Who needs Maxim when you can hate women on Reddit and 4chan?

Lad mags were part of the late '90s backlash to feminism. They don't hold a candle to the misogyny you find online


Amanda Marcotte
November 25, 2015 1:14AM (UTC)

The death knell continues to sound for "lad mags," the once-ubiquituous reading material for bros and wannabes who found that cat-calling wasn't quite enough to satisfy their resentment towards women for being full human beings instead of purchasable playthings. FHM and Zoo, two once-popular lad mags that have been running on fumes in recent years, are finally closing up shop. Maxim has been trying to rebrand itself into more of a classy fashion magazine like Esquire or GQ, but that effort seems also to have failed, as the female editor hired to usher in the new era recently stepped down. People who want classy reading material probably need a few more decades before the word "Maxim" doesn't make them shudder.

It would be nice if all this were a end times sign for the misogyny that helped these magazines, in their heyday, give traditional nudie mags like Playboy a run for their money. But, as any lady with a Tinder account can tell you, the world is not bereft of men who treat women's minds like they are unfortunate obstacles to overcome on the way to vagina.

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The truth is that lad mags can't compete in the age of the internet. Today, a young man awash in anger at the discovery that women are allowed to make their own choices, even about sex, doesn't need to buy some cheeky magazine that tries to leer women back into their place. He can go straight to the Internet, where the misogyny is  unvarnished, participatory, and free.

Maxim and the other lad mags arose in the late 90s and early 2000s as part of that era's backlash against the reinvigorated feminism of the 90s. The 90s was a time when women were speaking out against sexual harassment, campus activism was strong, a pro-choice president was in the White House, and women were a prominent presence in pop culture, particularly music, where music acts like TLC, Hole, En Vogue, and L7 were breaking into the mainstream with strongly feminist points of view. (Sound familiar?)

Lad mags were, in large part, an ugly reaction to this. Their language and imagery was deliberately dumbed down. As Susan Douglas explained in her book "The Rise of Enlightened Sexism", Maxim used "irony as a shield", often employing copy that ostensibly argued that "beautiful women" are superior to the readers, assumed to be "less cool, lazier, not as smart, dorkier, and very possibly not as good in bed". This humble pose functioned as cover for what was actually going on, which was resentment towards women for not being satisfied with a secondary role to men. Women wanted equality, but the lad mags distorted it to make it seem like women were somehow dominating men.

For a time, this toxic mix of male insecurity and resentment towards women helped these magazines sell well. But lad mags, being lifestyle magazines like their classier betters, still had an editorial mission to be aspirational. They had to strike a balance between stoking resentment at women for supposedly being too stuck-up for their humble readers while also seeding the idea that buying a new motorcycle or stereo would be just the thing that makes the babes come running. Wallowing in bitterness or being overly hateful turns off advertisers, after all.

But now we live in the age of the Internet. For the young (and sometimes not so young) men out there who are embittered women's autonomy, there's no need to read a magazine that filters your resentment through cheesecake pictures and pictorials on home stereos. You can go straight to Reddit, start an account, and start talking with like-minded men about how bitches these days think they're all that. Online, there's no market pressures keeping a check on some men's belief that women owe them.

As a point of comparison, look at this infamous article from Maxim in 2003, titled "How To Cure A Feminist". The article feeds of male resentment of women who want equality and assumes women are stupid, but it still takes the common sense position that if you want people to like you,  you have to be nice to them (even if it is all an act).

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Compare that to a recent diatribe by Scott Adams, the writer of "Dilbert" who has built up an online following with his narcissistic blog postings about how the rest of the world, but women especially, fail men like himself and his readers. In this recent piece, Adams paints men as hapless victims of gynocracy that tortures men by extracting everything out of them for the faint hope of touching the female bodies.

When I go to dinner, I expect the server to take my date’s order first. I expect the server to deliver her meal first. I expect to pay the check. I expect to be the designated driver, or at least manage the transportation for the evening. And on the way out, I will hold the door for her, then open the door to the car.

When we get home, access to sex is strictly controlled by the woman. If the woman has additional preferences in terms of temperature, beverages, and whatnot, the man generally complies. If I fall in love and want to propose, I am expected to do so on my knees, to set the tone for the rest of the marriage.

It's a topsy-turvy take on reality, of course, so delusional as to be almost comical. (Men fall on their knees one day in a grand gesture, but women are still expected to give up their last names for the rest of their live, you know.) The only way this diatribe makes sense is if you believe that a woman who chooses her sexual partners for herself is somehow robbing a man of something---which requires you to believe her body was his to begin with. That, and your belief that women are to be seen and not heard is so ingrained that you can't believe they expect to be treated like normal guests, who are offered something to drink by their hosts.

Maxim couched hostility to women in winking humor. Adams wallows in humorless hysteria, falsely accusing women of being a bunch of hoity-toity princesses who expect the world to bend to their wills, when it's clear that what's really going on here is that he's mad that women expect to be treated as people---people who want to have sex for fun instead to "pay" a man for dinner, people who think they should be treated like any other guest and given a beverage during what they thought was a social occasion.

Indeed, women's audacity in treating our own bodies like they belong to us is so outrageous to Adams that he blames terrorism for it:

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So if you are wondering how men become cold-blooded killers, it isn’t religion that is doing it. If you put me in that situation, I can say with confidence I would sign up for suicide bomb duty. And I’m not even a believer. Men like hugging better than they like killing. But if you take away my access to hugging, I will probably start killing, just to feel something. I’m designed that way. I’m a normal boy. And I make no apology for it.

Maxim could be bad. It usually was bad. But Maxim was never going to threaten women like this, telling them that they either make sure every man who wants one gets a hug ("hug") when he wants it or public places start getting bombed.

Adams is just a small sliver of what is going on online now. There are "pick-up artist" forums, where men trade tips and ideas on how to extract sex out of women they believe would rather not do it. There's the "Red Pill" forum on Reddit, where men take pick-up artistry and build on it, trading tips on how to use emotional abuse to strip a partner's self-esteem and make her submissive. There's "men's rights activist" websites who promote the idea that feminism isn't about women's equality, but about female dominance. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can just join Gamergate, which will select various women who have committed the sin of autonomy and direct you to harass them, day in and day out. Why should a man who is embittered by women's encroaching equality engage with the insinuations of lad mags when he can just mainline misogyny straight from the internet?

No one is crying for the death of lad mags, of course. But compared to what the angry men of today are up to, Maxim's heyday seems like a gentler time.

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Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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