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Breaking up is never easy: Bye-bye Canadian Business magazine

When trying to choose between two equivalent products, I will buy Canadian. It just seems like the loyal thing to do. This also applies to magazines. I like to buy Canadian parenting, travel, and business magazines.

So I’ve been a regular reader of Canadian Business magazine for a while now. In fact, I currently have an annual subscription. I read through each issue, and then I bring them in to my office and leave them in a communal reading area for my colleagues (I work full-time at a high-tech company). They tend to get picked up quickly and I see them making the rounds into different cubicles.

But lately, I’ve started to feel too embarrassed to bring in my issues of Canadian Business. I think it likely started with the Lululemon issue. To promote the feature article on this fabulous Canadian success story, the editors used this image on the cover (image credit: Canadian Business, photographer KC Armstrong):

Both Stella (my 9-year-old) and Hubby laughed at this butt front and centre on my magazine cover. I knew then that I would not be bringing this issue into the office, with my name on its label. I would feel silly … like I’d just brought in a Cosmo magazine for my business colleagues to read. (Besides, the more I looked at this cover image, the more it irked me. It wasn’t even a realistic female butt. It looks like it has been photo-shopped to bizarre proportions. Look at the top, where the skin is … see how much the waist narrows in before it gets cut off? It’s a strange image. And nothing I would have associated with business.)

But I shrugged it off. Whatever; it’s just one issue. I read it, then tossed it in my recycle bin rather than passing it on for others to read.

And then the September 12 issue arrived, with this cover, proclaiming “MEET YOUR NEXT BOSS”:

Haha! I thought, unless I plan on working at an escort agency a radically different workplace, this is certainly not going to be MY next boss!

As it turns out, this is a photo of Shahrzad Rafati, who is the founder and CEO of a Vancouver-based company by the name of BroadbandTV. I have never worked with anyone in an office environment that wears a skin-tight dress, bra-less with top of breasts exposed, topped with sky-high peep-toe heels. Have you? I can’t see how it’s practical corporate attire. Most bosses work long hours and your back sure would hurt after 11 hours in those shoes!

You guessed it: another issue that went straight into the recycling bin rather than to my office.

I started to wonder if I would bother renewing my subscription. And I started to think that maybe Canadian Business was trying to appeal only to male readers, and didn’t want to bother attracting the purchasing power of the female demographic.

Yesterday, my September 26 issue arrived. This time, the title screamed: ‘WHY THE BOSS ISN’T HAPPY YOU’RE HAVING A BABY.” Please, like this is news. Every woman who’s ever walked into her boss’ office after her 12-week ultrasound knows that she’s walking in on egg shells. I can see both sides of this situation very clearly. But Canadian Business wrote about only one side — the boss (who, according to Canadian Business‘ own stats is twice as likely to be male).

As an example of the opinions expressed in the article, this quote was used in a call-out:

“And then sometimes toward the end of the mat leave, [the new parent] decides not to come back. You feel the crafters of the mat-leave legislation set you up as a patsy.”

I’m not disagreeing with this person. This kind of situation does leave a business scrambling. I know women who have chosen to stay home at the end of a maternity leave and broke it to their employer shortly before they were scheduled to come back. But I also know far more women who met with their employer shortly before they were scheduled to come back and found out that their role had been substantially changed in their absence or that the employer was unwilling to consider flexible or part-time hours. Only after this discussion did they tender their resignation. And often, not to stay home, but to go to another employer. In presenting only the employer’s view, I wondered again if Canadian Business actually wanted me as a subscriber.

But the final nail in the coffin was when I flipped to read the Editor’s Letter (you can read it in full online here) in this same issue. In it, James Cowan, Interim Editor-in-Chief, chose to respond to an anonymous letter that expressed disappointment in the “Meet Your Next Boss” cover. I wasn’t surprised in the least that a complaint was received about this cover choice; I’m only surprised that only one was received. Cowan uses a snickering tone that I admit I find amusing in Vanity Fair‘s Letters Section, but find a tad insulting in this situation. Not to mention the number of words he wastes pointing out that the letter was anonymous — who cares? Can’t someone write an anonymous letter to a magazine? (Besides, not everyone can afford to have their name printed publicly without, rightly or wrongly, recrimination from the company that issues their pay cheque.)

Anyways, back to the letter. The letter-writer had stated:

“What a disappointment to see that Canadian Business magazine made the decision to feature a highly suggestive and sexualized photograph of a woman …”

Cowan counters that image was not hypersexualized and notes that it was Rafati herself who chose her outfit, not Canadian Business. Okay, fair enough. If this is what Rafati actually wears to corporate meetings, so be it. But I’d love to know if a man has ever showed up for a Canadian Business photoshoot with his shirt half un-buttoned — did they advise him to close up a couple of buttons? Or did they go ahead and put his wash-board stomach on the cover to help sell a few more issues?

Further, he notes that beyond Rafati’s attractive physical appearance, the cover is compelling because of:

“…the confidence she exuded in the way she stood, her even stare and her clear sense of self. This wasn’t a pin-up girl. This was a successful woman who was impossible to ignore.”

Again, fair enough. She does have a confident stance on the cover. And here is her stance in the interior spread of the magazine:

On the left-hand page is Sammie Kennedy, the founder of Booty Camp Fitness, standing confidently with a broad smile. And on the right is Rafati, knees coyly turned in together, lips pursed. Which woman exudes more confidence to you? I’d say Kennedy. And which woman do you think will sell more magazines? Yep, Rafati.

Or at least this is what Cowan turns his point on — that Rafati grabs attention and gets people to buy the magazine.

“We’ll concede your point this much: we put an attractive woman on the cover. We’re undeniably interested in catching a reader’s eye, just like all publications. And one method to cut through the newstand clutter — to get your attention as you wait in line at the drugstore — is through a striking image.”

And further, that he is doing the business world (and implicitly, women in particular) a service by grabbing readership attention with this story. It highlights the success of women in business, which in turn serves to help address the “woeful imbalance” of males and females in Canadian leadership positions. He closes with:

“We put this story in our magazine because it matters. We put Rafati on our cover because we wanted readers to pay attention.”

Yes, shout it, brother! That sounds so good.

But I’m not buying it.

It’s spin. In fact, it seems remarkably similar to the PR campaign that World’s Finest Chocolate is using at the moment, called “Think Big, Eat Smart.” They are creating the most enormous chocolate bar — a world-record breaking chocolate bar — so that they can get kids’ attention and then talk to them about portion control and healthy eating. Huh? Yes, that’s right, a chocolate bar company is not actually trying to sell more chocolate bars, it’s trying to help kids eat healthy.

We both know that the chocolate bar company is trying to sell more chocolate. But it’s doubtful this tactic will meet either goal: to teach kids how to eat healthy or sell more of their chocolate bars. The whole thing just seems kind of pointless. Or at least, confusing.

So, Canadian Business, I guess that’s how I’m feeling about our relationship right now too: confused. So confused that, if you’ll excuse this old break-up cliche, I need to “take a break.”

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Comments

  1. Thegrumpymama says:

    I would have just cut the mailing sticker off!

    I remember when my mom cancelled our Ms. Chaletaine subscription because of the cover photo. Nothing seems to have changed. I am so tired of sex being used to sell everything and the lying and manipulation in advertising. Ugh. Good points, Jules.

  2. we also have a subscription and i have felt the same way.

    funny enough, after reading last month’s cover story (about successfull business women), I made a comment to my husband about a story re. one of the women. his reply (after having read the magazine first) was : “I only really looked at the photos.  I like this one… pointing to a young blonde.”  YIKES!!!

    Sarah

  3. I like this post very much. What an eyeopener. I saw it on the news stand at Indigo. Ironically, I saw the red dress first (before the name of the mag) and though ‘ugh, that’s a Cosmo or something’ and didn’t give it a second glance.

  4. Good on you for talking about it, the business world has never really been known for its feminism, just sad that it’s still perpetuated today.

    On the sexy CEO, I used to work with a former Miss Canada, her outfits used to bring all sorts into the office. That little red dress would have been conservative for her. Too short, too revealing and the heels where stripper worthy.

    So they sent her on management training. And she started wearing skin tight cheap suits. And they promoted her…

    Sexism was one of the reasons I left the job and the overall sentiment that women should be seen and not heard. Go figure.

  5. The Booty Camp Fitness article really helped my sister out who is working toward her masters in Kinesiology, so I have to give them a few kudos for that.  But honestly, the front cover with Rafati only was undoubtedly meant for the joke factor.  Ie, similar to those pent-house type stories about the “sexy, boss-lady”.  Why not have all 20 women on the front cover?  Or half of them.  No other woman in that article is dressed sans support bra.

    And I rolled my eyes when I pulled the next issue out of my mail box two weeks later.  It blows my mind.  Mind you the journalist for that piece is female… wonder if she chose it or whether she was tasked to investigate.  Also would love to know what the 20 bosses from the previous issue would say about mat leave.

  6. interesting article.
    i’m not quite sure how anyone wears anything so tight in public.  what ever happened to a good old pair of sweat pants?  i will never believe anyone who says that lulu is more comfortable than my 1980 Blue Jays sweat pants.

    i’ve always been interested in marketing and brand formation – on a theoretical level.  in practice, branding is hilarious and nefarious.  it’s funny to me because how could anyone ever “buy” into a brand ideology?  how can buying a car make you sexier?  feel better?  how can buying yoga pants make you healthier and empowered?  ridiculous.  the nefarious side of it all is that people DO believe in it and use that as a catalyst to alter their life.  kudos for changing your life, but it’s too bad you had to have a brand do it for you.

    re: sexy cover girl.
    it’s an old issue for me but an interesting one.  it’s a mistake to think that every woman is a feminist (and vice versa) but it’s refreshing to hear the editor flatly state that it was intentional on the magazine’s part (to put her on the cover) when they clearly could have put anything on the cover – unless, this woman owns the magazine.  i say it’s refreshing because, usually in cases like this, the manager/editor (etc) will try to spin and brand the choice in the direction of “empowerment,” catastrophically misusing the term but highlighting a sickness we have in our society.  the sickness is related to technology and post-modernism and impatience.

    having her on the cover sends the wrong message, despite the very real difficulties faced by media, i.e. one voice in the storm.  the justification is hypocritical to say the least.  for example, is it okay that the excellent Dove for Real Beauty campaign and the embarrassing Axe campaigns are from the same company?  (unilever)  “Here is real beauty/you’re already beautiful” vs. “here is what a man is attracted to/this is how you can get a man/woman.”  (here’s one source if interested: http://www.awpagesociety.com/images/uploads/DoveAxe_CaseStudy.pdf)

    i’d be intrerested to read what you think about child beauty pageants, another offender in the realm of “building self esteem” in young girls.

    sorry i wrote so much.

    • Thank you for writing! It is appreciated. Although I suspect my feelings on beauty pagents for children is likely read right on my shirt sleeve, I will surely mull over a post based on your suggestion. Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

  7. I would hope you could look past her experience to see her accomplishments, but unfortunately you seem more concerned with the picture than the content. This amazing, passionate, intelligent, driven, brilliant (…and yes beautiful) human has accomplished more in the 5 years since this article was written than you will in an entire lifetime. She runs an impressive company while all you do is chirp on your little blog and wag your finger with disdain. She employee 10’s of thousands and contributes to the world in a positive way while all you do is condemn her attire. The problem isn’t her attire, it’s your attitude.

    • No, you are wrong. The problem is how women are portrayed in the media. This was made incredibly obvious by the very title of this blog post. I assume you are referring to Rafati and not Kennedy, both highly successful business role models, but regardless — I never once attacked Rafati personally. Too bad you couldn’t do the same with your comments.

  8. Shauna Rae Saroufim says:

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate your candor and whole heartedly agree.

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  1. […] from Coffee with Julie, recently wrote about cancelling her subscription to Canadian Business magazine. She felt that the magazine was using sexualized imagery in an attempt to sell the magazine to its […]

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