The XX Factor

What Happens When Esquire and Elle Swap Writers for One Issue

An Elle woman thinks about having sex with an Esquire man.

Photo by micro10x/Shutterstock

It’s official: Elle and Esquire are totally hooking up. Esquire, an 82-year-old American men’s magazine, has sparked a spring fling with Elle, a 69-year-old French expat. (Scandalously, both are members of the Hearst family.) Elle’s effortlessly chic style is more popular than Esquire’s studied tongue-wagging, yes, but he can always brush off her boasting about higher circulation numbers by showing her his crowded shelf of National Magazine Awards. It’s getting serious: This month, both magazines carved out space in their pages to allow the other to hold court on what men and women really think. In Elle, Esquire editors explain “how to talk to a man”; in Esquire, Elle writers dish on what women really fantasize about (and how often they do it). Extra toothbrushes can’t be far behind.

Like so many young lovers caught in the throes of a new crush, both Elle and Esquire appear to be carefully tailoring their images in an attempt to appeal to what they suspect the other expects. Esquire editor Ross McCammon presents the Esquire man as the typical romantic comedy lead. He begins by appealing to the Elle reader’s feminist sensibilities: “We—you and us—have been made to think that we are from different planets, that we communicate in different ways. This is nonsense. We are from the same planet. And we speak exactly the same language.” Then, he reveals his tortured backstory: “Think of the burden we carry into the conversation. Our fathers and grandfathers fought in wars. Some of them not by choice. These were men with heavy souls. These were men who believed they earned the right to be an asshole every now and then. These were the men who taught us how to comport ourselves.” And finally, he informs his leading lady that only she can help save him from his cold, asshole-ish tendencies to become the strong, caring man who emerges at the end of the film: Every man “occasionally blunders and occasionally is a dick and occasionally is his best self,” he writes. “What mostly determines which version of us you will encounter during any given conversation is one crucial variable: you.” He is Matthew McConaughey. You are J. Lo. He may act like an inconsiderate jerk to whomever he was supposed to marry at the beginning of The Wedding Planner, but he’ll make an exception … for you.

Meanwhile, in Esquire, the ladies of Elle appear in the form of the stars of a particularly tasteful pornographic film. Their insights are all about sex—how they’re always thinking about it, whether they’re on the subway or at their kids’ playground, and the rougher, the better, please. Sandra Tsing-Loh reveals that she drinks in the sight of “gorgeous young men—tousled waves of hair, deliciously fleshy pecs and biceps, wasp waists” and spandex-clad “alterna-dads” who are “bursting with physicality,” and she does it all “just for the sport of it.” Tracy Clark-Flory pretends to read a book on the BART, but she’s really checking out your “chino-clad package inches from my face.” And like the eager young starlet, the Elle woman doesn’t discriminate: As Clark-Flory writes, “A man doesn’t have to be conventionally hot to catch my eye. All it takes is a marker of maleness: the flex of a forearm, a hint of stubble, chest hair poking above a collar.”

All of this is true. Men contain multitudes; they have complicated relationships with their parents; they act differently toward others depending upon how they are treated. And many women certainly enjoy looking at, and having sex with, men. But if Elle and Esquire really want to get to know each other, they should spend some time observing what they “think” about when they’re not posturing. Esquire likes to nerd out on scrapple, discuss abortion policy, and detail the fallout of toxic masculinity. Elle likes to investigate bro subcultures, advocate for equal pay, and seriously up the intelligence quotient of Miley Cyrus features. They have so much in common! If only they’d stop fronting.