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Now Women’s Magazines Are Using Vulgar Headlines. What Does that Mean to You?

January 5, 2013

Blogmaster’s note: Although I had to go back to work Wednesday, apparently not everyone else did. In other words, as I tried to write the Industry News post this week, I couldn’t find a heck of a lot. What I did find–and it has business ramifications–was about profanity in women’s magazines.

The New York Times article’s headline draws the parallel for you. 50 Shades of Vulgarity. While everyone associated with the literary world and just a few others were enthralled last year by 50 Shades of Grey, Glamour magazine’s cover included a reference to an article published in November 2011 called “12 Ways to Get Your Sh*t Together.”

Granted, this is Glamour, the magazine that acted as a catalyst in a Seinfeld episode about who could master their own domain. (If you didn’t see it, think about it in context of profanity and a new genre called mommy porn. It’ll come to you.)

Still, it wasn’t MAD magazine or Howard Stern Monthly or even Sports Illustrated, which sometimes has an affinity for certain female body parts. Glamour is a magazine published for and marketed to women (and George Costanza).  There was so little reaction to the article that the September 2012 cover included a reference to an article titled “Sh*t GIrls Say About Clothes.” The November 2012 issue included an article discussing workouts to improve your, uhhh, butt.

Granted, Glamour isn’t aimed at your grandmother (or at you, if you are a grandmother). But you wouldn’t expect a woman’s magazine to be a leader in the cause of profanity on mainstream magazine covers. And yet it is.

But maybe it’s not so shocking. In a Cheers episode from the 1980s, Diane asked Sam if he knew that the difference between him and a fat, braying ass was. (He didn’t.) Granted, she wasn’t asking about anyone’s posterior. But it was just a few years later when Margaret Whiting told Robert Urich’s Spenser that she would sue his [butt]. Then, a few years later, we got to see Sherry Stringfield’s matching body part on NYPD Blue. More recently, William Shatner starred in a TV show called $h*! My Dad Says. Is it really shocking to see profanity on a magazine cover? (And replacing the vowel with an asterisk really makes no difference.)

Sam’s response: “Speaking fat, braying asses, you’re about to get dumped on yours.” About as close as you can come to saying it to mean a body part without actually doing so.

The question about this trend toward coarser content for women isn’t whether it’s good or bad. It exists. It’s part of the landscape. And in a world where sexy vampire novels and S&M series dominate literature for women, the real question is what you’ll do about it.

Do you give into the flow and do what’s commercially expected? Or do you stand against the tide and use your lack of profanity as a discriminator?

Is the trend toward profanity and explicit content affecting your writing?

  1. Jack Owen permalink
    January 5, 2013 8:09 am

    Depending on content and target.
    If writing for an adult readership in an appropriate genre ( intergalactic grunts of either gender) cussing and reference to body-parts would be as natural as breathing, and unnoticeable in context.
    A male-dominated job-site, or ship’s mess, would not register “socially” unacceptable language.
    I was in a mess, after rum distribution, when fumes, smoke and ribaldry blanketed the air. Suddenly, a burly, bearded, tattooed character shocked his mates into silence with a schoolgirl cuss-word.
    He’d just opened his mail and read a “Dear John” note from (one) of his girlfriends.
    That stunned everyone, for a moment, then chatter resumed with a heavy sprinkling of four letter words in a variety of salty terms.
    A story, aimed for servicemen, etc., would only need one verbatim exchange to capture the ribald flavor of conversation exchanged between characters of… equal rank…to spice the text.

  2. January 5, 2013 11:00 am

    It’s easy to use swear words when writing because that’s how people talk, and writers want to create realistic dialogue.

    However, I resist using swear words (even in my military science fiction) because swear words are difficult to read, and ultimately a pain in the ass. Oops. I only use swear words to set up humor. So far, my approach seems to work. Using profanity is an amature mistake new authors commit, often using swear words in their first paragragh for the shock effect. It does not work, only causing readers to close the book and move on.

    Also, a standard for new authors should be: would I be proud to show my new book to my neighbor, my local newspaper editor, or my family? Do you want those people to endure profanity from you books? Not likely.

  3. Jeanette Dundas permalink
    January 5, 2013 6:46 pm

    I prefer not abusing profanity in anything I write. If it’ s used too casually it loses the effect I’ m trying to achieve. Think about the comic who uses profanity every other word. I Don’ t find it funny anymore. I’ m disappointed in any industry that has lowered it’ s standards.

  4. Chris Hamilton permalink
    January 6, 2013 10:11 am

    I try to get into my characters’ minds. If they would swear, then I swear. If they wouldn’t, I don’t. My issue isn’t with profanity of itself. It’s with gratuitous profanity, which I think is the case with the women’s magazines. Then again, you and I aren’t pressured to make sure sales don’t drop. If dropping “Sh*t” on the cover prevents that from happening, maybe that’s part of the job, even if it isn’t optimal.

    • January 6, 2013 12:34 pm

      My answer is going to ruffle some feathers:

      Here’s my issue with women’s magazines. They have an agenda. As far as I can tell, their agenda is to 1) sell magazines no matter how low they have to stoop; 2) convince women that they should become no different than sleazy, domineering men (I don’t hold men are sleazy or power-hungry, but these editors apparently do) while really just making them feel inferior as women because they don’t look like models and their personal lives are just not “exciting enough.”

      This move towards vulgarity is just one attention-getting move to sell magazines. It’s also one more push to convince women they are no different than men while really what they are doing is depriving women of the specialness of being women. Women aren’t going to be happier, be paid more, have more freedom, or anything else positive because they use nasty language.

      Just one more reason for me to steer clear of these magazines. I’d rather read magazines that instill pride in being a woman.

      Now anyone who wants to disagree with me should just go for it. I won’t be offended.

  5. January 10, 2013 3:19 am

    While a swear word here and there when in character is fine with me, I do draw the line at the “f” word. If I read it in a book I basically pitch the book. It is just too distracting and I think less of the author for using it. Instead of pulling me in, it pushes me away. As to Glamour, it is just disappointing. Can we stop it? Yes. Don’t buy the magazine and write a letter or email the editor. Will we do that? Most likely not. Hence, more of the same in the future.

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