Feminism Friday: All girls together?

When I started Feminism Friday, I did wonder if I would have something to write about every week. I really needn’t have worried my ‘pretty little head’ about it. Earlier this week, I popped out to grab a sandwich and found myself staring at a sea of women’s magazines, pondering whether or not I wanted something to read with my lunch. I decided against it in the end as, although Boots does great food, their choice of glossies really does leave something to be desired. I swiftly became both mesmerised and frustrated by the utter crap that some women seem happy to part with their cash for. As the feminist rage bubbled up inside, I tweeted one magazine’s cover lines: “Women’s faces destroyed by drugs! Career women too scared to have babies! Is your figure better than you think? Oh fuck off Marie Claire“. Apparently you should aspire to look great, have babies and currently be completely insecure to read this magazine. If the various replies and retweets I received that afternoon are anything to go by, I’m not the only one annoyed by this.

In a subsequent email discussion with my friend Jo, we picked at the nasty way society often encourages women to bond over hating themselves, and she said: “I do think that’s a pernicious trend in the general public way of addressing women, especially from advertisers – the ‘all girls together’, gosh aren’t we all insecure, wow I hate my bum, oh well I hate my ankles, blah blah etc”. Why do we have to be insecure to get along? Why are confident successful women seen as ‘bitches’? What’s with all the negativity? There is also the supposedly friendly way of addressing women as if we all experience life in exactly the same way. No, we don’t all ‘love a bad boy’ and, gasp, some of us can resist chocolate.

Mainstream media and advertising often treats women as though we’re all somehow identical, with collective hopes and dreams. Ooh, let’s all bond over these shared experiences that, as a gender, we surely all have! Well, guess what? We don’t. For a short while in my late 20s I began to wonder if society thought of me as a real woman at all. I didn’t want to be on a diet, liked looking at men and women, didn’t want to get married, didn’t want babies, wasn’t obsessed with shopping, and rather liked cars. Practically nothing that was designed to appeal exclusively to women appealed to me. Especially not the near constant negativity. Why can’t we bond over loving ourselves instead? Can’t we talk about music, movies, life, gadgets, politics, shoes and how fabulous we are? Hmm… perhaps that just doesn’t sell magazines.

15 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: All girls together?

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  1. And, more seriously, as ever you've made me think. I currently subscribe to Q magazine and Esquire. Q for the music, Esquire for the mixture of culture, tech and… well I'm not sure what else really cos a LOT of it doesn't apply to me (I don't live in London, I'm not a bronzed adonis with a six-pack (honest, I'm not)).

    A quote from Kenneth Brannagh I heard the other night, talking about how, at aged 26 he was 'struggling to find the meaning behind his life', and now that he's 50 he realises there is no real big meaning, life is just there to be lived, so try and be happy at all times.

    Having been through that struggle I couldn't agree more, and I think the pitch of the magazines you mention is a ghastly abuse of those struggles. Shouldn't they be helping 'young women' find themselves, and be comfortable with who they really are? Why is it all about conformity.

    Ugh, the more I think about it, the more horrid it gets.

  2. I'd like to say this is just examples of positive confirmation – that you see a women's magazine and every example of a bad idea just solidifies your rage while you overlook the counter examples. But I'm struggling to think of women's mags that might not have this type of trash in them. Are there ever any that might run an article something like “I decided not to have children, and my friends and I are now having a great time with no regrets”?

    I guess they're self selecting in a way – that only women interested in this stuff read them, but the idea that they do somehow represent an entire gender is just as ridiculous as Zoo or Nuts were ever representative of all men.

    Now, don't get me started on representation of women in ADVERTS.

  3. I tens not to read those magazines and spend my time in the the gaming magazines, which WHSmiths puts under the title of men's lifestyle, alongside the porn mags.

  4. Great article. The whole thing highlights the constant undermining of women's confidence – girls are taught to be self-deprecating and hyper critical from a young age and sadly it seems the ones that are given a platform (in media especially) inevitably turn their critical eye to other women and encourage the rest of us to do the same. Positive, affirming articles and images are written but not given the same exposure or are branded under the articles for 'wimmin' banner and instantly dismissed by mainstream audiences without due scrutiny. Disheartening so you keep it up please.

  5. Absolutely agree – as you know 😉

    I think part of the problem with the big glossies is that they're so tied in to advertisers, it's in their interest to adopt the same tone – if you're happy and contented in how awesome you are, it's much harder to persuade you to spend your money on beauty products designed to 'fix your problems'. I find anything I say about advertising shades into talking about glossy magazines, and vice versa.

    I suppose, to be fair, cheesy and parodied though it is and much as I don't really like it… I ought to give credit to L'Oreal for their 'Because you're worth it' strapline. It's one of the few advertisers marketing to women with the same sort of campaign that men generally get – the 'hey, you're awesome and you know it, why not buy this awesome thing for your awesome self?'

  6. @Gordon – Yes, it's strange how magazines aimed at people in their 20s tend to be full of stuff that makes you feel inadequate and instructs you to Be Better, when what you really need is stuff that tells you life is actually for having fun.

    @Stunt_girl – They are indeed self-selecting, but you're right that it's odd no one would suggest that Zoo and Nuts represent all men. Mind you, I'm sure those sorts of trashy magazines all stick to the same stereotypes amongst them. Men think about sex all the time and women just want to please their men… and have calorie-free ice cream.

    @snowturtle – Well, of course only men would be interested in gaming, movies, gadgets or photography. Where else would WH Smith put those magazines? Seriously though, why don't they have a section for stuff that isn't gendered?

    @Vanessa – Thanks. I shall endeavour to keep up the good work 🙂 The only magazines I've seen that devote cover space to positive things are Company, Psychologies, Red and Stylist (although they don't have traditional coverlines).

    @Jo – I agree. L'Oreal get a pat on the back for that one. We ARE worth it 🙂

  7. Love this post. And I guess it is not something I have ever really given much thought to. I have not bought a glossy since the launch of “Sugar” and I was 15. Possibly a couple of others in the years since, but none that I remember. It fascinates me that so many swarm to them. I'd much rather have a book. To me, there is a hint in the collective name for them.

    “Glossy”. Like a toffee apple – all shiney and inticing. For a nano second. Then you bite into it and all you discover is a sticky covering of annoyance on your front teeth and a soft, powdery, gag worthy apple underneath. Which you then throw away. You come away feeling disillusioned and crap. So, you avoid in the future.

  8. Great point about how we are all not alike with similar goals. I think magazines generalize because it does sell magazines. They can't create a magazine for each personality style we have, unfortunately. That is why I stick more to blogs (like yours) who try to encourage women to lift each other up rather than read Cosmo.

  9. Hi Lori, I so agree. And this is why I love blogs – it is people writing about what I am ACTUALLY interested in. I have very little interest in magazines nowadays. And I also love knowing that as a blogger myself, I have some power over the content *I* provide myself. I don't need to get upset over what the magazines aren't giving to me, because I can start giving it to others in my own way. That is actually a pretty good feeling 🙂 x

  10. *stands up and applauds* I completely agree. It really, really pisses me off that magazines and the media in general try to encourage women towards being neurotic, apologetic little mice whilst pretending that they're actually encouraging us to be strong independent women. It's complete and utter bollocks. This is why I don't bother with any women's magazines any more. For me it's running magazines, Oh Comely or nothing.

  11. Doesn't sell magazines? Perhaps. Doesn't sell advertising space to expensive cosmetics companies trying to cash in on insecure readers who have been told to believe that buying £75 moisturiser is the key to a better life? Hm.

  12. I have to say that this article is amazing. I've often thought that way. I never ever bought magazines like this. I bought one the other day because My Style Pill appeared in Cosmo and I felt like supporting her. Then I realized…this magazine is horrid. Why would I want to read something like this? I already like my style, I don't want to spend 400$ on an article of clothing, I don't want to learn about any sex tips and I don't want to look at pictures of women who took 6 hours to get ready and are obscenely photo-shopped. This is not real life people! You do not have to look like those women, you don't have to follow trends, or real about how to have sex. I'm fairly sure you can figure it out without reading Cosmo!

  13. thanks Lori, this post is amazing.
    have you heard about the film Miss Representation? The film explores how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. the abstract reads along the lines of “In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. “


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