September 2017

September 2017 Editor's Note: ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

Author: Maggie Washo

How about this one?” asked Catherine, CH2’s art director.

“The Lowcountry is not ready for the shaving cover,” I replied.

“But it was from 1965. Everyone will know it’s a throwback tribute,” Catherine said.
“They aren’t ready,” I said, walking out of her office.

We were discussing cover options to get people’s attention for our Women in Business issue, a much-anticipated sellout issue, which occurs every other August.

Over the next few days, I mulled over her proposed cover idea. I presented it to several women. “That’s a fun idea” seemed to be the consensus. “Not too edgy for our area?” I would ask, pushing for the answer I wanted to hear. “Of course not,” was the reply.

My mom was born in the ’50s, so I asked her. She smiled. “That’s fun.”

“Do you think it’s too edgy for this area?”

“No. But what are you trying to say?”

“I’m not trying to say anything. We’ve paid homage to several iconic covers over the years; this would just be another one. It’s fun to see who makes the connection.”

“I like it,” she replied. “Go for it.”

I wasn’t sold yet. As the person on the receiving end of ALL irate phone calls and e-mails from incensed readers, I knew better. Someone was not going to get it.

I compromised.

“Go ahead and do it,” I told Catherine. “But we aren’t going to mail it to anyone. We’ll just put it on stands. If someone wants to pick it up, great. Let’s do some ‘safe’ covers for the actual mailings.” (“SAFE” meaning covers that couldn’t be misconstrued as a political statement or be overly polarizing.)

So, we hired a model who resembled the one featured on this classic Esquire cover, and did our best to replicate it, including altering our logo to mirror the Esquire logo.

It is something we’ve done multiple times over the past 11 years. In the summer of 2008, Michael Phelps became a household name when he triumphed at the summer Olympics, bringing home eight gold medals for his superior aquatic abilities. Two months later, in a pictorial about how to create children’s costumes on a budget, we recreated the Michael Phelps’ Sports Illustrated cover with an eight-year-old boy. It was a hit.

The Saturday Evening Post’s style was another we chose to emulate in July of 2011. We commissioned Mark Staff to photograph a dad grilling hamburgers, with his daughter sharing her ice cream cone with a puppy—very Norman Rockwell. The cover shot was done in vignette, with our logo and type slightly altered to more reflect the style of The Saturday Evening Post.

In July of 2013, we celebrated our second Women in Business issue with our entirely female staff balanced on scaffolding, painting the CH2 logo onto our cover. This was done “in the style of” or as an homage to the Chicago Greatest Hits album cover. I think it’s important to note that we weren’t trying to make a statement that women could be painters…of course they can. It’s 2017, and women can choose whatever career path they desire.

In the summer of 2015, we tipped our hat to Vogue. Taylor Kent, CH2 Rocks the Triangle winner, was made up like a vintage cover girl, and again, our type and logo were altered.

There are more examples, but those are a few of my favorites throughout our history.

In addition to the shaving cover for our August issue, we shot what I considered our “safe covers.” The same model we hired to recreate the iconic shaving cover was used to represent various professions featured within our Women in Business special section: a doctor (see page 63 of August issue); a general contractor (see page 53 of August issue); a financial advisor (see page 50). To achieve this graphically, we used universally recognizable props: a Wall Street Journal turned to the MONEY section, a white coat and stethoscope, a hard hat and blueprints.

We went to print.

We asked our readers which cover they preferred. Men seemed to like the shaving one. One gentlemen had this to say: “I vote for the cover with the woman shaving. It declares visually that women are equal to men and ready to take on the world.” As a rule, the women e-mailing tended to favor the stockbroker or “the one with the dog.”

After putting out more than 200 covers, I expected this. I’ve said for a while now that if you want to run out of magazines early in the month and get more views online, you put one of these three things on your cover: 1) A beautiful young woman. 2) Food. 3) A dog. (in exactly that order). If you really want to blow someone’s mind, put all three together on the cover. For all of you out there trying to start a magazine, there’s your cover recipe.

You’re welcome.

Here are CH2’s Top 10 covers of all time, based on percentage of views, clicks, and the amount of time the reader spent perusing each issue:

As you can see, this past issue is number one. It shot to number one in less than seven days. But it has a pretty young woman and a dog, so like I said, no big surprise here.

But then something began to happen on Facebook that did surprise me. There was outrage over our cover choices—and not the shaving one. A few women found it “sexist,” and “demeaning to women,” and thought the cover photos portrayed “women acting as men.”

“Women acting as men.” That statement really struck me. Did some of our readers feel that a woman couldn’t be a doctor, stockbroker or general contractor? When another woman wrote that the covers looked like “a model playing dress up as if to indicate that she is a woman doing men’s jobs,” the enormity of what these women were expressing hit me like a lightning bolt. They didn’t think, as a gender, that we had come very far at all. In their minds, this was a woman “playing dress up,” not a woman in business who was getting paid to do a job (modeling is her career).

There were several comments about our cover model dressing as a man (by the way, she was wearing a dress) because she was wearing a tie. As a woman who has worn a tie as a fashion statement on many occasions, I found this kind of interesting as well. Women have been rocking ties for years now. I find it to be a nice alternative to a necklace on occasion and definitely a look that gets attention. It is worn by servers (male and female) in fine dining establishments around the world. But perhaps what was more alarming was women telling other women what they should and shouldn’t wear to be properly represented as a successful “woman in business.” ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK.

Every time I have a visceral reaction to something, I try to dig deeper to find out why. I’m not talking about the normal stuff that we should all be upset about (like murder, child abuse, mistreatment of animals, etc.). I’m talking about things that I find offensive or hurtful, but in general, most people do not. I try to get to the root of my emotions and see where the hurt stems from. In my case, it’s usually attached to some past slight or hurtful experience that I can’t seem to forget/ forgive/ shake.

The August covers (quite by accident) became a Rorschach test for our readers. The opinion you formed looking at those covers mirrors how you perceive women in business. And I have to admit, that scared me a little when I read a few of the comments on Facebook. Because if that’s the case, we haven’t come nearly as far as I thought we had.

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