Staff Editorial: What Esquire could have done differently

On Tuesday, Feb. 12., popular men’s magazine “Esquire” came under fire after they published “The Life of an American Boy at 17” as a cover story for their March issue. The article is part of a series “Esquire” is running on growing up in America today. The cover photo depicts Ryan Morgan, a high school senior from West Bend, Wis., with a title reading: “An American Boy: What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, and a divided country.” This cover story was met with controversy on social media, where questions were raised about representation, intersectionality and masculinity.

The main issue with the cover is the implication that the face of America is defined as a white, middle-class teenage male when a large majority of the nation’s population does not fit all of those categories. The article does discuss more universal realities of being an American youth, including living in fear of mass shootings, whether or not a college education is worth the expense and being a teen with divorced parents. However, it is also highly misogynistic and extremely apologetic to white nationalist viewpoints. The article gives a platform for a young man to share his regressive views on women’s issues, poverty and race while the marginalized people affected by these issues remain unheard.

Some are defensive of Ryan Morgan and his story. “The New York Times” published an opinion piece by writer and designer Robyn Kanner. Kanner says she empathizes with Morgan for having his views as a teenager put on a global stage, as she is a transgender woman who used to campaign for President George W. Bush back in the early 2000s. She feels it is unfair to hold someone accountable for the views they held when they were teenagers. However, the discussion at hand is not about Morgan’s personal beliefs or identity, but about “Esquire’s” decision to run an article that sympathizes with white men being uncomfortable with scrutiny.

Many are also frustrated that “Esquire” would run a story about a white man during Black History Month. Communications Director for “Vogue” Magazine and former spokeswoman for the Clinton 2016 campaign Zara Rahim says on her Twitter, “Imagine this same ‘American Boy’ headline with someone who looks like Trayvon [Martin] talking about what it’s like to have your mother sit you down to tell you how to stay alive.” 

As Rahim points out, if the frame of the article is about the issues that young men face in America, there are several other routes that could have been more meaningful. Her tweet, for example, show that the article could discuss how young boys of color are fearful of being shot by police, rather than young white boys who are fearful of being outed for sexual assault. The profile could have also been done on a young trans man and his life as an American teenager, which could have brought a meaningful dialogue about the ‘modern man’ into a brand new light. 

This article could have also showcased statistics on how teen boys are affected by toxic masculinity. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2018 the suicide rate among U.S. males aged 15-19 years was up 30% since 2007. An article about a mentally ill teenager could bring awareness to this issue, especially since suicide affects young white men more than any other U.S. demographic. A 2008-12 American Community Survey reports that Hispanic boys aged 16-18 are dropping out of high school to support their low-income families at a disproportionately high rate compared to the rest of the U.S. dropouts. A profile on one of these boys would bring conversations about poverty and education to a global platform.

There are several, much more meaningful ways to profile young men in modern America without cutting down marginal identities, yet “Esquire” fails to use their platform in this way. The U.S. is becoming less and less a white man’s world, and it is time to embrace the change rather than resist it.