Here's what the perfect women's magazine would look like

Let's have less Photoshopping, less of the "circle of shame" and less of the ridiculous sex tips, and more of what women might actually want to read about: practical life advice, clothes a human-shaped person can wear and - heaven forbid - <em>books</em>.

In this world of "Celebrity breakdowns gone wild: side-boob edition", "Make-up tips for the birth of the royal baby", and "Is guacamole making you fat and infertile?", it’s not hard to have gripes with the institution that is The Women’s Magazine. You only have to lazily scan a news stand in any local supermarket to see that the content in publications in the "Women’s Lifestyle" section is lacking. This celeb is too fat; this one has a diet you can follow; this one’s biological clock is ticking; this one is doing an interview on how motherhood and the workplace are incompatible. As we currently make a living from slagging off the most insidious examples from these Conde Nasties and National Magazine meanies, attempting to defend ourselves and womankind from guacamole-induced anxiety and side-boob panic with a semblance of satire. Which is all very well, our critics cry, but what would our ideal magazine look like? Well, here are our recommendations:

  • Every model would have her own limbs. Nary a tacked on, Photoshopped leg nor a slimmed down waist would marr the pages.
     
  • The diversity of the models’ ethnicities and body types would directly reflect that of the general population. Being a size 14 would not be treated as some kind of freaky health condition whose only possible treatment is a wrap-dress, and the fashion spreads would cease to look like a brochure for a summer camp for Aryan teenagers. Healthy BMIs only. No under sixteens.
     
  • No cosmetic surgery advertorial. Especially not positioned next to features on "body confidence".
     
  • Cover interviews with interesting women who have done fabulous things, none of whom employ the terms "down to earth", "normal", or "just like you". No picking over of their diets and exercise regimes. No PR puff. Instead, questions would cover a wide range of topics, ranging from "what’s your horrible terrible?" and "how do you think Obama’s doing?" to "if you could live inside a painting like the little girl in Roald Dahl’s The Witches does, which painting would it be?"
     
  • Since many of us do have a secret interest in why Kanye called his baby North West or whether or not Boris Johnson and Eminem share a hairdresser, the celebrity section would remain. Only this time, there aren’t any sneaky photographs taken by photographers hiding in the bushes and judging women’s baby weight or headlines proclaiming their imminent breakdowns - "Rihanna looks painfully thin and probably broken inside as she wanders desolately along the Hollywood Boulevard with a heartbreak-flavoured ice cream, thinking of Chris" - will be absent. Tired gender stereotyping will be done away with entirely.
     
  • In place of where the latest woman would be held up as a tragic spinster or hysterical diva, editors will be encouraged to be far more creative. "Megan Fox emerges from a local bar, looking for all the world like she’s had an exhaustive argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict and eventually ducked out because she was getting shouted over by some bigot who didn’t even know anything about West Bank settlements", as an example. "50 Cent is spotted hand-in-hand with a twentysomething woman: could this be the handshake marking a new technological business deal in nearby Silicon Valley? More news on her possible profession inside", as another.
     
  • The Fashion Section. Wheeling out the same old Topshop jeans to illustrate "What To Wear" would be replaced with something a little more inspiring, such as artistic fashion photography and an encouragement to experiment with style. If you like those embroidered knee warmers, then you should go ahead and wear them without judgement.
     
  • There would be a moratorium on using "the circle of shame" to point out where celebrities went wrong with their red carpet dresses. The perfect fashion section would be a nurturing environment from which the readership could emerge, bright-eyed and unafraid, to toddle out onto the high street and buy whatever the hell they want. No more tears in the changing room because Cosmo said you couldn’t do disco knickers.
     
  • Why not show us what women across the world are wearing? We’re a nosy bunch, but most of us know that the women in current so-called "street style" sections in magazines are not only school friends of the features ed but are also styled and preened to within an inch of their lives. What we’d really like to see is Anna from Norway’s amazing hangover grocery shopping outfit, and how she has successfully merged the steam punk aesthetic with silky pyjama bottoms and a beanie. Also: no fascinators.
     
  • Oh, and stop telling us "this dress will change your life".
     
  • There would be no further attempt to correlate the female body type with that of a fruit or root vegetable. We are not an apple, a pear, or a butternut squash, and, being adult women, most of us know how to dress ourselves.
     
  • Oh, and we couldn’t give a shit what’s in your beach bag.
     
  • There would be a ban the phrases "OMG", "totes", and "amazeballs", and a shift towards the use of plain English. Hashtags would remain the preserve of Twitter, and portmanteau phrases such as "babymoon", "momtrepreneur" and "yestergay" would be consigned to the dustbin.
     
  • The female columnists would write hilarious, clever pieces on a wide range of issues. We’ve got to a point now where there’s nothing to be said about multi-dating, and referring to your partner as "the boy" when you’re in your mid-thirties and peppering your copy with "lolz" just begins to look as though you’re desperately trying to be down with the kids. Can we get some new blood please? Preferably someone with an interesting life.
     
  • Make-up. Yeah, we like it, but it doesn’t merit the 60 or so pages that are currently given over to it, especially as we’re onto you fuckers and we know that much of it is much of a muchness. Why not replace it with usefull stuff, a la Rookie Mag, such as how to buy a used car or make your own lipbalm, or a story about losing your virginity? Or even, y’know, women’s issues or politics?
     
  • Please, stop reminding us about our ovaries having a sell-by-date. Believe us, we know.
     
  • Accept that we are never going to be as obsessed with scatter cushions as you are. Bear in mind that the "fuck it" generation are only just coming of age. Home decoration tips for the impoverished, please.
     
  • Tell us not that mayonnaise is "sinful". It is a condiment made almost entirely from egg yolks, we never assumed it was healthy. We’d like to see fridge raiders features, in which dieticians berate B-list celebrities for the food they eat, replaced by a "Woman v Food" challenge. Holly Willoughby has a god-awful hangover- can she rustle up a cure from the contents of her cupboard? And will it all fit in her mouth at once?
     
  • Health. At present, magazines are failing to cover the full spectrum of all the things that can go wrong with your vagina. They have the twin pillars of cystitis and thrush pretty much down, but we’re talking rarer shit, like vestibulitis and syphilis. It’s good to share, and it’s good to be aware.
     
  • The sex tips would immediately become more female-focused - no more "Slap on a PVC G-string and gyrate around a £200 pole until your boyfriend feels up to it", and no more pretending that getting your boyfriend to test spaghetti sauce by licking it off your breasts is conducive to good sex or good cooking. The "U-spot", "T-spot", "VV-spot", and all the other imaginary "spots" that have been made up by desperate editors will be replaced by a more sensible and fruitful focus on the clitoris. Oh, and no more orgasm-shaming. Reading another feature called "The 45 orgasms you must totally have NOW otherwise you’re a loser" will pretty much kill our will to live.
     
  • Books. We read them. And not just books by women with names like Felicity Meadows and that tell the tale of a small-town girl who moves to the big city only to discover that her boyfriend is a tool.
     
  • If you could mention a woman in print without putting her height and weight next to her name in brackets, then that would be awesome, ta.
     

Got more ideas for the perfect women's magazine? Let us know in the comments, or tell us on Twitter via @VagendaMagazine or @NewStatesman

Down with this sort of thing. Photograph: Jessica Mullen on Flickr via Creative Commons

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

A protest in 2016. Getty
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Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

Laura McInerney taught in East London for six years and is now studying on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Missouri. She also works as Policy Partner at LKMCo.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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