Should I unsubscribe from Wired magazine?

This post is more than 3 years old.

One of my most favorite magazines to read, and only one of two I subscribe to, is Wired.  They somehow manage to stay on the cutting edge of the tools, technologies and culture I am connected to as a technology consultant and web developer, and it's a publication that pays meticulous attention to creating outstanding production value - the reading experience is like nothing else.  With only a few exceptions, there's rarely an issue of Wired that doesn't bring me some new insight into the human condition, excite me with adventures in hacking the world around us, or educate me about how things work.

That's why it's difficult for me to even pose this question, but I must: should I unsubscribe from Wired?  Here's why I might: despite being a magazine that has chronicled the leveling of many playing fields, technological, social, and intellectual alike, they can't seem to stop objectifying women to sell magazines.

Sometimes its the ads they accept from their advertisers, which depict women as decorations to complement what a particular product, service or man has to offer.  Sometimes its the use of scantily clad models to illustrate how one might use a particular tech gadget.  And sometimes, like with the cover story in their current issue, it's a blatant use of the sexualized female body to increase newsstand sales.

I can't do a better job than Cindy Royal did in describing Wired's double standards and failures at cleverness.

Go back through your covers over the years. How exactly are young women supposed to feel about their role in technology by looking at your magazine?...

You’re better than this. You don’t need to treat women in this light to sell magazines. You have the power to influence the ways that women envision their roles with technology. Instead, you’re not helping.

Plenty of other people have noticed too.  And Peggy Orenstein's timely article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine about the sexualization of breast cancer awareness certainly points to a larger trend in mainstream organizations generating new sources of income by feigning concern for womens` health issues while exploiting and demeaning women at the same time.

So, what's my role in this as a consumer who doesn't want to support or reward this kind of behavior?

I could cancel my subscription to Wired.  I would be able to find most of their content on their website, eventually, but the reading experience would be lost.  I would deprive them of $12/year which might mean they don't buy as many coffee filters one week, but I would also have lost any leverage I do have as a "paying subscriber."

Or, I could stay subscribed to Wired.  I could write them letters and threaten revolution.  I could tell myself that on the whole, the benefit and enjoyment I gain from reading the magazine outweighs the harm done by participating in their problematic editorial choices.  And the next time an issue comes to my mailbox with a pair of bare breasts on the cover, I could again sheepishly apologize to the people around me who wonder about my taste in magazines, let alone my values as a human being.

I welcome your opinions.

5 thoughts on “Should I unsubscribe from Wired magazine?

  1. Bravo...

    I think you present the arguments really well and whatever you decide will be fine. You make the biggest difference by voicing your opinion on avenues like your blog and posting the link of it to the comments of the article that contained the offensive photo(s).

    Ultimately, you're right... likely not much will be gained by canceling your subscription (in many ways) but you can influence the magazine both by describing what they do well and what needs to improve.

    non-proud user... ugh

  2. Chris:

    Women have made great strides in the tech field in recent years (think Molly Wood, Veronica Belmont, Dr. Kiki, etc.). There's still a long way to go, but we're entering a period of history when male geeks are learning to adapt to female geeks raised on characters like Katherine Janeway, Susan Ivonova, and Trinity. The coolest t-shirts on are for women and the children of geek couples. The day is coming when Wired will need to adapt or die as well. The revolution is in progress, my friend. Just remember these are early days.

    Whatever you decide, write your stern letter. You already have some evidence that you're not alone, and the more voices that are raised in protest, the more likely the change you want will happen.

    If you still want to read Wired in the meantime, try assuaging your conscience with a "carbon credit" approach by subscribing to Scientific American. They now have a female managing editor.

  3. Unsubscribe, and don't give their website clicks. There are other sources - or just RSS their feed and click through judiciously.

    $12 is just a tiny part of your contribution to their income. The advertising that you don't like is valued on how many eyes see it, and your subscription contributes to that value. I get Wired - it was a gift from a relative. I totally agree with your issues re objectifying women - targeting geeks with big breasted curvy women has always been an easy trick (comics, graphic novels) and they don't need to do it.

    (as an aside, I am not sure that the breast cancer cover is the best example of that - we are talking about regrowing "perfect" breasts after all - a societal issue perhaps - and they address that. But we'll leave that one for another day)

    The thing that bothers me just as much is the seamless merging of advertisements and content. Even when its labeled as ad content, its done up in a way that makes it feel like they think they can pull the wool over my eyes.

    This last issue of the mag - with however many hundred top product recommendations is a good example of Wired making me feel like a chump for reading it. Mostly interesting stuff, appeals to my inner gear/design/tecno head (mostly wastes of time and petroleum resources). But who knows how many of those companies paid to have their product highlighted (or gave free stuff to get it). Even if that is not the case, it feels like it very well could be.

    Don't get me wrong, I too have enjoyed a lot of their deep-research articles - ie recent ones on the new nuclear fuel, why electronic air warfare failed in Afghanistan, history of Duke Nukem development, etc.

    But I always come away from a read feeling a bit like a tool.

    Oh, and I've been looking for an outlet for this rant, so thanks.

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