Marina Burity

There’s a form of feminism that is in vogue in the media. Cosmo is sex positive. Grazia counted the 2012 Delhi gang rape as one of its 'Top Ten Hot Stories This Week’. Vogue Editor-In-Chief Alexandra Schulman has made an ‘educational’ video about the artificiality of her magazine’s photo shoots to be shown in schools. These are self-proclaimed feminist voices, not only respected but coveted for their style, sass and other sexy synonyms.

In a sense, this is cause for celebration. Exposure prompts questioning of the media, and this will hopefully cause a shift in the attitudes of the magazine industry.

Yet, in these magazines, there is no actual analysis of how we as ‘women’ are supposed to be empowered. Nothing is said of the potentially harmful messages and attitudes being perpetuated all around us, and in the magazines themselves.  And if you are disabled, queer, not white, trans* or anything other than a copy of the women portrayed in beauty product adverts, you don’t even get a form of feminism to question. You are rarely featured, let alone given the opportunity to speak.

Last week on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, journalist Charlotte Raven called out this ‘feminism’ as a red herring. She argued that we cannot take seriously the claims of magazines to empowerment when a piece about sexual freedom is juxtaposed with the airbrushed photo of a ‘woman’ so abstracted from reality that she is disembodied. As well as being a commodity in herself, she is used to sell her own ideal so that the reader will buy the facewash she uses.

The media’s current approach to feminism is not one that explores the problematic structure and content of women’s magazines. It may acknowledge the problem, but it does not combine this with genuine engagement.

Cosmo issue from December 2007Dplanet::

Even though I’ve been a self proclaimed magazine junkie from the age of twelve, I haven’t read a glossy magazine in years. I can’t hack feeling so angry and sad whilst reading something supposedly for pleasure.

I am not alone in feeling angry at these magazines. Many blogs have taken a stand in criticising the absolute shit that some publications try to pass off as feminist.

Charlotte Raven has gone one step further, creating her own media space, the Feminist Times, which launched online earlier this week and will imminently release a limited print run to subscribers. Given the insidious nature of the magazine and advertising industries, however, there is only so much that the sort of much-needed criticism that Raven will offer can achieve.

Modernity is playing its part. The print industry looks to be dying a natural death as modern technology creates new, online media platforms. The online presence of women’s media has opened a space where it is less likely a Cosmo girl will speak with authority.

The reaction to the sorry state of women’s magazines has largely played out online, with even printed publications utilising the web to crowdfund their efforts. The internet is allowing people to push against dominant trends in a big way.

But I don’t think that print media should be left by the wayside to fester.The very things that draw people to print are useful and should be preserved by feminist journalists: the physicality of paper; the freedom to really concentrate and take in a piece without hyperlinks beckoning you from every other line in the article; good design; the shininess and covetability of a hard copy magazine. (I did say I’m a magazine junkie.)

These are the elements that should be combined into a new journalistic form, allowing self-identified women to speak with confidence and authority.

There is a need for a feminist-only print space, wherein the many faces of modern feminism can freely express themselves without being isolated in a solely academic context.

In order for feminism to really broaden our minds in an interesting and entertaining way, the understandings and definitions of ‘woman’ and indeed ‘man’ need to be completely reinterpreted.

The magazine can and should be recreated as a feminist space in order to confront the problem of media sexism. There is a fantastic opportunity to go beyond preaching to the converted, and allow more to question what the media says to and for them.

Sadhbh O’Sullivan is co-founder and editor of Ladybeard magazine. Details of the magazine's launch party this Sunday can be found here.