Does anyone remember when GQ meant Gentlemen’s Quarterly instead of the G and the Q in LGBTQ? If it was ever a magazine targeting heterosexual men, that target has been discarded… eagerly. Consider this nonsense from GQ.com:
Back in September of last year, when I found out that I would be the editor in chief of GQ, most people said stuff like “Amazing!” and “Congrats!” But one particularly perceptive friend reacted in a way that I’ll never forget. “Yikes,” she said. “Hell of a time to be in charge of a men’s magazine.”
It was a hard-core thing to say—which is exactly what real friends are for. She was right, of course (She always is, isn’t she? Or at least she’s never wrong.). It was and is a precarious moment. Our society had been wearing blinders that shielded a pervasive culture of sexual intimidation and violence and blatant gender inequality. (Inequality? Like the way more women are attending and graduating from college? Or the way any man’s academic or professional career can be destroyed by a woman’s flimsiest accusation? Or the way men suffer longer prison sentences than women, for the same crime? Or the way there are numerous federal programs exclusively to benefit and support women, but no such programs for men?) But some exceedingly (…stunning and…) brave people—many of whom were the victims of that unequal, violent, and discriminatory culture itself—in the process of showing everyone the plain truth (Plain Truth™).
So the essential question that the team (Is it a team of women and non-men?) and I have been confronting during our first year in this new era at GQ is: How do you make a so-called men’s magazine (So-called? Is it a men’s magazine or isn’t it? If you don’t know, how did you get to be the editor in chief?) in the thick of what has justifiably become the Shut Up and Listen moment (Who is supposed to shut up and listen? Is it men? It’s men, isn’t it.)?
It’s an awesome, exciting, long-overdue challenge. And we see every day at GQ as an opportunity to answer that question (Is the answer to tell men to shut up and listen while women and non-men show them the Plain Truth™?).
One way we’ve addressed it is by making a magazine that isn’t really trying to be exclusively for or about men at all (Stop. Stop. Wait. Will’s way to publish a “so-called men’s magazine” is… to stop being a men’s magazine? Does anyone else see the flaw here?). In fact, for many years now, one of the key principles at GQ is that if we tell stories that excite our own smart, voracious, politically and socially engaged team (Not to mention stunning and brave.), we will connect with a smart, engaged, diverse, and gender-nonspecific audience (So it’s basically ‘Gender-nonspecific Quarterly’?). Which means GQ isn’t targeting a conventional demographic at all; we’re just doing our own specific GQ thing our own specific GQ way—and we trust that all kinds of people will relate and engage (Sure, what conventional man wouldn’t want to read a publication NOT targeted to him, but targeted to everyone else?).
This even applies to how we approach the seemingly very gendered topic of men’s fashion (Men’s fashion is “seemingly” very gendered? Only seemingly, really?). What we’ve been trying to do with our fashion storytelling this year is position it in a way that makes it exciting and relevant to anyone with an interest in menswear culture, rather than creating a guide that applies only to people who wear men’s clothes (That sentence makes no sense, unless your target has been narrowed fashion designers and buyers in the clothing industry. Is GQ now a trade publication? That’s a niche market. Wouldn’t it make sense to appeal to a large market, like… men?). It’s a subtle but important shift (Subtle now means idiotic-but-woke?).
The other approach is our practice of thinking of GQ not as a singular voice but as a community platform—a pulpit that can be widely and freely shared (That sounds pretty, but pulpits are for one-way communication… like sermons. We’re going to get rainbow sermons, aren’t we?).
Both of these ways of thinking culminate with the issue you are now holding, the New Masculinity Issue (New masculinity apparently means anything but masculinity.), which we have been working on in various stages since January.
The centerpiece of the issue is an extended package (Are we doing phrasing?), captained by the journalist Nora Caplan-Bricker (Choosing a woman to write the centerpiece of a men’s magazine would be an unconventional choice, but GQ is no longer a men’s magazine.), called “Voices of the New Masculinity.” In it we hear directly from people who are actively engaging with the complex and shape-shifting inquiry around what masculinity means today (It means the same thing it has always meant. Will and his team just don’t like masculinity, so they are trying to redefine it.). You’ll hear from an activist who is figuring out how to speak to closed-minded men (Calling men close-minded might drive away a lot of men. Ask Hillary about how well her Basket of Deplorables™ reamark worked out.) about topics like sexual discrimination in the workplace (Tarana Burke) (Oh, look, another woman to lecture the audience of GQ. Who doesn’t want to pay for Sensitivity Training outside of the workplace? Brilliant choice.). From a gender-nonbinary (Of course.) actor who is simultaneously advocating for greater inclusivity in Hollywood (Clearly we need greater representation of gender non-binary characters in our movies. Right.) and acknowledging their own privilege (Asia Kate Dillon) (Virtue signal received!). From two very different comedians who are both mining this moment for poignant, provocative laughs (Jaboukie Young-White and Hannah Gadsby) (Whoah! Who let the male have a voice in this Shut Up and Listen Moment™ ?). From an anthropologist who is debunking the idea that testosterone determines male behavior (Katrina Karkazis) (Testosterone doesn’t determine behaviors, but it certainly affects certain behaviors.), and an NBA player who is publicly divulging his personal struggles with depression and anxiety in a league that has traditionally favored the invulnerable (Kevin Love) (Thank goodness we’ll be reading about his struggles with depression and anxiety! Who wants to read about all that icky sports stuff, men?). And there are many others.
To capture even more voices, we also conducted a survey in which we asked 1,005 Americans about their thoughts and feelings on the state of masculinity now. The responses suggest that a seismic change is indeed under way—and that we still have a lot of work to do (The stunning and brave work of redefining masculinity to mean effeminacy is never, ever, ever done.).
As I think you’ll find, this issue is the beginning of an open-ended conversation. We’re not attempting to be comprehensive on the subject of masculinity (Good, you seem to have nothing but disdain for it.) or offering a strict how-to for being a better man (Really? Hannah Gadsby seems to think men should be more ladylike. Try to find any article in this issue [link below] that is *not* trying to lecture men on how to be better… as defined by women?). Instead, this issue is an exploration of the ways that traditional notions of masculinity are being challenged, shifted, and overturned (By women. Imagine if I was the editor in chief of Cosmo, and I hired a bunch of dudes to tell women how to act.). It’s also intended as an exploration of how we can all become more generous, honest, open, and loving humans—especially if we rebuild masculinity on a foundation of traits and values like generosity, honesty, openness, and love (If men suddenly stopped being generous, honest, open, and loving… Will and many—MANY—women would be shocked to see the difference.).
Needless to say, one of the voices in the mix is that of our cover subject, Pharrell Williams, who is an icon of progressive thinking, music making, and dressing. Pharrell has a long history of shattering cultural norms—and he has also shown a profound ability to adjust as the world around him has changed. That dynamic combination of leadership and responsiveness is aspirational, and exactly why we wanted him on the cover (Then why beclown him by posing him in a floor-length dress that looks like it was made from puffy winter coats?).
Before I step aside and let all the many thoughtful voices in this issue speak (Finally, white male, sheesh!), I want to unpack one word that keeps coming up in these pages as the antidote to toxicity: empathy. Empathy is our ability to feel what other people are feeling (How much empathy does Will feel for conventional heterosexual men… the overwhelming bulk of people with penises? He couldn’t figure out how to produce a men’s magazine that catered to men with traditional interests.). It is the foundation of love and of the Golden Rule.
If Pharrell, Tarana Burke, and Hannah Gadsby are right, it’s also something that men urgently need to cultivate right now (Thanks. I know when I think about how to be a better man I look to a militant feminist and a lesbian for the Plain Truth™. No, wait. I don’t. Hannah, as an example, mistakes her condescension for empathy. To paraphrase the saying, “Lesbian Physician, Heal Thyself.”).
I’ve thought about empathy a lot over the course of editing this issue. And it strikes me that before you can feel what others are feeling, you must first be in touch with how you feel. In other words, you have to have empathy for yourself. And then you can turn that hard-won superpower (That is not a hard-won superpower. You’re not wielding Thor’s hammer.) outward and do unto others as you would have them do unto you (So, Will *wants* other people to publish offensive nonsense, written by clueless, hostile authors, and trust that he will read it? Weird.).
It might seem counterintuitive that the people we need to learn to love first and foremost are ourselves, but I believe it’s true. Toxicity simply cannot thrive in the golden presence of genuine self-love (Seriously. Are we doing phrasing or not?).
With that, I’ll pass the mic. Time, once again, to listen (Virtue signal received!).
Will Welch is GQ’s (stunning and brave) editor-in-chief.
What do I know? I’m Justa Gaibroh.