On the way to work this week I picked up both a Stylist and a Shortlist – two of the free morning publications targeting the commute crowd. Ostensibly, Stylist is for girls, and Shortlist is for boys, and the compare and contrast this week was particularly enhanced by the presence of the new French Connection ad campaign on the front and back covers, which literally says: This is the man. This is the woman. (Credit to Fallon for re-injecting an element of class into the French Connection brand).
I remember the first time I came across Shortlist. A man offered me one on the way into the tube, and I reluctantly accepted. I felt oddly uncomfortable about openly reading the ‘boys magazine’. I don’t know what I thought would happen. People would start whispering ‘Doesn’t she know…?’ It would turn out to be stuffed full of porn, lights would start flashing and a siren wailing ‘INTRUDER ALERT’ on repeat would trigger a crack squad of appropriate-reading-material-enforcers to appear and bundle me off the train? Nope. Actually all that happened was it turned out to be a degree more entertaining than the girls’ equivalent – which consequently made me feel rather shortchanged, and a little like shouting out, ‘Hey I like this stuff too! Why do I have to be relegated to reading about lipstick!?’
Apologies for doing this, but it’s illuminating. Running through the double page spreads of Stylist, classifying the material broadly by theme, we have: accessories, celebrity, fashion, novelty cat story, fashion, celebrity, pampering, agony aunt, lots more fashion, beauty/ celebrity, accessories, celebrity, make-up, celebrity, books about feeling fat, recipes and, again, celebrity. Hilariously, somewhere in the middle of all that is an article about female equality, and why more top jobs in the UK aren’t filled by women. There’s also, admittedly, an article about the Brontes which I can’t really find fault with – apart from the fact that the interest has probably only been piqued because of romanticised TV period dramas. The majority of the articles are based on the premise of women as relentless consumers, barely discriminating acquisitors, and, fundamentally, pander to our insecurities. It is literally pathetic.
The men, on the other hand, get: history/ photography, current affairs, celebrity, TV, comics, technology, fashion, technology, interesting things to do, film & books, humorous comment, fashion, accessories, pampering, cars, video games, celebrity (action hero), celebrity (comedian), fashion, sports, useful things to know how to do, competitions, humorous comment.
If your daily intake was solely based upon these two publications, the men would emerge significantly more intellectually stimulated and informed. However the one really screaming feature of the girls literature is the total absence of a funny bone. Even the article about a comedian (Sarah Silverman) amazingly manages to not actually be that funny. Whereas for the men, it’s top priority. One immediate indicator of tone: they have fully mastered the art of the comedy caption. They even have an article about ‘how to deliver a joke’, for pete’s sake.
I don’t think it can be disputed that, statistically, there just are more funny men than funny women. Obviously the possible reasons are deep and complex. But if this is what we’re pumping our heads full of, if this is what passes for acceptable conversational fodder, no wonder we don’t stand a chance compared to the boys. We just don’t have the material.
One of my (funny) female friends suggested it is also to do with competitiveness: essentially, humour is an aggressive thing. Between groups of boys, banter is competitive, and between boys and girls, a way of attracting the other sex. I have learnt to my peril that boys don’t fancy girls who make jokes – even if their company is at least 100% more entertaining than their unfunny counterparts. Poignant, then, that the back cover French Connection ad in the girls mag features a pouting sour-faced beauty with the caption: ‘Think of words. Put them in order. Make her laugh.’ Indeed.
I’m not blaming Shortlist or Stylist. I don’t hold them responsible. I’m sure they pitch their product well to their market. But if so, I find what it says about the state of female minds in our country slightly depressing. Surely there are some other girls out there who like Mad Men and Will Ferrell movies and who don’t care about 53 different kinds of nail varnish. And who can appreciate a joke. Aren’t there?