Books · Gender

A post-patriarchal periodical

Since I’ve just finished reading the second issue of Libertine, I’m now trying to put words to the bliss of opening it when it arrived, and feeling my mind gently expand.

Being a bookish teen I came to magazines late. I was repelled by the pink-splattered displays of fashion, lifestyle & media mags aimed at women; I saw them alternately fawning over and shaming celebrities, obsessively judging bodies by an absurdly narrow standard of patriarchal desirability and urging conformity with clothing trends. When I arrived at sixth form college I lost my former periodical prejudice, discovering in the well-stocked library ‘special interest’ mags: New Scientist, Sight & Sound, Private Eye. Since then, dilettante that I am, I’ve bought odd issues of Bidoun, Aperture, The Economist, New Statesman, Creative Review, New African etc etc etc…

I’ve noticed a few periodicals cropping up variously placed in that dim canyon between ‘lifestyle’ and ‘special interest’. The more upmarket and artistic fashion magazines have always hovered in this space, but I’ve never been satisfied by them. Their content might be less homogenous, their photoshoots more… uncomfortable, but I’ve never had the sense that they were presenting a genuine challenge to the status quo, the assumption of the white male as the universal/default setting. Even though these magazines are aimed at women, the woman they construct is the woman defined and limited by patriarchal standards of beauty and femininity, and she is unquestionably middle class, and almost certainly white: a bored, privileged consumer.

Well, I’m white and cis, educated and almost nearly maybe middle class, but I want to think outside my privilege. I’ve been socialised as a woman under patriarchy, but I’ve found it pretty easy, with a little learning, to rid myself of some of the poison it’s pumped into me. I spend time and energy reading and sharing and joining in with the feminist critique of media. I feel this process is vital and it’s sometimes heartening and satisfying.

But I’m even MORE heartened and satisfied to find people creating the media I want to see. That’s what’s so great about Libertine. It greets me as a human person (yes really) interested in many things (I know right!!). With an implicit awareness of all the variegated oppression and stereotyping perpetuated elsewhere, Libertine just gets on with creating and responding to everything else in our dynamic, increasingly global experience. This quarter I was most inspired by Kate Mew’s essay on design, using Star Wars references to place (Empire) technology-as-magic aesthetics in opposition to (Rebellion) the Maker movement, and by the single ‘fashion’ piece on couture hats, featuring a Black model (neither very young nor very thin, hurrah!), whose elegant, close-cropped head and features perfectly show off the millinery.

Thank you, Libertine, for making real the vision I fight for.

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