Sex-obsessed. Demeaning. Ridiculous. Garbage.
These are just a few of the labels used to ignorantly describe women’s magazines—labels that demonstrate a gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of one of the most accessible, inspirational and empowering resources young women have available to them today.
Men deem women-centric journalism as inferior, inadequate and unqualified. What’s more, women are constantly conceding to the ridicule, trained to laugh off their interests as guilty pleasures, when in reality, our submission to gender stereotypes and patriarchal ideals are what we’re truly guilty of. Why are women told that political opinion is outside of their purview? Why are sex-positive and girly-girl characteristics deemed shameful—so much so that women have been trained to use these descriptors to attack one another?
Last year, in the midst of questioning my aspirations to pursue a career in magazine journalism due to the incredibly “politically correct” and critical nature of my undergraduate institution, I came across an article featured on Cosmopolitan.com (a nightly read that my peers would shame me for as anti-feminist—read up on Editor in Chief Joanna Coles before you agree with that narrative).
In the piece, Senior Political Writer Jill Filipovic—a strong, conversation-stirring political voice I had recently come to fan-girl over—speaks of the ridicule publications branded as women-centric consistently face and why these criticisms are absolutely unjustified, and frankly, ridiculous. I nearly jumped out of my dorm room bed in excitement—Jill, you get me, I wanted to scream. Instantly, my aspirations felt revalidated. I knew then that I not only wanted to enter the women’s magazine industry—I wanted to prove its importance and adequacy.
Let’s begin with a brief history of the industry. Back when men’s word dominated the journalistic atmosphere (well, more so, that is), women’s magazines provided women with their first taste of opinionated freedom—they tore down the taboo of sex, they gave voice to those who had previously gone unheard and they served as an outlet of expression and excitement without fear of judgment. Yes, looking back now, the industry’s first advice-columns and advertisements were often sexist and even demeaning—that is, compared to today’s standards. What many fail—or more so refuse—to understand is that the first women’s publications were nonetheless game-changing. Without the rough foundation of sex-positivity, female empowerment and inherent feminism these initial publications provided, future progress would’ve been impossible. Covering contraception, safe sex and female success and independence, women’s magazines empowered.
In the wake of their creation, there has only been progress. Women’s magazines are not just silly, meaningless pages of makeup advertisements and sex tips (although there’s nothing wrong with enjoying either, and I’m so done with women being shamed for loving both). Women’s magazines give women the tools to take on the world around them. Consider the young girl who’s not that into the local news station and intimidated by the showy language and complex terms littered throughout more “formal” political sources. She might miss incredibly valuable information—information about her rights as a woman, information about her rights as a student, information about politics, current events and global change—simply due to such information being inaccessible. When it comes down to it, many women lack the privilege of a seamless immersion into a world catered towards white, educated men. Women’s magazines are far from a full-on cure to this inequality, but they truly do help. With understandable and relatable content, women’s magazines are far more welcoming then their verbose and often condescending counterparts. With a focus on women’s health and political rights, they cover topics that traditional media sources grossly underreport and sometimes blatantly ignore. Far too often, the needs of women are overlooked, making women’s magazines one of the only outlets that listen to our needs and can actually meet us where we are. How are they so successful at reaching us? Because they value our voices, they accept our needs and frankly, they try.
When it comes down to it, the judgment surrounding women’s magazines is blatantly sexist. Female writers already face discrimination, and when others fail to acknowledge their magazine career as “true journalism,” the sting of gender inequality burns even stronger. Heaven forbid women enjoy news and runway updates. If we dominated the realms of beauty and business, we’d be given far too much power—the horror. Do we fully realize how ridiculous it is that in this day and age, a magazine isn’t taken seriously simply because it caters to diversified interests?
And as many pro-industry advocates have noted, why can’t women’s magazines blend indulgence with information without invalidating one or the other? Why can big businessmen read up on sports alongside their Wall Street news and be praised for their golfing prowess, while successful women are instantly deemed inferior and unworthy for nailing their cat-eyes and their workload? That’s not to say that the beauty and fashion industries belong solely to women and the sports and business industries solely to men—in fact, such beliefs are central to the problem.
And what of feminism in relation to women’s lifestyle publications? While yes, there is progress to be made, and yes, such publications often fail to represent diversity in all of its forms, writing them off altogether is not the answer. Refusing to acknowledge the industry is no way to advance it, and if we want future generations of girls and women to be as empowered and educated as possible, taking charge of the field is our greatest weapon. We can continue the growth of the industry. And if feminism is about choice—choice in action, choice in opinion and choice in interests to name a few—then aren’t women’s magazines inherently feminist? Where else is our sexuality advocated? Where else is our choice to be feminine (or not!) so fully validated?
If you’re truly feminist, you recognize that supporting, validating and pushing the advancement of women’s magazines is vital in the fight to combat gender inequalities. It’s time to stop tearing down other women for proudly displaying their varied interests and start tearing down the structures that make such sexism possible.
Much like the author of that unforgettable article—a writer who’s fully-qualified words drip with intelligence, precision and impact—I’m constantly asked why I choose to write for a women’s publication. “Don’t you want to write something important?” They ask. “Aren’t you sick of writing meaningless articles?” But the last time I checked, journalism concerning women’s rights, policy-making and rape culture was far from meaningless.
And don’t be fooled—I will also firmly stand behind any article about kittens, Instagram or nail polish—the women running this world deserve access to indulgence, after all.
While I could go on for years delving into the discrepancies and inequalities poisioning the image of my industry, the fact of the matter is that I shouldn’t have to. Overall, I know that those of us who are writers for the world’s top publications are vastly important. So while you’re second-guessing our intelligence, we’ll be taking names in the fashion, beauty and political spheres—publishing top-notch journalism on topics that matter to and empower women around the globe.
Join Emily and other student advocates for gender equality at the The 7th annual Millennium Campus Conference at the United Nations from August 11-15th. The conference will unite students from around the world to challenge the paradigms that perpetuate inequality and work to redefine the world around us. Apply at mcc15.org/