167 posts tagged media
The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel on women’s magazines.
In news that will not shock you in the slightest, I agree. And I know more than a couple of ladymag editors who feel the same way.
I talk body image, “real girls” and the difference between problematic cultures and problematic individuals, in this month’s Girlfriend magazine:
The real girl resurgence in recent years isn’t just a response to increasingly unrealistic images of beautiful women – it’s also a response to the increasingly “un-real” technologies used to create them (we’re looking at you, Photoshop and universal Hollywood cosmetic surgery). … [R]ather than taking that out on individual girls and women whose physical appearance might be more culturally celebrated than our own, we should direct our anger and activism at the systems that create those narrow images of beauty and privilege them over everything else.
It is not girls who are skinny or symmetrically featured or who wear lots of makeup who are the problem, but a culture that says girls who are all those things are cuter, cooler and more worthy of our attention than girls who aren’t – not to mention a culture that says even if you are all those things (whether you got there through your own efforts or the genetic lottery), you could still look “better” if you had Photoshop to trim your waist, thicken your hair, enhance your breasts or straighten your nose.
"A friend of mine recently said, ‘Dude, I didn’t know you’re a TV presenter! I thought you were some rich b**** whose dad paid for her to stay here.’ I really I hope I don’t appear stupid…" She raises a perfect eyebrow. "Model hang-ups."
"I feel like I’m blagging it, even now. On stage at the Fashion Awards, standing with the other winners who worked really hard to achieve their success, it was like I’d been given a prize for having a pretty face."
Andrea writes for a newspaper. ‘This is for the Living section,’ she says. I know what that means, it used to be the Women’s Pages. It’s funny that they now call it Living, as if only women are alive and other things, such as the Sports, are for the dead. ‘Living, eh?’ I say. ‘I’m the mother of two. I bake cookies.’ All true. Andrea gives me a dirty look and flicks on her machine.
So writes Margaret Atwood in Cat’s Eye. And my thought upon reading it? “Shit, that’s what I do.”
I write for the “women’s pages”. Sure, I write for other venues too – political rags and literary rags among them. But the bulk of my work comes from publications (whether online, in newspapers, of women’s lifestyle magazines) that are explicitly targeted at women.
Mostly, this is because I write a lot about gender and sociology (“social affairs” if you will), and as I’ve written about here before, women’s lifestyle magazines especially are explicitly “about” gender. I think this is a good thing. I wish we had similar ongoing, analytical* dialogues on race, class, and disability.
But I will concede that it does coincide with – if not cause – a certain marginalising of those issues. We’ll put the stuff for the ladies over here, and the important stuff somewhere else.
Today the Fairfax newspapers in Australia launched Daily Life, a new opinion website targeted at women, to which I will be a contributor. It made a lot of the Twittersphere pretty angry – see the hashtag #dailywife for a sample of the commentary.
Criticisms included: “Why do women need their own website? Why can’t we just read the regular news?” “Why is the ‘news’ on this website all about fashion and celebrities?” “If you really appreciate the work these writers do, why don‘t you just put them on the main website?”
Like Mudge, I’ve wondered why everything pertaining to women is classified under “Life and Style”, and I’ve wondered why “lifestyle journalism” is so often boiled down to advertorial for fashion and beauty products (answer: probably because the associated advertising is what pays for writers like me). I’ve wondered if the fact that writing related to gender politics is usually published in “Life and Style” or colour magazine supplements contributes to the perception that, as one commenter recently wrote on one of Laurie Penny’s articles, female journalists write pointless “pap”.
But I also think that the visceral negative response such content receives is grounded in sexism in itself. Why are discussions of political horse races, war and even sport (all of which I enjoy - the discussions of, that is, not the practices) considered more “worthy” than discussions of why we think and feel the way we do, or the more subtle (and I think, interesting) political machinations shaping human life that don’t take place in parliament or congress? It’s not just newspaper websites that lump in discussions of feminism or sociology with beauty tips and celebrity gossip: our collective cultural psyche does too.
Over the weekend, I wrote an article for a teen magazine in which I suggested (in teen-friendly language) that rather than focusing our often well-justified anger on individual micro-political actors – that is to say, you and me – we would be better off focusing our criticisms on the systems that create those actions.
The structural criticisms of Daily Life and websites like it are perfectly valid. But that doesn’t mean that the sites themselves don’t have any redeeming features – Daily Life’s rotation of contributors includes many of my favourite Australian writers, and those women don’t write stupid, inane fluff. The fact that the site is heavily populated with those contributors shows that “stupid, inane fluff” isn’t what they’re going for.
And for me as a contributor, there’s a clear appeal in a regular gig writing about the issues that interest me, for an editor who has never asked me (directly or otherwise) to dumb myself down.
* Okay, this may be a bit utopian as a holistic analysis of some of these magazines, but it’s what I’m going for when I write for them.
Related: Ask Rachel: Why do you write for women’s magazines?
Mentoring week: Mentoring and the media industry
Are women’s magazines really that bad?
Elsewhere: Where are all the women? In Life and Style, apparently. (We Mixed Our Drinks)
Why Washington Post’s new ladyblog is wrong for women (Jessica Valenti)
The Daily Wife (The News With Nipples)
Criticism of the “women’s pages” (Women’s Page History)
Thinking ahead 5-10 years to when Gina Rinehart finally sacks a few Fairfax executives, rips up the charter, and installs a sympathetic board, it’s not too hard to imagine the front page of the SMH for that day.
Click Image for full picture.
Discuss. And does it matter what kinds of social media we’re consuming? (Well, obviously it does. But are there certain types of social media that are more likely to foster comparisons and insecurity than others?)