Friday, November 11, 2011

Moving, Magazines, and the Male Gaze

(Oh-so-personally-metaphorical image courtesy of Lance Anderson)
I moved a few months ago to the awesomeness that is the Pioneer Valley, but I am still putting things in their permanent places. Yes, I am the kind of shamefully messy person who takes eons to finally unpack everything, because once I unpack the essentials, other things in my life take priority.

In further unpacking the other day, I came across this stack of magazines from the ‘90s that I bought about a year ago. I thought the project I was working on—that morphed into “The Rule of Three”—would be set in the ‘90s. It wasn’t, and isn’t. But I still have all these cool magazines around, like a copy of Sassy. I loved Sassy as a teenager, and wanted to buy a bunch, but they can be slightly expensive, so I settled on just one.

Looking through this old Sassy made me think of the Tavi Gevinson/Jane Pratt online magazine project, Rookie, which is being deemed the new Sassy. The New York Times has an interesting piece about the site.

Since I had a copy of Sassy on hand, I decided to read through it, and check out Rookie’s content of the day, to see how the two compared.

 Reading through my October ’94 copy of Sassy was a spooky trip down memory lane, simply because it reminded me there are so many things I’ve forgotten even existed, like the Columbia House music club. Did anybody ever join that? I wanted to, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I’m pretty sure it was a scam, because how many teenagers diligently remember to send back the cassette tapes (cassette tapes!) that they don’t want?

The models were bigger. I don’t to say “normal” sized, because I think it contributes to the whole idea that there’s one acceptable body type. But I will say that the models look like someone I can imagine walking down the street. The models in today’s magazines don’t. It’s shocking to see how much the acceptable body of a model has changed in 17 years. It’s shocking that I have internalized so thoroughly what a model looks like today.

There was the “Sassy Music Hotline,” where you could listen to music mentioned in the magazine. I called the hotline, but Verizon told me, unsurprisingly, that my call could not be completed as dialed. I had a moment of crazy hope that somehow, the hotline that would let me listen to tracks from Whip-Smart would still exist out there in the ether.

There were ads for stuff like the “Youth Problem Line,” that for only $2.49 a minute (?!) you could get advice about your boyfriend. As expected, your call to the “Youth Problem Line” can no longer be connected.

Next: The Contender 

I looked over the site with the expectation that I’d be disappointed, probably because I was weighted down with a strangely sad nostalgia (insert perfect German word for this feeling). But after reading around for a bit, I realized that it’s pretty good.

An article by Tavi (is she famous enough to only go by one name now? Probably), about the male gaze and an incident at her high school really captured what it's like to become a teenage girl.

I remember the first time a man catcalled at me.  There were two of them, actually, in a red pick up truck. I was pretty young—maybe 13? I was walking back home, close to the huge tree that marked where the school bus stopped. Whatever they yelled was shocking, both because it just startled me, and because it was this weird thing I had to think through. I realized they were saying something sexual and harassing, even though the words were just, "Hey, baby!"

I wasn’t a happily invisible child anymore. I was female, and because of that, men would yell things at me, totally confident that there would be no repercussions. It sounds obvious, because it’s something that’s accepted and expected in our culture. But I bet that just about every woman and teenage girl has had a moment like that, where it suddenly clicks that you are now an object of the male gaze.

Back to the comparison at hand.
(Not a picture of the listening station in
 question. But, you know, same concept.)

Rookie doesn’t feel like Sassy. For me, it’s not a cool magazine about bands and writers and people and ideas I don’t know about, because I’m not a teenager anymore. I can’t say what Rookie does for teenagers, in terms of connecting them to a bigger, daring, more exciting world. There seem to be some missteps, like a post/article about how the Spice Girls were actually cool. Are the Spice Girls relevant to teenagers today—or anyone else, for that matter? I’m highly skeptical. But any online mag that talks about the effect of the male gaze on teenagers is moving in the right direction.

The rollover ads are par for the course these days, but they make me long for the days of pay phones and spontaneity, when I'd go to the Tower Records store in Harvard Square and put on a pair of big black headphones to listen the latest songs from an album before I bought it. But I’m an old. For teenagers today, Rookie is probably just right.


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