How far do magazines rely on the use of stereotypes in their representation of gender?


Since their inception magazines have needed to divide their readership in order to target the ideal audience with maximum effect. The magazine industry as a whole divides the population down the traditional binary oppositional lines male and female though rare cases, like the magazine Wallpaper or the newer Another Magazine, do deliberately target both genders. Prior to these only niche magazines like Golf Monthly or family mags like the Radio Times have successfully marketed to both. Magazines do it because society does it and once the readership has been divided it can be further broken down into segmentations targeting by aspiration, social class, interests, age group, opinions and values etc.

As Tina Gaudoin said ‘Editors are not in charge of magazines. It is the men in grey suits…‘ in other words the moneymen. Economics governs the way the readership is targeted and the reason the audience is so precisely defined. Magazines are in business to make money and they do this by selling advertising. The more precise the magazine is over who their readers are the easier it is to attract the right advertising

Magazines then construct their readers and to a large extent they do this by constructing a stereotype of that reader. Take A Break magazine is a case in point; their typical reader is socio-economic group C2 or D, 41 years old, has a household income of £15,000, half of them work, half of them don’t vote and half of them still have children at home. Based on these figures the Labour party went all out to attract these women to vote in the last election.

Women’s Own in 1932 exhorted women to be feminine, have the house tidy when their men came home, give him some peace and quiet, dress nicely, put some makeup on etc and their stereotypical view of women being in the home, submissive mothers lasted until
appeared in the early 1970s when women were encouraged to have both a career and a sex life. Germaine Greer called this new stereotype the ‘Cosmo girl‘ who’s always up for it!

Ultimately magazines do rely on stereotypes although a larger range is available today, nevertheless they are out there and it is by looking at who is not represented that we see them most clearly. However post-feminist research for example that by Joke Hermes, has revealed that we are at liberty to accept or reject them nowadays and that the audience is more complicit in the stereotyping process than previously.

Marjorie Ferguson, building on Emile Durkheim’s work on religious cults, saw femininity as a cult in which the magazine editors were custodians of the testament of femininity and as such in charge of setting the agenda. Though most editors would argue that there are many representations of women and femininity within the pages of magazines today there is one stereotype above all which persists. This was identified by Angela McRobbie in her 1981 study of Jackie magazine for teenage girls that the media is so patriarchal that magazines even for young girls portray romantic idealism which automatically leads to the pursuit of love. The stereotype is therefore that of the heterosexual female who must have a male partner / husband to be accepted in society. And whereas in old fashioned magazines like Women’s Own and Woman romances still holds sway, sexuality has replaced it in more modern mags like More! and Marie Clare

[if you are going to write about men’s magazines for one or both of your choices then you must include a paragraph about the development and changes within the male magazines industry from The Gentleman Magazine through soft-porn mags like Playboy and Penthouse to Loaded, Esquire and FHM and the ‘lad’ phenomenon; from traditional articles on gadgets, fast cars and one night stands, to the softer side of relationships where men are able to reveal their insecurities and be reassured about their looks and attractiveness etc…]


In magazines x and y the range of stereotypes is varied / restricted. X magazine appeals to its readers through a front cover of… luring the reader in through……..; the model’s gaze ……; a range of cover lines like… and … which appeal to… reader through ………. Articles inside include…, …, and … all designed to catch the interest of the …reader who likes ……… Adverts range from …… to …….. and ……… all encouraging the idea of ……….. yet the stereotypes remain hidden / overt. ….


Answer the question!!

It is obvious that magazines rely completely on stereotypes in the representation of gender, to do otherwise would be unsound economics; yes the range of representations has increased but mostly in the number of titles available rather than the number of stereotypes being offered within the pages of anyone magazine. We have indeed moved on from the Woman’s Own era of the 1932 good housewife but one has to wonder if the newer representations and stereotypes are any fairer to women or indeed men in their portrayal.

Any glance through the magazine stands at an average supermarket will immediately reveal the stereotypes on offer to the casual consumer. There’s the chocolate box smile of the perfect model airbrushed to show the ‘flawless’ complexion that the fashion conscious and insecure woman would like to emulate. There is also the super smiler of the unknown model on the weekly glossy which aims to make its readers feel good about themselves, like Take A Break. Some magazines have an ‘average’ reader on the front, sometimes even one whose story is featured inside to encourage identification; these are often women who have been badly served by the men in their lives so they are portrayed as victims. Of course there’s the well-known alluring overtly sexual pose of the A or B list celebrity with more or less clothes on to appeal to the ordinary single male reader whose expectations are raised by this cover image and often dashed by the inside contents but he lives in hope! Many women’ magazines continue to offer the stereotype of the mother: nurturing and caring, self-sacrificing and constantly giving; others offer the fantasy ideal that women can be all things to all people: a good wife, mother, lover and career woman for her own self; yet others portray younger women particularly as ‘ladettes’: interested in all the sorts of things men are traditionally associated with: partying, drinking, one night stands – all things women have condemned as demeaning to women for years! As Oates said in 1999 these magazines offer the ‘illusion of participation‘ yet probably do more harm than good for the cause of women’s equality.

Ultimately it is true that there is a range of stereotypes on offer out there in magazine world but as long as men run the world and in particular dictate the media’s focus there is every likelihood that Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze theory will continue to hold true: that women see themselves as men see them, through men’s eyes and only value themselves against those criteria.


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