Women’s Magazines: Reinforcing Patriarchal Values Using Women to Police Women

I think it’s obvious that I don’t read “women’s” magazines. I think I read Cosmo once when I was a teenager. It had an article on why swallowing sperm was bad: it’s high in calories. Because that’s what you should be thinking of when having sex: whether or not you will get “fat”. Not thinking about preventing STDs or ensuring that your relationship involves mutual respect and consideration so that both partners are sexually fulfilled without one doing something that makes them uncomfortable. Nope, swallowing is bad because it makes women fat. Course, that was 15 years ago. Considering the mainstreaming of porn, I’m sure swallowing is mandatory and those pesky calories can be covered by not eating anything else that day.

That is the purpose of women’s magazines: to make women realise how imperfect and pathetic they are and then flog them clothes, make-up and other assorted shite to make them feel like “real” women. It’s capitalism. Yes, some magazines like Marie Claire used to be pro-women including articles on work/life balance, sexual health and family relationships. But that isn’t what they sell now. Women’s magazines now sell that same old reductive, constrictive, and boring construction of female sexuality where we need to be sexually available to men at all times and concerned entirely with their orgasms whilst at the same time doing all the childcare, housework, and ensuring that we remain entirely fuckable by being malnourished and physically perfect at the same time.

This is without getting into the whole “celebrity” magazines which are marketed at women so we can laugh at Kerry Katona and buy make-up at the same time. The fact that Kerry Katona had a very public breakdown because she was ill is irrelevant. She gets to be what “good” women shouldn’t be and we can make ourselves feel better about being fat and ugly because we aren’t her. It is an incredibly destructive behaviour, pitting women against other women.

But, this is exactly what women’s magazines do. They reinforce the Patriarchy by using women to police other women. We become our own jailers; judging other women for not shaving their legs, having grey hair, or being overweight. Women buy magazines that call women who have literally just given birth fat. Women buy magazines that tell them they are frigid for not wanting to have anal sex. Women buy magazines that tell them to shut up in order to get a man. Women buy magazines that tell them that they can only be one of two things: fuckable or an invisible.

Personally, I am dancing in the streets at the demise of women’s magazines. I am glad that women are choosing to use blogs and twitter to talk with other women. Collaborative blogs like Jezebel, F-Word and Vagenda are replacing Cosmo. Teenager girls, who are surrounded by a pornographied culture which devalues and denigrates them, can access Scarleteen for information on sexuality and birth control. The Internet might be responsible for the explosion in violent pornography but it’s also the place of a deeply subversive underground of brilliant women writers who are fighting back; refusing to police the behaviour of other women in order to receive some crumbs from the Patriarchy’s table of plenty.

There is a reason the right-wing press spends so much time writing about the “nest of vipers” of Mumsnet and it’s not because we bake cookies. It’s because women talking to other women and supporting each other is what will destroy the Patriarchy. We aren’t just taking back our bodies. We are taking their power and it scares the shit out of the Patriarchy.


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