When the first issue of new women's magazine Bee, with its barefoot blonde cover model wearing a tube top and glasses and holding the Wall Street Journal, landed in our mailbox earlier this week, we were tantalized and a bit perplexed. Most magazines telegraph their target demographic by the way they look, and Bee's creators apparently took pains to convey that their readers would have varied interests. "Sure, that's a tube top," the cover seemed to say, "but look at those serious specs! She may be barefoot, but she's reading the business-focused Journal!" The stereotype dodging continued with the magazine's sober tag line, "For the woman who is interested in politics, lifestyle & finance," and accompanying promotional letter saying that Bee is also "for the curious, fun and savvy woman that you are." Hey, we thought, we're all for a magazine that makes a point of presenting women as versatile and smart and busy.
Upon perusing its pages, though, my review was more mixed. Editor-in-chief Ana Maria Castronovo scores points for trying to break the women's-mag mold by defining lifestyle as "the way we live, not the way we decorate." There's a fair amount of financial and budgeting advice, which most other mags in the genre don't touch. And if the final page's cartoon, titled "Things We Don't Want to Hear" and featuring ba-dum-bum one-liners like "Mad cow? Why is she so angry?" isn't exactly a knee-slapper, its heart is in the right place. But in most ways, Bee falls back into the stereotype trap. A beauty tip feature on skin whitening? Check. Calorie-counting and diet tips? Yup, they're in there. By the time I got to the bewildering geopolitical analogy, "China is the season's new black, nearly as feared and as popular as Tom Cruise's manic episode," I felt the familiar women's-mag anger that comes from reading the news of the day explained in pandering, supposedly woman-appropriate terms.
And although Castronovo muses in her magazine's mission statement that "when [women] do find time to garner a glimpse at the issues of the day, the last thing we want is to sift through spin" (hey, lady, I glimpse the issues of the day all the time!), some spin creeps in nonetheless. The world-awareness feature titled "Be the Star of Cocktail Parties: 3 Countries at a Glance" notes that Liberia is "Western Africa's Iraq." Here's a Bee's-eye view of how the two countries are alike: "After invading Iraq, it became clear that one of the major reasons for doing so was to establish a democratic state in the midst of a hostile region, hoping Iraq would serve as a model which citizens of neighboring countries could hold up to their leaders," Bee says. "The situation in Africa, though not at 'weapons of mass destruction' levels of danger, presents different problems, and the Western country of Liberia may prove its answer." Get it? The real reason the U.S. invaded Iraq, we learn, wasn't weapons of mass destruction, it was to create a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. But even though the aforementioned weapons of mass destruction were never found, keep in mind that a "'weapons of mass destruction' level of danger" existed!
Publications that cover women's issues, Broadsheet very much included, have to grapple with scrutiny and criticism of their motives and assumptions, and it seems a shame to tear down a well-intentioned sister effort when we're struggling with the same issues ourselves. But, all things considered, when Bee editor Castronovo informs me that "women like to spend as much of our free time as possible with loved ones and on fulfilling endeavors," I find myself inclined to find fulfillment elsewhere.