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Neither His Nor Hers
Citizen Media Critic: Rachel Kramer Bussel on the latest offering in the "couples mag" genre- August 15, 2005
There are two main questions to be answered when assessing the new couples magazine his&hers: life and style for both of you: Does it works as a couples magazine? And does it work as a magazine at all? If the recently released premiere issue is any indication, it's lacking on both counts. The idea of a "couples" magazine, one specifically designed to address men and women, is already tricky and problematic, and his&hers simply doesn't do enough to appeal to either half of a couple.
From the cover, featuring a man and woman about to kiss, it's clear that his&hers has opted to appeal mainly to women, presumably hoping they'll bring it home and read it with (to?) their boyfriends and husbands. I asked a few guys whether the idea of a couples' mag held any appeal and most demurred. "If that's going to work, they'd have to skew it toward guys, because women are more willing to read about guy stuff than men are about girl stuff," one posited, and while there's a few racy lingerie fashion spreads that on first glance are tough to distinguish between advertising and editorial, most of the magazine reads like a watered down women's magazine, lacking any kind of personality, pizzazz or oomph.
I highly doubt that most men are going to be interested in the "slightly naughty weekend kit" or even want to pick up a magazine with pink, stick figure men and women on the cover (there's more than a touch of metrosexuality sprinkled throughout the fashion and layout). This isn't to say that it's a disaster; some women may very well pick this up, and in the privacy of his home, a guy may give his&hers a read, but what they'll find there won't keep them coming back for more. In their editors' note (which contains a grammatical error), founders Matthew&Nicholle (the ampersand is clearly their favorite punctuation mark) Ratto claim their mag is for "fun, successful, sexy & stylish" couples, but the brightly-colored design and attempts at hipness, the text just doesn't grab me in any way. For all their gendered biases, I'd much rather pick up a women's or men's magazine than one that has to neuter its content to attempt to appeal to both sexes.
What they get right is looking at unmarried couples who cohabitate, including extensive advice from Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot of The Alternatives to Marriage Project, a nonprofit group addressing couples who, for various reasons, choose not to marry. The travel section is also strong, with profiles of vacation spots in the British Virgin Islands and the Berkshires, and an essay by Caitlin Van Dusen that's probably the best piece in the book, about a country road trip with her husband that captures the small, quiet moments in a couple's lifespan without knocking you over the head with the "we're having fun and we're so in love!" vibe of the rest of the mag. But the He Said/She Said advice feature and attempts to address sex with both members of a couple's input ring false because women are more likely to discuss those things with women, and men with men. The dinner conversations between the couples read like no conversation I've ever had, and believe me, I talk plenty about sex (one guy likens figuring out his partner's wants and needs to "putting together Legos.")
I may not be the target market for this magazine; I'm single and have never lived with a partner. But, all the cutesy couples, including the three contributors' photos that feature pairs, can get annoying after a while for anyone. Do people read magazines looking for examples of those exactly like them, or for those whose lives are slightly better, more charmed, more entertaining? If it's the former, then his&hers has a chance, claiming that it will address "affluent, professional, metropolitan couples" who are "aspirational"—desiring upscale, quality possessions," because the magazine is exactly as boring as those phrases from the business plan imply.
The design also seem to be lacking; there's too much space in between text and something slightly juvenile about the layout, what you might expect from a college art project but not a company trying to capture the upper echelon of society. Despite the Swarovski crystal encrusted lingerie and champagne spread (with the caption "the only way to eat sushi"), and ads for watches, jewelry and luxury bath products, the copy, tone and design indicate this is less a magazine for sophisticated urbanites and more one for young people living together for the first time. Also, each of the magazine's five sections—Day by Day, Relate, Sexy, Style and Adventure—get their own mini table of contents, broken up throughout the book rather than all being up front, on thicker stock paper, making it a slightly jarring read. What they call a "revolutionary" layout, I just found confusing.
Without knowing anything about its history, his&hers smacks of being rushed. The first sentence of their business plan states that it's 'been submitted on a confidential basis for the benefit of selected investors," yet it was available for easy, free download from their website (hisandhersmag.com). They take pains to emphasize how unique their magazine will be, but seem to have spent more time crafting their vision for the mag than creating an actual engaging product.
Clearly, a magazine aimed at "men and women who realize the value of a healthy relationship" (from the mission statement), is not going to have the pizzazz, blaring headlines or down and dirty language of some of the more popular newsstand offerings. Yet the result is reading something you'd never be embarrassed about, could never make you blush, shock you, or have you quoting from it at dinner parties. If the "metropolitan couples who crave more energy, time, communication, style and playfulness in their relationship," want to read his&hers, great—but you don't sound like you'd be much fun to socialize with. The his&hers couple, as evidenced in this issue, epitomizes those who are old before their time, who, no matter what age they settle down together, simply want to stay home and cook and nest rather than take advantage of their city's cultural offerings—all the time!
Less racy than Cosmo, Marie Claire, Jane or most any men's magazine, despite the inclusion of a hot but sex-free erotica story called "The Real Naked Chef," his&hers promises a lot but doesn't deliver. Its sex pieces also fall way short of the explicitness of the most popular men's or women's magazine, opting for a murky, extremely light approach that just doesn't cut it in this post-Sex and the City age (example: "Equal partners?...in the bedroom?" No? Try taking charge for once rather than letting your partner initiate sex.) For instance, their "bedroom toys" section features only one item that really belongs in a non-Valentine's issue–the Devine toy box (this page also featured the misspelled "Chocolate Covered Strawberrys" and the improbable description of Pommery POP Champagne as "impertinent").
Tango, his&hers's closest competitor, does a better job in striving to reach a sophisticated couples' market, appealing to their intelligence instead of simply playing up the gimmick of a being couples' magazine and endlessly celebrating the mere fact of being paired up. his&hers stands a chance if it goes a little deeper; perhaps more first person pieces by men or women rather than both trying to tell their story at once. But all the couple-talk is enough to alienate even the happiest of couples with its promise of perfection, and I can safely say that it's not because I'm single that I couldn't find much that spoke to me in his&hers.
Rachel Kramer Bussel is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, and a Contributing Editor to Penthouse. She writes the bimonthly "Lusty Lady" sex column for The Village Voice.
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