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The women of Rolling Stone

Lisa Whittington-Hill

If you’ve been busy binge watching season three of Orange Is the New Black (and you really should be) you might have missed the latest issue of Rolling Stone with OITNB stars Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon on the cover.

The magazine’s cover story devotes significant column inches to talking about how historic OITNB is. It’s a show about women and, more importantly, women doing something other than being the token girlfriend or token best friend to some lame leading man. Not only are the show’s female characters great, but they’re played by traditionally marginalized and underrepresented actresses—the cast includes plenty of women of colour, Latina women and queer women, as well as transgender actress Laverne Cox playing a transgender woman.

Rolling Stone was so blown away by how ground breaking OITNB is that they decided to celebrate with this revolutionary cover treatment.


Seriously, Rolling Stone? While the article features interviews with several of the show’s diverse cast members, it’s the hot white lesbian characters that get the cover. Not only that, but the show’s hot white lesbian characters—played by Schilling and Prepon—received the predictable no bra, super sexualized, male fantasy Rolling Stone cover treatment. A white tank top, preferably with no bra, is the magazine’s go to look for women. I hope the company that manufactures women’s white tank tops has sent Rolling Stone an edible arrangement for keeping them in business all these years.

At least Schilling got to keep her nipples (maybe it’s a prison thing). Cover star Nicki Minaj was not so lucky. Minaj appeared on a January 2015 cover where she was given the Barbie boob treatment: her breasts smoothed out and not a nip in sight. “Mad Genius. Manic Diva,” reads the cover copy. Is she manic ’cause Rolling Stone stole her nipples? She should be.


Rolling Stone’s horrible treatment of women is certainly nothing new and, sadly, it only seems to be getting worse. A look at Rolling Stone covers for the five year period from 2013–2009 (the magazine’s online cover archive ends at 2013—maybe because someone became too depressed by the covers to update it), shows that men graced 94 covers while women were featured solo on just 20 covers and were part of six group covers (the cast of 30 Rock, the stars of Mad Men, The Black Eyed Peas).

Rolling Stone is more comfortable putting the Boston Marathon bomber on the cover than it is a woman. In 2013, only three of the magazine’s 24 issues featured women cover subjects; including Lena Dunham, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus. Tina Fey also got a cover, but was featured alongside two male members of the 30 Rock cast. The magazine also tends to recycle their women cover subjects, suggesting that Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are the only women out there making music—or, at least, the only women making music with enough cover-friendly appeal.

It’s as if we’ve given up altogether on music magazines doing better when it comes to female representation. Well, maybe not all of us. The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly, recently published its second annual “Men Who Rock” parody issue designed to highlight the sexism and double standard female musicians face. The “Men Who Rock” issue mocks plenty of the tropes in music coverage, including: the idea that women making music is a trend; the ridiculous way women are posed on covers; interview questions for women musicians, and especially those that tend to focus on tabloid over talent.


So if you’re looking to follow The Stranger’s lead and do your own “Men Who Rock” parody issue (please do and send it to me) or simply want to publish a magazine that treats women as badly as Rolling Stone does, here are the top 10 tips for dealing with female cover subjects.

1. Putting an actual dick on the cover would be in poor taste (the closest Rolling Stone has come to a dick on the cover is Sean Penn). Instead you should use a series of dick stand-ins. These can include: a rocket, the neck of a guitar, Tasti D-Lite or a ball park frank (bonus points for squirting condiments).




2. If the female cover subject is over a certain age (25) or over a certain size (two), face only please. The tighter the photo crop the better. You don’t want viewers to have to imagine Adele as a sexual being with an actual body. Floating head is best.


3. Use woman of colour on as few covers as possible. In the five year period from 2013-2009 only three covers featured women of colour. Rihanna graced two of these covers. If a woman of colour wants to be on the cover she should be prepared to die for it. Whitney Houston got the third cover spot when she died in 2012.

4. The less clothing the better. If your subject does have to wear “lots” of clothing it should look like the clothing is just about to come off, or could easily be ripped off in under a minute. I am not sure why they’ve even bothered putting a skirt on Christina Aguilera. Maybe she’s layering up for a post photo shoot game of strip poker? Sadly, there’s not enough word count left for me to get into the “What Christina Wants” cover line. And then there’s Rihanna in a pair of shorts that look like they’re made of partially eaten Fruit Roll-Ups that are ready to dissolve at any moment.



5. No clothing is really the best option. If you are worried about that poor taste thing (see rule #1) just throw on a string of bullets. You’re welcome, NRA.


6. Ban the bra? Keep only the bra? Rolling Stone has a very conflicted relationship with the bra and watching them work out their feelings about this undergarment has become extremely tiresome. So very tiresome.






7. Jailbait is A-okay. I’m all for women appearing on the cover of music magazines on their own terms to announce they’re an adult and no longer a tween slave to the cult of Disney, but that’s rarely the Rolling Stone way. Britney Spears was only 17 (Teletubbie age: unknown) when she shot this famous cover—one with which she was reportedly uncomfortable. Rolling Stone didn’t super sexualize Lindsay Lohan or the Olsen twins with their cover image; they let the display copy do that job for them. “Hot, ready and legal!” reads Lohan’s cover while “America’s Favourite Fantasy” accompanies the Olsen twins. Let’s take a moment to remember this is supposed to be a respected music magazine.




8. Make sure you sex up those cover lines! The Go-Go’s put out! Shania Twain knows what you want! Nicole Kidman uncensored! SEX SELLS! SUBTLETY DOESN’T!

9. Make sure to pose women in ways you would never pose a man. Rolling Stone tends to pose male cover subjects in the exact same way. There’s the familiar head-on face shot. Dave Grohl, Dave Letterman, Dave Matthews—they all blur into one white male face on the cover. Not so for women. Poses should suggest sex and look as uncomfortable as possible. Megan Fox looks like the only thing missing is a sign between her legs that says “insert penis here” Bonus points if the pose is just “hot woman as prop.”



10. Keep the cover conversation light with women. Highlight male cover subjects’ accomplishments, success or stick to “the Rolling Stone interview,”—a standard cover line for men from Barack Obama to Bruce Springsteen. For the ladies focus on their love life, their sex life or their looks. What’s Angelina accomplished? She’s “hot & single.” Jennifer Aniston’s latest project? Her “love life.” What’s Brad Pitt got going for him? He’s got the serious, professional and intelligent sounding “Rolling Stone interview.”




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