Issues surrounding gender are as visible in society as they have ever been. A welcome awareness of gender fluidity is spreading as high-profile gender fluid people champion the cause, backed up by campaigns from media brands. Meanwhile feminism has scored some long-overdue concessions around the gender pay gap and representation on executive boards.
At the same time misogyny and conservative notions of gender remain firmly entrenched in society. Despite an acknowledgment that the pay gap and representation need to be redressed there is still a long way to go before equality is genuinely attained. Notions that men and women are two discrete sections of society are still readily apparent in how magazines genres are segmented and how audiences are bought and sold in advertising. But how likely is that to change, and will media that focuses on one gender ever become obsolete?
At a debate organised by The Drum a few weeks back, representatives of publishers with different gender demographics discussed the topic. Moderator Jess Goodfellow began by asking whether recent events have thrown the gender divide into starker contrast, and whether gender-oriented magazine brands have seen greater engagement levels as a result, “or is servicing only one gender only one part of the problem?”
— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) March 23, 2017
Sam Baker is co-founder, CEO and editor of The Pool, a female-focused consumer lifestyle site with a unique approach to fitting into its audiences’ lives. She argued that its strong focus on issues that would traditionally have been seen as women-oriented is more necessary than ever given the election of a US president who is anti-woman and anti-LGBT:
“What happened in the last few years, and particularly with Trump, is you can’t not have that front and centre because we’re now in a world where The Handmaid’s Tale is starting to look like reality in the States. I would say we’ve got more outspoken, more political. The user comes first, for us, the reader comes first, and that’s what they respond to.”
This is quite a picture. These are the people who are going to take away maternity care. https://t.co/licoNwT9mH
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 23, 2017
That marked focus on what its audience cares about is laudable in addition to being a smart and necessary move from a business perspective. A year ago to the date of the debate, The New Day was almost a third of the way through its short lifespan. A new newsbrand that was ostensibly female-focused but in the most generic of terms, The New Day was an example of how gender-oriented publishing can be done badly.
The Pool is approaching its second birthday and is in rude health. Asked what the biggest challenge in gender-focused publishing is, Baker replied that there isn’t a fundamental problem:
“We have an audience: all good products know their audience and deliver to them. I just don’t find an issue with being aimed at a certain sort of woman. We’ve got about 15-20 percent male audience, mainly for music and food.
“I could see a time when The Pool company might create male-focused content, but The Pool, it isn’t aimed at men [although] they’re welcome.”
i-D magazine, under the aegis of its owner VICE, isn’t a stranger to exerimentation, as its managing director Katie White explained:
“Our editorial agenda hasn’t really changed… but I guess the things that we talk about are a lot broader now. There’s a lot more need for alternative voices to be represented in the kind of echo chamber that is the internet. One thing I think we’re super conscious of, particularly having quite a young audience is the global consciousness of our audience.
“When i-D started we were very much London-based. Now what we stand for has this global relevance and young people are super conscious about what’s happening in every corner of the world.”
That both i-D and The Pool’s have expanded their editorial remits speaks to the idea that communities led by women are more easily able to mobilise and start campaigns to redress the gender imbalance if there is a focal point.
100% of women say they don’t give a fuck if their health benefits men https://t.co/V28Ks8stEF
— kayla Ⓥ (@burntkiss) March 22, 2017
Publications like those two, in addition to more mainstream print media like Glamour and Grazia, provide the point around which those discussions can take place. In one sense, then, gender-focused media will never be obsolete while there are still issues facing one gender disproportionately.
But what is the business case for gender-focused publications? JOE Media, with its current stated aim of becoming the UK’s first premium men’s digital publication, doesn’t necessarily see its future as being so clearly defined along gender lines. Its founder and CEO Will Hayward explained that ultimately, as the company grows, JOE will probably focus on publishing content around interest nodes that aren’t prescriptive in terms of gender:
“It’s good when you’re a smaller company to be able to say ‘we reach this very specific audience’ and having a list of brands you can go after. I don’t know whether JOE will always labour the male point so much; I can see a world in which in 10 years we’re a much bigger company and talk about things… that men tend to cluster round but we don’t necessarily title ourselves as a male brand.”
— The Drum (@TheDrum) March 22, 2017
By way of contrast, i-D sees a much closer gender split among its audience, in part because of its subject matter. White explained:
“[Our gender split] is almost straight down the middle. Most of or advertisers are fashion brands and I think the fashion industry is the best and the worst with gender steretypes. We’re really lucky that i-D’s been around for such a long time… we fulfil a particular role in the media mix for fashion advertisers.
“When you look at the advertising, certainly when you look at the site the advertising, some of it is very overtly female targeted, very overtly male targeted, but we want to create this environment where it comfortably sits side by side.”
As issues around gender equality and fluidity hopefully continue to receive the attention they deserve, ideally the conversation around ‘gendered’ media will continue to evolve. Just as The New European has succeeded where The New Day failed as a result of its focus on a societal issue rather than a sweeping assumption of gender-specific interests, perhaps broad demographics will become meaningless and a focus on interest in issues take primacy.