Monday, September 21, 2009

Cosmopolitan Magazine - friend or foe of feminism?

Feminism has got to be one of the most exciting yet confusing topics for discussion. Just when I think I know where I stand, I hear about or read another perspective and completely have to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. I envy women who can clearly define where they stand on the issue of gender roles in society. I'm probably that female that no feminist would ever want to associate with because I'm just so fickle. I feel as though I'm the reason that there's so much frustration within the feminist community. It'd be much easier if I could just label myself as a liberal or radical or third wave feminist, but I just can't. There are aspects within all of those categories that I can certainly identify with, but others that I am quite opposed to.

Womens' magazines was a topic brought up in both of today's readings. It was pretty much established that womens' magazines generally contain stereotypical feminine topics, such as how to take care of the home, families, emotional matter, etc. Tuchman pointed out that "a woman's magazine is sex-typed in a way that is not true of men's magazines." In other words, many men's magazines can be read by women as well because they contain "American culture" content, whereas women's magazine simply contain female-related content. This is very true. No one would be shocked to see a woman read GQ magazine, but if you see a man reading Redbook then he's either gay or looking for a new way to please his woman (even then, it'd be considered an oddity). But then Cosmopolitan magazine is mentioned, and it almost seems as though Tuchman approves of that publication due to it's content about women in the workplace (although I wouldn't go as far as saying she's a subscriber to the mag...). Gauntlett also talks about how Cosmo was the first magazine to stray from the stereotypical female gender role, and instead it focused on womens' sexuality, freedom, and talk of the workplace. However, he is still critical of Cosmo and basically gives off the idea that it takes a half-assed stance on feminism. Well, that's the impression that I got at least. I think I'd have to agree.

First, let me ask this question: who defines what is or is not considered feminism? Some feminists might argue that Cosmo is just like any other womens' magazine but even worse because the explicit talk about sexuality and images of beautiful women is demeaning. But other feminists could say that the explicitness present in Cosmo is exactly what women need instead of being tied down by society's concept of the ideal, housewife woman. Part of me thinks that Cosmo, Redbook, Glamour, etc. have come a long way with embracing feminist ideas. I've seen articles about "how to get a raise at work" and "when to know you should dump his ass" and so on. These topics don't seem "passive" or "dependent" to me, as Tuchman believes (of course, her article is from the 70's). Sometimes I actually feel empowered after reading a womens' magazine....sometimes.

I am a reader of these womens' magazines, and I actually hope to work for one someday. But that doesn't mean that I don't have my disappointments. Sure, we've progressed somewhat since the days of Betty Homemaker. But is it enough? Something particularly disheartening to me was how Gauntlett talked about Cosmo as being full of contradictions, which I definitely agree with and have always noticed about most womens' magazines. I don't know whether he was being critical or praising the mag in saying this, but I especially agreed with the following: "It is not surprising that the Cosmo woman cannot escape contradiction, as she is expected to be so many things: sexy, successful, glamorous, hard-working; sharp and relaxed in social settings, powerful and likeable at work." At first I thought that the contradictions in these magazines could actually be a good thing in the sense that it is realistic for the magazines to understand these issues that women face. In a way, talk of these numerous expectations might help women try to adjust to the many roles we are, expected of.

However, I think that the expectations these magazines portray are more prescriptive than descriptive. I don't get the impression that these mags' content is about how women really are, rather how we should be or should at least want to be. First of all, it is a known fact that the majority of women are not size 2's with large breasts and perfect skin. Yet how many images of "real" women do these magazines show? They might show women with flaws every once in a while, but not enough to match reality. Most of the time after I read a womens' magazine, I get the impression that I should look a certain way, eat a certain way, have a certain sex life, and...oh yeah, a career might be helpful. In fact, that is one of the reasons I would like to work at one of these publications. Maybe little old me could bring in some ideas that relate to ALL women, not just what we should all aspire to be.

1 comment:

Erica Horning said...

I totally agree with what you said about being back and forth on feminism (although I do identify publicly with the term "feminist"). I feel like I always have to add a clause clarifying, "But I don't agree with..." I think it's okay to be confused and figure it out slowly and not take a solid stance until you're 100% about it. I admire that about you : )
As far as the Cosmo contradictions, I view it as a freedom: I choose which ever qualities I want, and make my own composite identity. I'm just glad there are sources today putting other identities and qualities out there for us women to identify with. However, I can totally see your point that the proto-type woman that appears in these magazines is a far cry from what most women are actually like. That is one area in which I'd love to see some change as well.