The Untitled Women’s Magazine Project

I am endlessly interested in media and how gender and sexuality are regulated through media. Television, music, movies, magazines, and books tend to reflect and enforce what is and what is not allowed, according the norms of society. Straight is normal and correct, male is normal and default, and white is normal and superior. I know there are many people who would disagree with this idea, but I operate on the basis that the United States–as well as every other Western nation–is a racist, homophobic, and misogynistic nation. All of my analyses proceed from this assumption.

Last year, I read the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan for the first time. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, upon finishing it. “This magazine is designed to make women feel awful about themselves.” This was the first time I began to consider the women’s magazine project.

From Cosmopolitan, I saw that women’s magazines often reinforce misogyny, even as they seem to promote the strong, independent woman. This is not a new conclusion, and it is not the idea I am interested in pursuing, because there is another incident that has made me interested in analyzing women’s magazines. I think it was the end of 2011 that I read an article about awards given to articles in magazines. It was noted that most of the awards went to men, and that made me wonder: is it that women aren’t writing important articles? Or is it–as I do suspect–that women’s writing and women’s magazines are taken less seriously than men’s?

I had a look at the National Magazine Awards, and I was surprised to see that GQSports Illustrated, Esquire, and Playboy have all received awards, mostly for feature writing. Vanity Fair also makes the list a few times, but most of the winners were men. From a cursory glance at the list, it does seem that most of the award winners are men. So I return to the question: is it that women aren’t producing good articles, or that their work isn’t taken seriously?

To that end, I have decided to devote the next six months to analyzing women’s magazines. I’m still working out the details of the project, and I welcome any suggestions. At this point, I am looking to analyze 3-5 magazines. I want to focus on women’s fitness, women’s lifestyle, and women’s fashion as the major categories for the magazines. I would like to develop this into a non-fiction book.

I know I will encounter a lot of content that I do not like, but instead of condemning women’s magazines, I would like, as much as possible, to be positive in this project. Of course, I must be objective, but I’d rather not make this project about criticizing women. Rather, I want my critiques to be of the sexist structures and institutions that are the context for women’s magazines.

Again, I welcome all thoughts on this project.

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2 thoughts on “The Untitled Women’s Magazine Project

  1. I have a third theory, if you’ll allow: If the judges are mainly men, then it could be they find more to relate to from male writers. Not that they are actually prejudiced, but that the male writer speaks more to the male mind than the female writer, and therefore if the judges are generally male, then that might be an unfortunate correlation rather than a view of women’s writing as less serious or deserving.

    Men and women are equal, but it doesn’t mean we’re the same.

    1. I just picked up a copy of this month’s Vogue. In it there are articles about Hurricane Sandy, President Obama, Cory Booker, and a Swiss couple who are leaders in the art gallery world. There are also features on art, design, and travel. It’s not just about weight loss and high heels, but I imagine that is the misconception.

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