Magazine Woman: Sex-obsessed and irresponsible

Women's magazines are a moral vacuum where women are portrayed as sex-obsessed, selfish and superficial according to a report out today. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, finds a traditionalist agenda behind the attack.
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The Independent Online
If you are a woman and read magazines do you recognise yourself in this description: "Today's British woman has no children, no cares, and no responsibilities. Her life is a round of indulgences, and indulgences of a distinctly tawdry kind. She rarely thinks, and when she does it is about sex. In pursuit of sex and other whims she is happy to desert a faithful and loving husband. Increasingly she enjoys drunken pranks once associated with adolescent boys. She calls this `Girl Power'."

This is not a tract from a woman- hating, Victorian puritanical sect. It is description of "Magazine Woman" by a right-wing think tank. Magazine Woman is an amalgam of all that is worst about modern magazines.

The Social Affairs Unit, an offshoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs, set 12 right-wing academics and journalists to reading a range of women's magazines from Cosmopolitan to the Lady. The group of six men and six women included Janet Daley a regular on Radio 4's Moral Maze, the journalist Anne Applebaum, the political science don Professor Kenneth Minogue, and Digby Anderson, the unit's director. They didn't like what they read.

"A diet of horrors, mixed with half- witted trivialisation of sexual matters... distorts our moral landscape, twisting it away from reality," according to one.

Like the magazines it criticises, the report gets agitated about sex: "Magazine Woman exhibits a predatory and aggressive attitude in her search for sexual conquest... there is a coarseness, savagery and voyeurism in the monotonously sexual language." The report is shocked to discover: "Men, for Magazine Woman, seem to be nothing but sex objects, to be alternately hankered after, desired, scorned or ridiculed."

Worse still, magazines are having a bad effect on women's cooking skills: the short cut to the bedroom is, for example, mirrored by the short cuts in the kitchen. Here a preoccupation is with saving time and effort, even if the effort would be minimal and the time a matter of seconds. This dish is "quick", this one "easy". Unbelievably "Magazine Woman cooks largely for her own gratification, thinking little of those upon whom she inflicts her food. She is too lazy, incompetent and selfish to be a good cook" - in comparison, as the report says, to the 19th-century women.

Not all women's magazines are criticised by the report. More traditional magazine such as Bella and Prima which offer useful advice and pleasant entertainment for a lower middle-class reader who is running a home and bringing up children - "content in her role as wife, as mother" - as opposed to the other magazines which rarely mention children.

The gentlewoman's companion, the Lady, also comes in for praise as the most intelligent magazine and "a good read".

Magazines have reacted angrily to the report: "Thank God a bunch of middle- age, right-wing academics found they had nothing in common with a magazine edited for bright, fun, twentysomething women," said Fiona McIntosh, editor of Company, which was singled out for particular criticism. "From what little sense I can make of their fire and brimstone diatribe it seems they most admired the Lady. So crocheting doilies and potting petunias is the key to a successful modern women's magazine."

Marie O'Riordan, editor of Elle, joined the attack: "This report is so offensive it is hard to place it in any intelligent context. It just doesn't understand women's relationship with magazines. That they are a treat, they are escapism ... you don't always want to be reminded of your children." Mandi Norwood, editor of Cosmopolitan, was also angry at the report. "After almost 10 years in women's magazines, you get used to people using magazines as a scapegoat for every ill in society," she said.

"It makes me angry when it comes from academics with no understanding of magazines and young women. It's insulting to society as a whole; they annihilate every woman who's ever bought a magazine."

She added: "If you want to be reminded of your children or cooking, you'll buy a children-orientated practical magazine. It's ridiculous to suggest that Cosmo should be talking about children, husbands or cookery. Frankly, I'd be concerned if dinosaurs like this did like Cosmo."

Fiona McIntosh, editor of Company, which was singled out for particular criticism by the report. `Thank God a bunch of middle-age, right-wing academics found they had nothing in common with a magazine edited for bright, fun, twentysomething women.'

Marie O'Riordan, editor of Elle, joined the attack: `This report is so offensive it is hard to place it in any intelligent context. It just doesn't understand women's relationship with magazines. That they are a treat, they are escapism.'

Mandi Norwood, editor of Cosmopolitan, said: `If you want to be reminded of your children or cooking, you'll buy a children-orientated practical magazine. It's ridiculous to suggest that Cosmo should be talking about children, husbands or cookery'

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