When the first issue of Esquire hit newsstands in October 1933, its editors laid out a clear vision for the future and purpose of their magazine. They wrote, simply, “Esquire aims to become the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men." It is not hard, 71 years later, to wonder if that vision has perhaps been lost.
Every issue of Esquire today features a section called “Women We Love,” a photo spread of a beautiful woman accompanied by a brief interview to promote some movie or album. The issue of Esquire currently on stands features Penélope Cruz, the newly crowned “Sexiest Woman Alive”, in just this kind of spread as its cover story.
One could take issue with this cover story on the grounds of objectification alone. For me, though, the real issue with this lies right in the editorial mission laid out in the magazine’s very first issue: Esquire aims to be all things to all men. One need not even question whether cover stories like “Sexiest Woman Alive” depart from that vision. The answer is so obvious that it feels tiresome to have to write it out.
Heterosexuality is not a common denominator for all men, and the same is true of content that grows out of that heterosexuality. Esquire does a good job, in many regards, as a progressive publication. I read Esquire. I like Esquire. For all the clothing ads and soft pieces, its issues feature real hard journalism, and great writing—it doesn’t assume that its audience is stupid. It supports gay marriage, and often criticizes and questions the tenets of contemporary masculinity. It misses the mark, however, every time a story like this is run.
The magazine leaves behind its LGBTQ readers every time it makes something like this the center of an issue. It implies, as a men’s magazine, that if one doesn’t subscribe to the brand of heterosexuality that defines the publication, he then must not be masculine. Which is, of course, not true. Masculinity is not dependent on sexuality. Esquire shouldn’t publish content that claims otherwise—not, at least, if they claim truly to be a magazine for men. The seeds of a new kind of masculinity more profound and fulfilling than one based on heterosexuality alone, exist fully grown already in countless individuals. Esquire and magazines like it need to take this seed and sow it where it is not yet found. It needs to help contribute to a brand of masculinity that speaks true to all men regardless of sexual orientation.
That does not mean the magazine itself should be desexualized. Regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality is an integral part of almost everyone’s lives. To deny sexuality a place in the magazine would undermine its integrity as a men’s magazine just as much as its current sexual politics do. There should still be writing about heterosexuality; that focus simply needs to find a complement through due attention to the interests and needs of America’s LGBTQ men—in the form of pictorial spreads, articles, etc. Esquire will never replace publications devoted specifically to LGBTQ interests, but that also should not be its aim. Its aim, as its original editors themselves have said, should be to speak to the common things that unite all men, in a way that does not exclude, discount, or ignore the personalities of those for whom they claim to write.
Even, perhaps, in broadening their conception of male sexuality, magazines like Esquire may be able to better inform the sexualities of their straight readers, so that they may learn to appreciate their own bodies, as well as those of other men, in a way that they do not and cannot now within the narrow confines of modern masculinity.
If Esquire is to be a men’s magazine in the fullest sense, it cannot ignore the LGBTQ members of its audience. It needs to redefine the way it organizes and produces content so that it is more inclusive, more honest to what men truly look like today. More importantly, though, it must take the opportunity to contribute to a more inclusive vision of masculinity in our media and, in turn, a more fulfilling kind of sexuality for its readers, especially its straight ones, whose minds and bodies are trapped within the limitations of modern male heterosexuality. So give us a “Sexiest Man in Alive,” and, if it’s not too much to ask, a less objectifying appreciation of female sexuality and the female form. Maybe then we’ll have ourselves a men’s magazine that’s actually meant for all men.