Monday, 2 March 2015

The Vagenda

Of all the stupid portmanteau terms we had come across while reading magazines- manthropology, shoemaggedon, hiberdating- 'vagenda' was the most ridiculous. And we found not only that the amalgamation of 'vagina' and 'agenda' was pleasing to the ear, but that the word perfectly encapsulated the aims of the blog: to expose the silly, manipulative and sometimes damaging ulterior motives of women's magazines.”

-The Vagenda

As mentioned recently, an advance copy of The Vagenda, a book described by writer / broadcaster Jeanette Winterson as “A brilliant expose of women's mags and marketing- laugh-out-loud” landed in my corridor . I have quite omnivorous tastes when it comes to literature, but I've never read any women's lifestyle magazines so the book was an insightful introduction to this world of advice, tips and “true” stories.

From a male perspective, the book reassured me that women were being fed as much crap in lifestyle magazines as men are- I'd always felt that mags like FHM and Loaded were childish affairs for people too scared to reach for the top shelf, and that the more upmarket publications like GQ and Esquire were for people with waaaay more money than me. I felt that a lot of the information from both ends of the men's lifestyle spectrum wasn't that interesting, or the “advice” wasn't particularly helpful.

That said, the chapter on lads' mags I found to be a little patronising. Yes, some of their humour borders on outright misogyny, but the writers forget that humour has and always will push the boundaries of what is acceptable, and humour- including sexual jokes- will always be one of those boundaries. The onus, the writers seem to forget, is on the individuals not to be a misogynist themselves. 

The revelation that The Vagenda delivers is one that relates to men's and women's magazines, and having read many Esquires and the occasional Loaded in my time, I'm embarrassed not to have realised this myself. If these magazines could actually help you, if their advice was sound and beneficial, you wouldn't need to buy their magazines any more. So they feed you rubbish and keep you in the dark to keep you spending.

Written by journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in a funny but professional tone, The Vagenda brings insight and laughs, but also sheds light on the way the media portrays women as an entire gender, or as they put it “being labelled frigid, princesses or tramps”. The style is a little familiar, similar to a lot of other successful blogs written by women with journalism backgrounds- Arsenic and Old Lace and Bookcunt for example, both fine feminist blogs with I suspect some professional training behind them- but The Vagenda's material is consistently engaging, and stretches its investigations further than just reprinting sections of the blog as a book (Not that we're criticising, Belle De Jour.)

Editors and advertisers- people who create the magazines of today- are clearly under increasing scrutiny to respect their audiences, and to market towards them with understanding and dignity (not least by The Vagenda writers themselves). This book will hopefully push things forward in that regard. It'll also make you laugh in the process.

The Vagenda is released 5th March. Advanced copies available online.

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