodies because they thrill us and fill our imaginations in ways that are just different. That’s all.

          • stefinmotion

            Strive to be/treat women/write better!

          • Chris

            Word up, sister. :)

          • Kiran Barua

            I like women’s bodies, the same way you do, still don’t want them objectified.

      • ladyday001

        The original commentator you are replying too has a very valid point tho. Not ALL male writers do this, but even in contexts that AREN’T something like Esquire there is a lot of focus in other publications on a woman’s appearance / clothing / etc. and less on her accomplishments. Its like when women speak at conferences and are constantly introduced as “The lovely” or randomly being asked about her clothes …its unnecessary.

        • stefinmotion


        • Chris

          I understand, and I’m definitely wanting to understand how that feels from your perspective, if only so that I can avoid alienating or hurting women in my own writing and in my own life. I chimed in an attempt to explain why men write this way, especially to each other. The way women look informs the way we process the world around us in profound ways. I hope that the frustrations expressed in this article will challenge male writers to try harder (as they’ve challenged me), but the effect a woman’s body has on a man’s mind is as intrinsic as that feeling a lot of women get when they see a baby. They want to hold it and protect it and it can inform everything you do. Can we learn to work with that a bit better?

          • booksvsbrain

            I think it’s interesting that you compare men’s feelings towards women with women’s feelings towards babies. It’s true that when I see a baby, I have an immediate uncontrollabe reaction, and all the I think at times is I want one. I can’t understand men’s sexual thoughts, because frankly I have never looked at a guy and thought- man the things I could do to him, had explicit fantasies or even pictured them naked. There are certain things I can’t understand about guys simply because I am not one of them. I guess that’s what the authour is trying to get at. Meghan Fox and Bridgette Bardot have more to them than a hot piece of ass, and sometimes men can’t see past that cause they’re just struck by initial attraction. I’m just imagining being a guy about to go interview Meghan Foxx, and I could imagine what my mind would focus on- though I know they are all capable of controlling their urges. Just their first initial impression might be different than a womans- the baby effect haha.

          • Kiran Barua

            What are the profound effects of a woman’s looks and what place do they have in journalism. I don’t feel anything when I see a baby, except the urge to get a drink.

      • TheDom

        Manbrain? Seriously? Dude, this does not exist. Gender differences in behaviour are entirely socialized and can, and have, been erased under different social protocols.

      • Kiran Barua

        The author is all for men writing about women, she just wants to see it done with some respect. And it does not somehow make it ok if the audience is male- boy’s club anyone?

      • Sarah Jansen
    • john anderson

      “She’s saying that she’s tired of reading ABOUT women written BY men.”

      I would think the best way to do that would be to not read the articles rather than censoring the writers.

      • Kiran Barua

        no mention of censorship, this is called critisicm.

    • robingee

      >> I can’t believe the inane comments here. >>

      I can. Unfortunately.

    • MarcusH333

      “All the men getting uppity and defensive here, just calm the fuck down”. Hmm. Now replace the word “men”: with any other group of your choice. Homosexuals, blacks, Chinese ……

  • Leila Marshy

    In Slate today, a rundown of the hateful sexism inherent in discussions about Anne Hathaway.

  • Elise

    I would love to see these insights consistently reflected in the Walrus. A fine article.

  • sarahspy

    yes to all of this, and thank you for it.

  • Sarah Beatrice Elaine Milner

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a writer and a musician, I experience the double-standards of the male gaze on a daily basis. In both roles I am expected to simultaneously embrace and rise above physical appeal; female writers are expected to post professional/airbrushed profile pics to attract readers, and female guitarists are encouraged to wear short skirts and stroke their guitar necks in a masturbatory fashion.

    I do somewhat disagree with the sentiment that women write women better, however. In my experience, there are many, MANY women who perpetuate female objectification far worse than the average man does. After decades of constant voyeurism in the media, is it any wonder that women objectify themselves? I think the real problem is the imagined demographic, or intended audiences, of the articles being written by men on women (equally as appalling is the extremely pedantic and trite articles being published by the likes of Cosmo for the a female audience).

  • Laura Barron

    A related article concerning Canadian music journalism and the male gaze:

  • Clive

    Marche claims that Megan Fox is “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy,” and “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.” I guess I’d feel more indignant if this weren’t completely true.

    • stefinmotion

      Were you aware that she’s also a living, breathing human being? I guess not. If you think that was an acceptable way to describe somebody, then this article is for you.

      • Alix Kemp

        It’s an acceptable way to describe somebody whose job it is to be a screen saver, a shower fantasy, and a prop to sell movies and jeans. That’s what Megan Fox does, that’s how she’s built her career, and to chastise Marche for talking about it doesn’t make sense. Especially considering he does a fantastic job of showing exactly what kind of person she is: the kind who equates herself to victims of human sacrifice and claims she doesn’t want to be famous while posting half-naked on the cover of a men’s magazine.

        • zbs

          The examples chosen could hardly be worse. It detracts from her point, which is essentially sound. (Why not mention the Zaha Hadid profile in the New Yorker, or worse, But expecting a profile of fucking Brigitte Bardot that doesn’t talk about how she looks is perverse. Would anyone expect someone writing on James Dean or Brad Pitt to studiously dance around their sex appeal?

          • Alix Kemp

            I actually disagree with her point — or at least, her suggested solution. Get men to write about women better, sure, but I disagree with the idea that we should discourage them from doing so at all. If you follow that idea to its logical conclusion, then nobody should write about anyone different than themselves. But yeah, it’s pretty silly to expect someone to write about a woman, or a man, whose job it is to be sexy without mentioning that said person is attractive.

        • Amadi

          Her job is to be an actor in films, and that’s what she does. She also does requisite publicity for those films and for her own career, which is what’s necessary to generate a personal brand and continue to be cast in the type of film she does. She is not a prop, an object, she is a human being. To say that she’s built her career in this way, suggesting that she views herself as an object or is party to her own objectification is exactly why Marche’s description was so offensive. It is, at best, an opinion, and a shallow one, at that. It’s built on a premise that a actor of Fox’s status has an agency that simply does not exist.

          And it was presented uncritically, as if it were a perfectly acceptable state if it were true (which it isn’t) and not truly disturbing — because it reinforces a worldview, which Marche either holds or tacitly endorses — that Fox’s sole purpose is to be decorative and she has nothing else to offer. if that’s the case, why bother writing about her at all? It’s the great catch-22 of this kind of pandering. Megan Fox is apparently interesting enough to have a profile written about her, so write about her. Tell us something we don’t already know. If all Marche was going to talk about was how she looks — and in insulting, belittling ways — skip the words and just do a pictorial of her. We can all see how she looks, and enjoy as suits us, without the heaping of scorn on her head for daring to be exactly what makes her interesting to begin with.

          • MarcusH333

            “Her job is to be an actor in films, and that’s what she does. ” You may not have seen many Megan Fox films. One can more accurately and pertinently critique why she ends up performing this function in these films than complain about people describing it. But then you’d likely deprive her of a career,

  • Jean Hantman

    There is no bad press.

  • Jessica Hopper

    “Eells manages a holistic profile of White without ever calling him a skinnier version of someone else.” AMEN. I wish I had written this. Well done.

  • Donkey Jaw

    Totally agree. Perfectly stated.

  • Matt Markonis

    Fair points, but what is the outcome of this of this progressive agenda except a different kind of bad writing? It doesn’t take Hunter S. Thompson’s “male gaze” to realize that objective journalism sucks. It’s a perverse assignment that tries to give Lady Gaga a “fair shake.” And it’s worthwhile to note that a patina of respectability isn’t going to solve the nation’s obsession with the cult of personality, just democratize it. Why not find a coterie of marginalized, nearsighted losers to fire back with a “Freak Power” barrage of distortions via the female gaze rather than demanding this sycophantic fairness?

  • Jake McKenzie

    I do what these writers do all the time without thinking about it and it’s not healthy. That said, this article was not a convincing enough argument to me for why men shouldn’t write about women. My reaction was by the end that you’re going to the wrong places to read about musicians. If you’re looking to hear someone review a musician, go to (God forbid) Pitchfork or a popular vlogger like The Needle Drop, that will look at the merits of their work and not their appearance. If you’re looking for fluff go to The Times or Esquire. Women authors add the same sort of fluff when writing it’s just not restricted to appearance.

    • Matthew Montgomery

      It’s not an argument for why men shouldn’t write about women. It’s an argument for *better* writing about women.

    • Amadi

      So we’re supposed to ignore sexist fluff because serious pieces exist elsewhere? We can’t be annoyed that sexist fluff exists, and as it stands, has a much wider audience than what’s serious?

  • Matthew Montgomery

    Lots of men wading in this thread so they can mansplain how females think and feel. Just like Lewis points out in her article. The irony is suffocating.

  • Meg Awatt

    So, let me get this straight. Women are so delicate that they need their existing special protections extended to exclude men from writing about them? Jeez, I thought we were way beyond painting women as the weaker sex.

  • Protein

    Dear Carly, I understand you are feeling a bit reactionary to a perceived injustice from the bad males, but it’s a bit unbecoming. Shhhh. First, you might want to focus on something more important than this “pop” talk. Everyone knows its nonsense. Don’t dignify it with your energy. Secondly, you are smart, here’s a kiss.

  • Claire

    “Women are usually better than men at writing about women, because women have felt the distinct stab in the soul that happens when their gender is pulverized through oppressive language.”

    You got it. You got it right there.

  • foobie

    Good points – but credit where credit is due. Guys can write with perfect psychological insight into girls. Consider, e.g., Henry James or Leo Tolstoy, or, slightly lower profile, Brian Moore. If guys fail at writing sympathetically about girls, it is not because they are guys, it is because they are jerks.

  • Ferris

    “Do not mistake a subject’s politeness for flirtation” — even when they’re not misrepresenting an interaction as flirtation, writers LOVE to imply that the subject is really into them and views them as a worthy peer. And that phenomenon is catnip to editors, who feel the need to show that their writer is uniquely qualified to bring you, dear reader, The Real Scoop. Even credible news editors lose their mind and drop their standards when profiling entertainers and celebrities. And in the field of music writing, where standards are notoriously nonexistent, forget about it…

    Good rule of thumb for writers: Leave yourself out of it.

  • Egg Man

    waitti l l t o m ju no d re a d s t h i s


    Carly, enough with the Girls binge. OK, you like the show. No wait, sorry…OK, you LOVE the show. But even a Girls-FanGirl (that’s what you call yourselves, right?) can only squeeze so much material out of the scintillating sexploits of those horny and confused New Yorker 20 somethings.

    Seriously, what’s next Carly…a “philosophical” analysis comparing Girls with Sex and the City? Or how about “Girls as THE Post-Millennial Friends”? I cannot wait to read your insights that Lena Durham is really The Anti-Rachel circa 2013!

    And one more thing:

    “I’m not saying women are better writers than men.” See, it’s just that…”In writing poorly, male writers tacitly admit that women can do a better job”.

    Carly…if you’re gonna criticize the writing of others you cannot conclude your article…sorry, but this needs a little mustard…YOU CANNOT CONCLUDE YOUR ARTICLE with a sentence that wouldn’t make the cut for a high school newspaper: “In writing poorly, male writers tacitly admit that women can do a better job”. By spewing this garbage, are you “tacitly” admitting something, Carly?

    I want you to reflect and follow the lead of one of your commenters and “try to learn something”. So…take a deep breath and think about the sound of one hand clapping…what does it mean…what sound does it make…

    Now…take your zen-like nugget and think about the meaning behind: “In writing poorly, male writers tacitly admit that women can do a better job”. Honestly, Carly…really try to think about the meaning in your final flourish. [It was, after all your final flourish, Carly.]

    “In writing poorly…male writers…tacitly…hmmm…t-a-c-i-t-l-y admit…male writers tacitly admit that women can do a better job…male writers admitting tacitly that women can do better because of poor writing by males…because they write p-o-o-r-l-y the males admit women do better and they admit this admission tacitly.”

    Soundless and Meaningless. The Zen of “Writers” Who Take Their Favorite TV Shows WAAYYYY Too Seriously.

    • Jennifer

      BITFU, I’ve read through this piece several times. I teach a class on non-fiction writing and sent the piece around to my students. We discussed it in class last night. Not once does the piece mention the TV show “Girls” or Lena Dunham, or “Sex and the City” for that matter. I know this because my class and I have been examining it. In addition to being a bully because you’re afraid of what progress might come out of the argument, you’ve completely stereotyped the author. From what I can glean, this piece has nothing to do with HBO. It’s you who is making that generalization. Shame on you. (And for the record, the piece is very, very well written. There are dozens of others here who agree.)

  • john anderson

    I think women AND men should be allowed to write about what they want within reason (nothing libelous, etc.). Publishers should be allowed to publish what they want within reason. It’s up to the consumer to decide what they want to read.

    The internet allows almost anyone to publish or write. Why would it be better to censor?

  • stevesailer

    Okay, editors, you got the message: just commission Carly Lewis to write your celebrity profiles for you.

  • Emlyn Flint

    I think one should perhaps look at a higher level of content matter before crying wolf on the total ineptitude that men apparently display when writing about women. I would not class celebrity profiles as being the most heavy of subjects (not to say that one cannot write such articles well).

    Perhaps if one did this research using a large sample of articles written by men profiling women – or their ideas, views, etc – and taken from a wide range of different publications, one could present a more meaningful conclusion.

    Until then, you are unfortunately only pointing out a few ‘extreme’ (by your own account) observations, which does not prove any kind of general rule. In the process, know that you are (i) tacitly using a very narrow definition of what you consider a ‘good’ piece on a female subject, and (ii) imposing a very unique – and sometimes rather odd – form of comprehension of the articles quoted above. And I use the word ‘tacitly’ in its correct meaning, rather than the obfuscation given in your final sentence.

  • Barry Moraller

    Next up an article on how Cosmo talks about attractive men.

  • Jerry Boggs

    Where are you each time a feminist writes negatively about men? What did you say when men, over the last 40 years, were generalized about, discounted, disdained, and bashed by:

    Gloria Steinem
    Marilyn French
    Jane Fonda
    Catharine MacKinnon
    Germaine Greer
    Robin Morgan
    Eleanor Smeal
    Judith Butler
    Mary Daly

    The list is too long, but let’s not forget one more:

    Carly Lewis

    Compared to what feminists have said and still say about men, the men in this commentary are super-polite.

    I recommend:

    “For Feminist Writers: Distinguish Between Feminism and Feminists!”

  • Nilesh Salpe

    Why woman are bad writer example is in this article.

    She has achieved her present eminence largely by projecting a persona which is about as sexy as a “polyp”.

    Why this CATTY CAT is comparing woman with polyp does she know what polyp means ?
    It is abnormal growth in mucous membrane is that sexy ? Can you tell me SASSY KITTEN .

    • Kate Samaratun

      These are not even the author’s words you’re quoting. Lewis is citing a piece from the 1960s. Did you even read the article?

      • Nilesh Salpe

        Ok Kate I agree my mistake she has mentioned this as except from another article …But can you explain me why that CAT is giving example which she even does not understand in first place ……uuuh erudition ;)

  • Nilesh Salpe

    How woman can become different than other woman ….simple behave like men ha ha

  • disqus_J66CPDlGNO

    I say go for it. I have zero interest in a “piece” about Megan Fox, Lady Gaga or that chick on Portlandia. If that’s what women want to write about, and it seems like they most certainly do, then you go with god bra’. I find it baffling that there are guys who actually would want to write this kind of drivel, let alone read it. Maybe that’s why these things are so bad, the guys writing them know they’ve been relegated to appealing with the lowest common denominator, the kind who reads profiles of Lady Gaga.

  • notasample

    For a moment I was worried society was somehow forcing women to buy these poorly written magazines and restricting them from producing their own content. Then I remembered we live in a free society and you can buy or not buy, write or not write whatever shitty writing you want.

    I suppose if The Walrus isn’t happy with the overwhelmingly loud, ignorant voice of mainstream print media, they could figure out a way to sell more magazines…

  • Googie Bergdorff

    I think what you meant to write is that feminist women are better able to write about women in a way that appeals to feminist women than men are. That would require a modicum of self-awareness though, and that’s not a feminist strong suit.

  • Bella

    I have always been dismayed by the description, “Beautiful,” usually employed by male writers when discussing Hirsi Ali.

  • Gerry

    Absolutely agree though there are also female writers who need to get their brains dry-cleaned, like this frankly offensive New York Post “review” of Girls, or more specifically, of Lena Dunham’s body, by some troglodyte named Linda Stasi.

    • Googie Bergdorff

      But Lena Dunham’s body is repulsive, and her frequent nudity detracts from the show.

      • Gerry

        This is a comment in reference to the article above. Have you read it? Do you need me to explain what it’s about?

        • Googie Bergdorff

          Sure, you can explain why you mindlessly characterized the writer as a troglodyte for penning a pretty spot on article.

  • ThreeOranges

    Perhaps you could’ve chosen a better example than Megan Fox to lead off with. You know, someone with talent. Someone who’s entire career is predicated on the paternalism and objectification you’re writing against.

  • Eclectic

    It probably doesn’t help that most of the profiles she mentions are in men’s magazines. This just makes me not want to read them anymore, regardless of the writer.
    One thought: how much of this is “sexism,” and how much of it is just being better at profiling someone whose perspective you can understand? Are men better at profiling men? I don’t have an answer, just wondering what the author or other readers think.

  • Days of Broken Arrows

    This writer makes a lot of valid points. These are the same points that need to be made when female writers write profiles on Alpha male politicians, where critical thinking goes out the window, and fawning praise takes center stage. Any female-written article that contains the words “Kennedy compound” usually has these qualities.

  • Joseph

    Get with the picture, bois. Girls are real complicated.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Folks, it’s not about men writing about women. It’s what the magazine editors want to print, what they believe will sell — a point made here, very briefly, by Maura Johnston, in a subordinate clause, no less. All the male writers in the world could produce the kinds of profiles Ms. Lewis sensibly requests and we mostly would never see them — at least, not in mass-market, glossy magazines. I once asked a magazine editor why it was increasingly difficult to pitch him author profiles and book reviews, and he replied that research had shown male readers no longer thought that kind of information would get them laid. This is, on the face of it, nonsense — women read fiction at a much higher rate than men, you’d think they’d be interested in talking about it and therefore, somewhat attracted to a man who could do so — but accuracy isn’t the point. This is what (younger) male readers (with money) believed. The magazine soon stopped running book reviews at all except for single-paragraph touts. The only author profiles were ones whose work had been picked up by Hollywood.

    So you’ll continue to see such profiles of female celebrities. But I wouldn’t continue to blame the writers.

  • Reggie

    I am tired of the oft-repeated cliches of the last 50 years that men shouldn’t write about women or can’t or that they should be ignored when they. So what if women don’t like what men say about them? The shoe is on the other foot. I suppose men might not like what women say about them, too. Will women promise to stop writing on the subject if men don’t like it? (No? I didn’t think so.) When men have an opinion that this author doesn’t understand she thinks it’s cool to tell them to shut up. Wow, that is sophisticated. Amazingly, Bardot and Fox are supposedly such serious artists that is somehow out of bounds to consider them for what they are: women who would not be famous but that they inspire desire. Twisted!

  • laura

    Great piece. Women deserve better!

  • MarcusH333

    “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy,” and “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.”” I’m sorry, but that’s exactly WHY Megan Fox is in movies and she knows it as well as any of us. From the first image of her in “Transformers” on down.

  • MarcusH333

    Next week, can we see an article on how Christian Grey is a well-rounded representation of a 21st century male? And yes, I know it’s fiction, but it’s entirely typical of the stereotyping of men in women’s version of sexual fantasy, without us even beginning to get into the myriad references to Channing Tatum, or Gerard Butler, or Matthew McConaughey’s six packs in the girly mags. Oh, what’s that you say? It’s their personalities and acting you love?????

  • Aliteraryshadow

    Your photo makes me think of that line in a Bruce Cockburn song : “Men’s face, women’s bodies on the magazine stand.”

  • patricia elfer

    What a well timed article…because if one more male writer(especially in The Star, that self proclaimed bastion of liberalism), points out, brings up, comments on or otherwise mentions Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality again, I’ll spit!
    Gentlemen…we know, we don’t care,
    Here are a few suggestions for your next articles; Tim Huduk’s sexuality or Stephen Harper’s hair. Need I say more boys?

  • Norman Mayot

    … in an Esquire profile of Megan Fox, Stephen Marche (a Walrus contributor who once wrote a piece—for Esquire—about “the rise of men and the whining of girls“) calls the actor “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy,” and “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.”

    Actually, this is taken out of context to suite this article of the theme of the article in that Megan Fox is actually a very independent-thinking person who doesn’t match up to the initial above summary (that the writer refuted within the article, which was a good analysis on what it is to be celebrity today—real vs. manufactured—if the article was read, it would have been clear.)

  • Rosie Prata

    Maybe female writers shouldn’t rip off other female writers’ articles, such as this one written by Madeline Coleman two years ago in Maisonneuve:

    • Prata Rosie

      Maybe Maisonneuve’s staff shouldn’t create anonymous pseudonyms with which to voice their frustration when another magazine, after conducting what is obviously thorough research dating back several decades, writes a good piece. Shame on you Maisy, for being jealous of another writer’s success. Have some class.

  • Top5Best4You

    We won’t talk about K-J-Un then eh? Where would he lie here? ;P

  • Akbar
  • tmukherjee711

    Such a deep though and an intriguing post i must say!! Eid Mubarak shayari

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  • Karan Kapoor

    Women are great in writing about men.

  • Karan Kapoor

    Women are usually better than men at writing about women, because they can feel from soul.

  • Uday Sharma

    The magazine section of this blog is the best.
    Happy Birthday Wishes For

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