To what extent are magazines confined by gender stereotypes?

  • Most mags gender specific – too costly or risky not to be; easier to get advertising: ‘Editors are not in charge of magazines. It is the men in grey suits, money men.Tina Gaudoin.
  • Dependence on ads is unlikely to lead to any great change in representations of men or women.
  • Niche publications do exist e.g. ‘Wallpaper‘ and ‘Another Magazine’, pitching themselves at the affluent end of the market promote themselves as ‘style bibles’ for the modern lifestyle conscious.
  • Other generic mags are such as Radio Times and general hobby mags.
  • Otherwise the mag market is divided into gender specific then subdivided into age, class, and race.
  • Mags construct their target reader in order to attract the necessary advertising.
  • Sold by their covers (70% impulse buys) the covers encode the values and looks to which the readers aspire even though they cannot be an exact representation of the target reader. Often portraying a beautiful white woman, increasingly often a film star, looking to the camera, dressed glamorously or sexily according to whether it is a male or female mag. ‘covers continue to show what women should look like and what men should look for,’ (Malkin), the Male Gaze is alive and well and a feature of women’s mags, as indeed they seem to be reinforcing the stereotype of the objectified woman, but Winship suggested that actually women now enjoy a ‘more performative, pleasurable femininity,‘ and that they are therefore more sexually assertive than objectified, and that although some copy is sexist, women are not victims.
  • Women’s market divided into: monthly, weekly; glossy, domestic, aspirational and gossip.
  • Mens’ Health is an unusual product in that it too is aspirational, not normally associated with men’s mags, and challenging the convention of always putting women on covers by having half clad, muscular males in black and white (to emphasise the musculature rather than have a gay connotation) on their covers. Lad’s mags rarely put men on the covers though GQ and Esquire led the way to putting black and male stars on the cover GQ has succumbed to the norm while Esquire’s editor believes his readers are ‘colour-blind’ and continues to put very cool, aspirational stars on its two covers (one back and one front to maximise use of the star and ad revenue!)
  • Women’s Own 1932 on exhorted the reader ‘do not let yourself ‘go’ wear a pretty overall…prepare your lord and master’s breakfast,’ unacceptable today. Yet even today Marie Clare is telling the readers to ‘work it’ dress sexily for work, to ensure she is noticed and promoted!
  • Case study 1: Cosmo – cover lines ‘Lingerie‘, ‘Diet tricks’, ‘Fun, Flirty High Street Fashion,’ ‘You and him’ – the usual so far – but also: ‘6 Sex Wishes‘ men reveal how they really want to blow your mind in bed. This is Cosmo’s trademark raunchiness and sexually explicit approach. This is a new stereotype: the ‘lairy girl’ (Germaine Greer) who’s always up for it, the drunken and loud mouthed or fun and fearless depending on your viewpoint! Representing women as able to have it all – yet at heart still reinforcing the dominant ideas of a hetero-sexual society. And incidentally creating new pressures upon women who are assumed to want it all!
  • Case study 2: FHM launched after the political correctness of the 80s set out to be gruff, down to earth and blokeish. Now like Cosmo it too has slipped into the middle of the road – it has lost its edge and though it aims at the 16-25 age group the ad content with PS2. Clearasil and grooming products suggest it is appealing to a younger aspirant lad .
  • Winship quotes a female who is filled with self-loathing after buying the monthly mag: for reading it, for being a failure and that ‘I buy it every month’, this is the nature of the unequal relationship between magazine and reader: ‘emotional, confiding and defensive’; women see magazines as a treat, guilty when reading it despite having earned it! Women’s mags are often trivialised because they represent women’s mass culture. (Wolf).
  • Glamour‘ magazine the first of the new baby or handbag glossies specifically show celebrities dressed to kill and then give their readers advice how to achieve this look but more cheaply. New mag Grazia tells its readers who is ‘starring’ in the current issue.
  • Case study 3: Best represented by ‘Best‘ magazine(!) the equivalent of tabloid TV, reality day time TV! Its audience is positive, busy women who want vfm, a great read and a more stylish package than other weeklies. The demographic is 25-55 average 40, BC1C2, married with children, living in her own home, down to earth and an experienced working mother and wife. The cover lines indicate ‘her’ desire to improve herself ‘Lose a stone this month,’ but she also revels in bad news ‘He only married me because he thought I was dying,’ and the puff states it is ‘Britain’s Best Weekly.’ The editorial content assumes her limited life and her desire for excitement with real life sensational stories which are ‘inspirational and entertainment for real women.‘ Advertising is for a range of cheap household products thus aiming at a woman who has no spare money for luxuries. It unashamedly targets the working class middle-aged woman in a cynical way. She is being constructed in the image that the editors and advertisers wish to sell. Covers rarely feature black women or sports women and if you are into music, engineering or business or even a lesbian this kind of magazine is not for you.
  • There are a range of stereotypes available today but there are many women who are excluded and unrepresented. The industry is run to sell a product rather than to reflect the reality of women’s lives today. In men’s mags too the stereotype is a man interested in fast cars, equipment, sport and music and again the number of men excluded is vast.
  • Niche mags reach a small audience and survive through high ad costs; their circulation will remain limited and a limited range of gender stereotypes continue to dictate what will appear in mainstream magazines.


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