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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Essentials

You're staying in a cottage while you're away for a week. And you're looking for something to read on the coffee table while you're waiting for the kettle to boil. You pick up a copy of a magazine for women called Essentials. And while you might expect it to be full of the usual sexist bullshit, you absolutely refuse to laugh it off like the other people in the room.

Essentials prides itself on its use of 'real women' (No models , no celebs - just you!). Every month, the 'cover star' is a member of the public who has a story to tell. There are six or seven issues on the coffee table, so you browse through all of them and, lo and behold, get quite angry. It's true, the magazine is full of real women telling their real stories about their real lives with their real minds. Every single woman is, of course, introduced by name, name of husband and names and ages of children. Empowering! In one of the issues, a woman called Linda (not her real name) talks about three things she wants to achieve before she's 50. Here they are (but brace yourself, because they are INTIMIDATING AMBITIONS):

1. To go shopping and come back with all the things on her list for a change!
2. To not lie awake at 2am worrying about her kids
3. To be able to wear her swimming costume without covering the lower part of her body with a sarong

And you think, poor Linda, with her completely depressing list of things she wants to achieve. And then you check yourself and think you're being patronising. And then you check yourself again and think, fuck it, poor Linda! Linda is not ok. It's really obvious that she's not because none of the things on her list are actually about her and you feel, frankly, rather miffed at the editors at Essentials for not picking up on this and a) not printing it and b) not thinking to pay for Linda to have six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy to address her low self-esteem.

In the most recent issue of Essentials which is, in a nutshell, aimed at women who will be dieting for Christmas so that their husbands don't leave them but, despite this, will be spending the next two weeks in the kitchen preparing all the festive food from scratch so that their husbands don't leave them, there are some ace tips about how to eat biscuits and not feel like a disgusting, frumpy arsehole; according to our helpful friends at Essentials, all you need to do after you've eaten three wedges of chocolate orange is wash up for an hour. Easy! Because you were going to do that anyway so it's absolutely no biggie! In fact, there is a whole list of evil Christmas foods that have been coupled with their calorie-busting exercise housework equivalent. Although, to be fair, they're not all housework; you're allowed to play Twister and go for a walk too, because, Merry Christmas!

And after a little while, just before you think you might have finished your Essentials session, you notice something weird which is that in all seven issues that you've looked in, you haven't seen a single black face. But hang on a minute, you think; isn't this magazine supposed to be all about real women telling their real stories about their real lives with their real minds? Hmmm. So you go onto Twitter and send Essentials a tweet asking for an explanation. And they reply to you and say this:

We have one black woman in this issue, other times we have more. We won a PPA diversity award in the spring for our positive mix of real women.

And you sort of want to laugh. Not because it's funny but because the explanation is completely not ok. And the reason you know this is because you've done a bit of maths and you know a little bit about the demographics in the UK; you know that about 15% of the UK population is non-white, which means that if, say, 30 'real women' are featured in any one issue of Essentials, and if Essentials is actually serious about its claim that it 'draws from a wide range of women across the UK', roughly five of them should be non-white.

So then you feel like you want to know a bit more about the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) and whether or not it takes diversity seriously enough to offer awards in that category. So, you go onto the PPA website and have a look at the training it provides but you don't find anything that looks remotely like diversity or equality training. So you send an email asking if any training of this kind is provided. And while you're waiting for a reply, you eat about 12 biscuits and go on a little thought journey about how much better these magazines would be if they took some actual responsibility to change people's attitudes and made a bit more of an effort to be inclusive and reflective instead of churning out the same old lazy, offensive turds month after month (because, by the way, it really isn't that hard when you employ people who know what they're doing to do this stuff) and how it's weird that other people think that you're being a bit mental and scary when you get so fucking angry about it.


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