Ok the title’s a bit tongue in cheek – there are plenty of women’s magazines that I enjoy and would even love to work for. But, judging from Google’s search predictions, it’s an oft-asked question. Earlier this week I gave you some brilliant, independently-minded women’s websites; today I’m going to ask why women’s magazines so often fall short.
Essentially, because magazines are a product. Now, any product is marketed at a specific demographic, whether that’s male pensioners or mechanics or classical music enthusiasts. Women’s magazines are marketed, obviously, on the basis of gender. And unfortunately, feminine gender, as constructed by advertisers, is still overwhelmingly concerned with outward appearance.
Masculinity is about action and doing things, so men’s mags at least have a fair bit of hobby, sport and even politics-related content alongside sex and grooming. But femininity is about looking pretty and using your body to snag a man. Cue endlessly repetitive articles on beauty, fitness, fashion and sex tips.
Unfortunately advertisers seem also to have decided that men buy things when they feel good about themselves, whereas women buy things when they are made to feel bad. So often these articles – and the accompanying advertising – will play on female fears and insecurities as a threat to keep you reading.
Women’s magazines have the double problem of both being a gendered product and carrying advertising for other gendered products. Gloria Steinem’s feminist Ms magazine famously struggled to secure advertising because of its controversial content. As I wrote in my first ever Wannabe Hacks post (before I was a resident Hack!): “Can you imagine if Grazia’s beauty section told you that the fastest way to perfect skin was to drink water and stop wearing so much makeup? I doubt L’Oreal would be quite so keen to drop twenty grand on a spread in next week’s issue.”
Women’s websites can, in part, “afford” to be more independent because advertising works differently online – and because many are run by individuals or not-for-profit organisations who could never dream of making money from them.
But, judging by the readerships of sites like Jezebel, there’s clearly an audience for this kind of women’s journalism. Is it only a matter of time till women’s glossies, and their advertisers, start catering to readers hungry for more?