31 Jan 2019

Can a men’s magazine give good advice about women? Not if it's Men's Health Russia.

Men’s Health Russia offers advice from sex educators who aim to enlighten Russian men about this fairly taboo topic. But the articles tend to not just flirt with misogyny -- sometimes they go all the way.

Editorial Team
Olena Churanova NewsMavens, Europe
Can a men’s magazine give good advice about women? Not if it's Men's Health Russia. - NewsMavens
Piggyback, PixaBay

Arina Vintovkina has been writing for the Russian language edition of “Men’s Health” for 10 years. She started with the magazine in a section titled “Women’s logic” before eventually moving to a sex-advice column. In this advice column, she talks to the magazine's intended audience (men) from the perspective of a “female insider” -- writing about sex, relationships, and giving men her "insights" on how to understand women.

Vintovkina has a journalism and psychology degree and says that she is a certified sexologist. Her profiles on Instagram, Facebook and Viber have more than 125,000 subscribers. And yes, in some way, she really is a sex educator, tackling topics quite atypical for the conservative post-soviet publics. For example, Arina is polyamorous and has written about her own experience of having a husband and a girlfriend at the same time.

She has also been known to ponder her experience of working for the magazine. In 2018, Vintovkina reflected on her time with Men’s Health Russia, describing her own personal evolution with regard to the treatment of women in her texts:

Ten years ago, the objectification of women, sexism and the attitude towards girls as being amusing, sweet but generally rather strange little animals were not considered mortal sins and 99% of the jokes in Men’s Health were built on these ideas. I have used this method myself. It is curious to realize now that I did it without intending to hurt myself; I was without malice, and guiltless [of bad intent]. Guys ... [appreciated] my tender misogyny, and sparkling sexism.

Nowadays, I am ashamed to catch manifestations of internal misogyny in myself. This phrase is used to denote a hatred of women, treating them as second rate, or at least as “special” sort of beings. And internal misogyny is, in fact, self-discrimination when a woman herself says or writes something that supports the idea of ​​male superiority.

She proceeds to state that the times when it was acceptable to exploit sexism for laughs are gone, pointing to the fact that even the name of her original column, “Women’s logic”, was an expression of “tender” misogyny which is no longer allowed.

Sure enough, texts like “What to do with a moustachioed girl? (Except how to give her to the circus.)” or “Boobs vs extra kg” (both from 2011) were blatant examples of objectification and the body shaming of women. And, according to Vintovkina’s description of her self-realization, something one should no longer expect in her column.

So what’s the problem with this statement?

Feeling like a graceful panther but looking like a mess

Vintovkina’s words about overcoming internalized misogyny stand in stark contrast with the actual contents of her columns. Not just the ones from 10 years ago, her most recent ones, too.

5 main rules for dealing with a drunk girl” was a column written in 2017. It addresses men in the second person, and offers advice on “how to deal with your girlfriend when she is drunk”.

At first, a drunken woman is described as:

...a creature in front of you that has nothing to do with the neat young lady with a clever look and reserved gestures that you know and, perhaps, even love.

To make matters worse, a drunk girlfriend is referenced throughout the text with an abbreviation -- DG. Additionally, the woman who has had too much to drink is essentially reduced to a little kid in the custody of a serious man, who is the guardian responsible for her behaviour.

According to Men's Health, it is natural that you would want to take embarrassing pictures of her and post them on social networks. But the article advises readers to take a more gentle approach. Yes, take pictures of her while she’s “feeling like a graceful panther but looking ridiculous with smudged makeup” but don’t put them online -- present them to her some days later for her private embarrassment.  

The more troubling tips are those on how to calm a drunken girlfriend’s jealousy with sex -- without bothering about her feelings, because her senses are numbed by alcohol:  

Technically, she can and is ready to have sex. She will even take part in the process and use her nails on your back. However, all your sophisticated moves designed to bring a partner to orgasm, will feel to the DG as if you are palpating her clitoris through the fabric of a wetsuit.

Better instead: focus on enjoying yourself and don’t bother with your partner. In the end, in sexual terms, a drunken woman is a very accommodating and relaxed creature. It would be foolish not to take advantage of this.

43 signs of a magazine that knows nothing about women

25 signs that you're dating the perfect girl” and “18 signs that it is better to avoid this girl”, two columns riddled with the worst imaginable gender stereotypes, were published in January 2018.

These lists suggest that the perfect woman is the one who cooks well, doesn’t buy expensive things or spend money on manicures, pedicures and the gym, doesn’t gain weight from birth control pills (and is not “fat” in general), doesn’t suffer from PMS, admires the wisdom of her boyfriend’s mother, does everything herself, and, finally, loves everything that her man does.

If she replies that everything is normal, you can believe it, and not wait for passive-aggressive attacks and tantrums out of the blue.

Doctors are in disbelief, but she is allergic to fur, diamonds and tropical climates.

She does not get fat from the pill and sincerely does not understand why there is so much hype around PMS.

If necessary, she can participate in a conversation about football, carburetors and securities transactions. Or she knows how to shut up about it.

At the same time, the most terrible woman is the one who is constantly complaining about everything, loves karaoke, doesn’t answer a man’s questions directly, won’t immediately have sex with a new boyfriend, asks her boyfriend about his past, talks about children and their future together from the first meeting, drinks too much alcohol, eats a lot, cries during or after sex, etc:

Regularly and with ecstasy she complains that she has a small salary, and they want to fire her from her job, her boots are leaky, the computer is broken, her loan debt is increasing, her sister from Vorkuta urgently needs money for an operation, and her wallet was stolen. And she looks obviously disappointed when you do not offer to give her funds to buy, pay or help resolve these issues.”

“She is eternally prone to some kind of sadness that only she understands. To the most reckless and blatantly romantic attempts to please her, she responds with a sluggish one word: “Cool.”

“She can kiss for hours, agrees to let you touch her in immodest places, while deafeningly breathing and moaning like a newborn calf, but when asked to move to a more comfortable place than a car or a bench in the park, she acts insulted and claims that you are rushing things! And it’s the same for several months.

After painting women as either hysterical gold-diggers or subservient “50’s housewives”, Arina Vintovkina even adds that reading all of her male reader's complaints about their “imperfect girlfriends” has weakened her feelings of “female solidarity”.

A sob story can lead to sex according to Men's Health 

5 situations when you could definitely count on sex” is an even more recent work in which Vintovkina suggests several situations where a man can definitely count on having sex with a woman. The most suitable are those when she feels helpless, self-pitying, threatened by another woman, or vulnerable in any way -- especially when she can’t handle something broken, "difficult mechanisms", cars, or whatever:

If only guys knew how easily accessible and vulnerable women become when they cannot cope with some mechanical issue. When I have problems with a car, I get so upset (...) that I’m ready to sleep with any knight who will take the broken car from me and fix it. (...) The main thing is -- do not hide your skills and offer help to girls as often as possible. A handyman who turned out to be in the right place at the right time will definitely will not leave without sex.

Each piece of advice is presented as the result of discussions with other women (her “sisters by gender”), or her own personal experience. If not for the fact the article is presented from the point of view of a woman -- there is little to separate its content from a sterotypical “pick up artist” column.

Women are compassionate. And, as a rule, if we do not have more important and interesting matters, we will not turn away a guy who suffers. Therefore, if suddenly you have some kind of personal tragedy, feel free to use it! Your sad story can easily be “converted” into sex with a girl who listens and emphasizes.

8 of the most terrible women's fears associated with men” was published in November 2018, and lists the greatest fears women supposedly associate with men. It is unclear on what basis Vintovkina chose these fears for her list: the fear that a man fakes an orgasm, that he thinks she is stupid, that he will cheat on a woman with her best friend, that he will run away from his own wedding, that he will become unemployed, that he will doubt the paternity of their child or leave a woman during her pregnancy, or the other great fear:

That one day you will go out the door and never come back. You’ll say in a casual tone: “I’m going to buy a bread,” put on your shoes -- and that’s it. And you won't come back even to take your things. Moreover, her famous female intuition won’t react at that moment. And then she has two ways to go: 1) to become a writer of women's novels, or 2) to believe in the existence of a UFO and start waiting for representatives of extraterrestrial civilizations to fly in for her.

So, domestic violence, rape, a lack of alimony in case of divorce, workplace harassment, or obstacles in career development are not the most disturbing moments that women associate with men -- it’s the fact that a man could fake an orgasm. This is explicitly described as a “woman’s most terrible fear”, an experience worse than discovering that you were adopted and were never informed:

I had the opportunity to look into the eyes of women who survived this ... People who accidentally found out that they were taken from a shelter as a child look less shocked,” 

Essentially, all the “worst fears” are about not being seen as good enough by a man, and this leads to the greatest fear of all -- that the man will leave at the end. According to Men's Health Russia, this is the ultimate catastrophe.

Is it possible to write about sex for male readers without humiliating women?

Returning to Vintovkina’s own thoughts about using sexism to appeal to men, one can see that this is still very prevalent in her approach. Far from abandoning this strategy, she still uses her platform as a female writer for a men’s magazine to pander to sexist stereotypes, rather than being an “educator” on matters of sex and relationships. This approach is quite in line with Men's Health Russia’s general slant when it comes to these topics. The section dedicated to sex has pieces such as “The object of desire” (where “the object” is a woman model, presented with a photo session sprinkled with short notes of her “hopes and dreams”), or “What if your girlfriend is stronger than you? 4 ways to live with it calmly“ (teaching men how to grapple with a terrifying possibility that a woman can fill the gas tank herself).  

Is this the only way for a men’s magazine to handle relationship advice? Evidence to the contrary can be found not far away -- one of the closest examples is the website of the company’s international outlet, the international edition of Men’s Health.  

The “Sex and relationships” section on Men’s Health.com, for example, includes advice on how to make the morning after a hookup perfect for your partner; how to cook a romantic dinner for two; how to flirt with women on Tinder; how to make the first date  amazing; how to start dating again after divorce, etc. Most of these articles are also written by women, but they don’t consist of sexist and derogatory descriptions of women -- not even when they go into the “kinky” topics. For example, in the article “How women want you to talk dirty during sex”:

In the post-#MeToo dating world, dirty talk can be a minefield. Here's how to do it in a way that's respectful -- and sexy. (...) At the end of the day, the best way to talk dirty like a gentleman is to have the lines of communication open at all times. You and your partner shouldn't be afraid to talk about the things that are and aren't working for you both in bed.

Whatever the topic is, it is possible to avoid misogyny, stereotypes, and talk about partnership, respect and communication as the core of a good and healthy relationship. So why doesn't it happen in this magazine? NewsMavens tried to reach both Arina Vintovkina and the editors of Men's Health Russia for comments, but they did not respond.  

When you are a woman who writes about women for a men’s magazine, supporting harmful stereotypes “from the inside” gives them a special layer of legitimacy in the eyes of those who are already inclined to view women as “less than” or “special creatures”, as Vintovkina noted herself. 


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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