Men's magazines: from booze and sex to tools and decks

Magazines like Maxim and Men's Health have long defined manhood in terms of six-pack abs and lusting after sexy women. But a new set of publications is putting forward a different vision of manliness.

Con Tanasiuk/Design Pics/Newscom
A new crop of men's magazines is trying to show that expressing forgiveness, cleaning up after yourself, and learning to sand sheetrock compound are manly.

I’ve long thought that editing a men’s magazine would be a pretty easy job. The paint-by-numbers cover blurbs practically write themselves.

The formula

Six-pack abs in 10 days? Check. Five ways to spice things up in the bedroom? Check. Hip guide to over-priced suits you can’t afford? DIY guide to cheating without getting caught? Airbrushed, underdressed cover model? Check. Check. Check.

Between magazines like Maxim, Men’s Health, and GQ that glorify superficial, sensual desires and ubiquitous beer commercials that celebrate masculinity’s most loathsome traits, it’s hard for men to find cultural models of virtue.

A different crop

So I was intrigued and delighted to see a recent Slate article about the rise of male self-improvement magazines.

One of them is The Art of Manliness, edited by Brett McKay. According to Slate writer Greg Beato:

In McKay's estimation, his wayward peers didn't need celebrity glitz and consumerist fluff so much as they needed ab crunches for the soul. Masculinity 101. Along with his wife, Kate, McKay created The Art of Manliness, which aims to teach men how to be "better husbands, better fathers, better men"...

A guide to sweaters?

Indeed, browsing through The Art of Manliness is like staring at some Bizarro World version of Maxim. I see features on forgiveness, relationship advice, career fulfillment, and practical DIY knowledge. (“A Man’s Guide to Sweaters” and “Minimalism Begets Manliness” are both fridge-worthy.)

But is this “be a better man” ethic too strong a dose of reality? Could virtue backfire? Mr. Beato concludes his article on a cynical note:

Just as there's an unwritten law that you can't show traffic jams or trips to the mechanic in car commercials, you can't show the real responsibilities of male adulthood in men's magazines. Or at least you shouldn't…. Feed men a steady diet of stories mandating responsibility, loyalty, and "the best way to approach your pregnant wife about remodeling a nursery," and eventually you're going to produce a generation of men who make Charlie Sheen look like Ozzie Nelson.

A healthy alternative

Such speculative fear is hardly a good reason not to challenge the “must lust” mainstream narrative. It’s not like Maxim and GQ are changing their ways or going away. There’s just an alternative now.

Madison Avenue and magazine editors have defined manliness in the lowest common denominator for decades. The rise of niche publications that strive to put forward a higher view can only be a good thing.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.