After work, one of my favorite pastimes is buying a magazine. I usually go for women’s magazines like Glamour, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Self Magazine, and Redbook. I love looking through their pages for trends, articles on celebrities, and health tips. However, recently I’ve noticed that there is less and less focus on things like how to get abs or new recipes perfect for summer. The content in women’s magazines has increased to now feature stories of female veterans, women who have escaped tough situations, or those that have survived years of abuse. In addition, there are articles on inspiring females that are making a change in the world through volunteering, politics, technology, and so forth. Women’s magazines aren’t simply glossy publications with ads informing you what type of bra to wear under your flowy cocktail dress–they contain multiple pieces of serious journalism. So why then are they not seen as publications filled with substance and importance?
The question of diversity in media is often brought into focus when women’s magazines are overlooked for journalism awards. Earlier this month, Port Magazine’s summer issue featured a cover with six white male magazine editors under the headline “A New Golden Age.” Gawker questioned the lack of diversity on the cover, or what they called the overwhelming amount of “dude-itors.” Dan Crowe, editor-in-chief of Port Magazine, said that Vogue’s Anna Wintour had refused to be a part of the shoot. He continued by saying that “It is saddening that there isn’t more representation such as a gay person or black woman editor,” but “unfortunately these are not the people editing these magazines.”
Jessica Grose, a writer for The New Republic, stated that the cover shoot implies more than just a lack of minorities in leadership roles. She continued by writing that this reveals “another pernicious assumption: that what women’s magazines publish is not as influential or important as what men’s and general interest magazines publish.”
But is that true? This month’s Women’s Health magazine features stories on a variety of topics, including how to survive Hurricane Sandy and the brain-damaging effects of junk food. Elle’s latest edition includes an exposé on one woman’s violent sexual life as well as how to make your work relationships better. It’s not all makeup and frilly dresses, is it?
The crux of the matter, in my opinion, is that women’s magazines are commercialized and feature celebrities on their covers who have been airbrushed UNREALISTICALLY to sell more copies. Of course, these magazines also include articles discussing sex, relationships, fashion etcetera; but I equally value those editorials that provide actual quality journalism. These magazines may be businesses first and foremost- however, this does not negate the moments when they produce great writing.
On Monday, Glamour’s Wendy Naugle and Hollywood Life Bonnie Fuller joined Abby Huntsman on HuffPost Live to discuss if women’s magazines get less credit because their pieces aren’t long. According to Naugle, readers determine what magazines cover. “We’re answering to our readers and what they want to know–all aspects of a woman’s life,” she said. “Is a 4,000-word piece dissecting the quality of a poet more important than a 1,800-word story on skin cancer that could save hundreds of lives?
According to Naugle, a large problem is that when topics like breast cancer, reproductive rights, marriage, birth control, and pregnancy are labeled as women’s issues by broader journalism outlets, they more often than not get ignored. For example last year, Kate Bolick’s captivating article on the state of modern marriage was overlooked for National Magazine Awards – despite it being extremely well-received online and even sparked a national conversation leading to optioning for a TV show.
Fuller, who has worked as an editor at Marie Claire, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan notes “I think there is incredible bias against women’s magazines.” Remembering publishing pieces that were deserving of recognition but received none, she adds; many women’s magazine editors have given up because they don’t believe the public opinion of their publications will improve.
There is a clear bias against women in the publishing industry, which includes magazines. This was revealed by VIDA, a young feminist organization, which showed the gaping imbalances between men and women in publishing from 2010 through 2011. Male-dominated publications such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Nation were found to have an overwhelming imbalance when it came to who gets published or written about.
The National Magazine Awards have always had a category that awards women’s magazines within the General Excellence categories. But is this doing more harm than good? Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress argues that it might be. She suggests that by having their own, separate category, women’s magazines are being discouraged from expanding and specializing their coverage. Instead, they’re encouraged to compete with publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic which don’t specifically cater to either gender.
Women’s magazines are often disregarded, but Naugle noted that doing so would be a mistake. She stated that these magazines provide critical information to a large demographic of individuals who use this information to make decisions.