Ann Ferguson, an American philosopher and sociologist, once studied the content of women’s magazines (over a time period of 30 years) and concluded that the main focus of these magazines, even the most recent ones, was consistently “him, home and looking good (for him).” But is this still today’s truth?
A lot of evidence points to: no. Today’s women’s magazines seem to have shifted focus onto bigger, brighter things and have relinquished such rigid gender roles and ideals. While it is hard to believe that journalism has come far at all when you know that Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame still exists, let’s just think about it for a minute.
If you take a look at Teen Vogue’s website right now you can see some pretty trademark women’s mag articles like “Selena just wore a bikini in the HARDEST colour to pull off” (spoiler: it’s white ??? um ok) but this sits just above a more progressive article titled “Birth control should be free. Period.” (clever).
This is in keeping with an emerging theme of women’s media and women’s magazines talking more seriously about current events, something which Ferguson probably wasn’t lucky enough to observe at the time she was conducting her content analysis of women’s magazines. In fact Teen Vogue is being praised on twitter at the moment for some of it’s pretty cut throat journalism. Especially in regards to a specific article originally entitled “Miley Cyrus want to be white again“, an article explaining that like many white pop stars she has drained the cultural appropriation money rag dry and now wanted to stop and resume her “whiteness”. (Watch out ‘cos this will be Katy Perry in about a years time).
But right now you might be thinking that it’s hard to agree that women’s magazines are anything less than a joke when they spend all their time writing about what Kendall Jenner wore out in Calabasas on Wednesday, and I get you. But in reality not all women’s magazines are like that anymore.
For example, I don’t know if you’re subscribed to the ASOS magazine but I am and I really welcome its arrival (I had to steal one from Will’s flat at uni this year because it was coming to someone who no longer lived there and I was sadly deprived of my own copies which are sent to my home address).
The Asos mag regularly features articles on current events, women’s issues, female led companies and women in emerging industries. For instance in February it released an issue with the theme “knowledge is power” which featured an article in which Yara Shahidi talked to/interviewed Adwoa Aboah about activism. Can you imagine this incredibly important conversation between two young black women happening in any women’s magazine a few years ago? Nope.
So if we go back to Ferguson and the ideals she noted, we can see that there is currently a tide turning, a movement away from these ideals. Teen Vogue is currently describing itself as “the rebellious, outspoken and empowering magazine that you need right now”. Rebellious, outspoken and empowering are very different to him, home and looking good for him, don’t you think?
Obviously this could just be the media employing a stylish brand of pop feminism to make money (gritted teeth emoji), but it seems like maybe it might be a little bit more than that. And while not every magazine is Teen Vogue or the Asos mag, they could be a very welcome sign of what is to come.