Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Women's Magazines = Women's Identities?

Women’s Magazines and Female Identities Today

In the chapter entitled Women’s Magazines and Female Identities Today in David Gauntlett’s book, Media, Gender and Identity: an Introduction, David Gauntlett writes about women’s magazines and how these magazines have influenced or contributed to constructing a woman’s, in contemporary society, sense of identity. Gauntlett writes that through various studies, it has been shown that women’s magazines do not have as much influence in constructing a women’s identity as previously thought. Gauntlett writes that this ideology is not always automatic (182). Many women simply purchase these magazines to fill times of boredom or when in need of relaxation. Some women, which are used as examples throughout the chapter say that they purchase women’s magazines because they like the glossy feel of the pages, the colorful pictures etc.
Gauntlett continues to write specifically about women’s magazines and the content in those magazines. First, Gauntlett writes that there are many more popular women’s magazines in today’s culture than men’s magazines. Second, Gauntlett addresses the key themes in women’s magazines which he says are “all about the social construction of womanhood today” (187). The first key theme Gauntlett addresses is the theme of “men as sex objects” (187). Gauntlett writes that contrary to women’s objectification for decades in media aimed at men, now men are the ones being objectified in women’s media. Gauntlett writes that the same type of imagery and language that was originally associated with women in men’s media is now associated with men in women’s media. A second theme in women’s magazines is sex. Gauntlett writes that women’s magazines are extremely open about sex and have been highly criticized for their openness about sex and sexuality. Another criticism about women’s magazines have been their lack of ‘coverage of sex, because their articles are almost always heterosexual’ (189). In women’s magazines, lesbianism is not written about or exposed in great detail. A third theme that Gauntlett writes about is relationships. Women’s magazines have been accused of “suggesting that a man is the route to happiness” (191). However, Gauntlett writes that opposite of the traditional “desperate-for-marriage wallflower”, women’s magazines encourage women to be in control of seeking out and ‘hooking’ a man for themselves. If they do find a man, and he is a bore, then they should simply drop him and go looking for something better. The final key theme that gauntlet touches on is “transformation and empowerment” (191). Women’s magazines have been criticized for the fact that they create an ideal for women which in actuality most women will never be able to attain. Women’s magazines promote the healthy, beautiful, thin, successful, independent woman. This creates anxiety for women who find that they cannot achieve this ideal and could in effect encourage women to feel badly about themselves. On the other hand, women’s magazines do contain advice about beauty and health, advice for negative situations, ‘life affirming material’ and other positive topics (192).
The end of the chapter includes interviews and responses of various women regarding women’s magazines. I found it most interesting that many women admitted to purchasing magazines simply because of the feel of the magazine, the pictures, the glossy pages, etc. Ever since I was a little girl, I would always want to buy a magazine because of the thickness of the magazine, the pages, the pictures, the colors, etc. I never really was too interested in reading the articles necessarily, unless they were about health tips or beauty tips (makeup, skin care, etc). Rather, I was more interested in looking at the pictures of the models. I found it interesting in Diana Crane’s article entitled Gender and Hegemony in fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs when she writes, “Feminists argue that media images of women are always directed at men and that women are encouraged to look at themselves and other women the way men do (Davis 1997)” (314). Not that I purchase women’s magazines to look at women the way men tend to look at women, but I can understand Davis’ point. I have found myself looking at the advertisements of women and images of women in various magazines and have been in a state of awe at their beauty or their sleekness, thinness, etc. I do not necessarily agree with Davis in that these images are always geared towards men, however. I think many of these images are geared towards women in that they make women want to look like that specific woman in the advertisement or image and the advertisers hope that women will want to look like the women in advertisements enough to purchase that specific product.
In all, I agree with many of the interviewees in Gauntletts article in that I do not feel that women’s magazines completely contribute to a women’s identity. There are many other factors in a women’s life that affect her sense of identity. I do agree, however, that women’s magazines create an ‘ideal woman’ that not every woman can attain.

Image from: http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/gri0009l.jpg

I chose to post this cartoon because I think it illustrates the 'ideal' that women may find in women's magazines today. There are so many magazines out there for women; for teen girls, women in their 20's and women of an older generation. I guess I never really took notice to the ideal that my mom's magazines were depicting. Thinking back, and even as I come across women's magazines today, many magazines geared towards older women are all about creating a 'younger' self. The magazines that I looked at as a younger girl, especially the fashion magazines, gave off the impression of trying to create an 'older' self. It's nauseating and a little bit scary that not too many magazines embrace the 'self' that you are at the moment. Women's magazines are always about improving your image, by either making yourself look 'less mature' or by trying to make yourself seem more 'professional' or more 'mature'.


Darren said...

Hi, you say: " language that was originally associated with women in men’s media is now associated with men in women’s media."

Do you have any examples?

Many thanks.

Jeriah said...

In David Gauntlett’s Book, Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction, he uses a few examples to show how men are objectified in women’s magazines…similar to the way in which women have been objectified in men’s magazines. Here are a few examples that Gauntlett gives on page 188:
“The US Cosmopolitan has a ‘Hunk of the Month’ feature, and in ‘Survival of the Sexiest’ (June 2001) the magazine invited readers to vote for which man they wanted to see strip. In the same month the UK edition gave away a ‘Naked male centerfolds’ supplement…Elle’s July 2001 cover offers: ‘Holy boys: Eye candy for grown-up girls’; the following month the mag explains ‘why a gay best friend is this season’s must-have accessory’”.
These are only a few examples of the objectification of men in women’s magazines. A more contemporary example can be seen on the cover of next month’s issue of Cosmopolitan: ‘The Surprising Touch That Whips a Guy on Date #1’. This title tells me, and I’m not sure if it has the same effect on you, that if I read this article, I can whip, or control a guy to do whatever I want on my next first date by performing whatever ‘touch’ Cosmo is referring to. It shows me that guys are easy enough that by a simple touch I can convince (or whip) a man I have only had one date with to do whatever I want.
I hope this helps!

Darren said...

Interesting, thanks. I find it all very confusing. Its hard to know to what extent women are driven by visuals when they are judging the desirability of a man.

There was also a documentary presented by Germaine Greer in which she interviews the editor of cosmo whilst there is a photoshoot going on in the background (the model is a boy of about 18, and is topless). The editor (I think her name was Lorraine Candy), says that when they want to photograph a male which will appeal to the widest range of their readers, they will choose a 'young man'.

I don't know where this is all heading. It does seem like women are becoming more interested in younger men.

jhon said...

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