ABOUT MORE!: THE SEXUAL LANGUAGE OF YOUNG WOMEN'S MAGAZINES
On this page
(by David Gauntlett) we consider whether the sexual freedom
and assertiveness encouraged by magazines like More (and its sisters, like
Cosmopolitan and Glamour) is a good thing for young women - basically,
I argue that it is - and then we see what some actual teenagers think about this,
via the results of some brand new qualitative research conducted over the internet.
a British magazine aimed at older teenagers and twentysomething women, although
it is also enjoyed by younger teenagers eager to read a more 'grown up' magazine.
International viewers might think of an even more youthful and zesty version of
Cosmopolitan, with even more emphasis on sex and enthusiastic discussion
of how you can make men submit to your sexual will.
The content of
More is a clear-cut positive rejection of the stuffy old conservatism about
sexual matters that was around 10 or 20 years ago. It is emphatically post-traditonal
- or, indeed, anti-traditional (in terms of its exuberant celebration of female
desire). Like other 'girl power' texts, it emphasises that women should be able
to get what they want from men, when they want it; that men should not dictate
the terms of a relationship; that a woman has the right to look and dress however
she likes, for her own pleasure; and that a woman has the right to demand satisfaction
in sex, in work, and in every other area of life.
course, there are some problems with this recipe. It is emphatically heterosexual
(in a way that is not really undermined by the occasional feature on the joys
of lesbianism). Some people complain that the magazines reduce women to sex-obsessed
predators, and objectify men as 'eye candy' - but this is a blatant reversal of
the traditional 'male gaze', and remains powerful politically. Also, like all
women's magazines (and to a lesser extent, men's magazines) they may promote an
ideal of attractiveness which readers may be unable or unwilling to attain.
has argued that feminists should not dismiss magazines such as More out
of hand. She admits that such magazines may not exactly reflect feminist ideals,
but points out that, as far as many young women are concerned, academic feminism
is part of the world of middle-aged authority figures - and we cannot really expect
young people to simply 'do what they are told' by the establishment. Nevertheless,
McRobbie says that 'feminism exists as a productive tension' in the magazines.
More and Cosmo do promote the kinds of confidence, self-awareness
and assertiveness that feminism was always calling for: woman are encouraged to
know their own bodies and their needs, to articulate what they want, and to make
well-informed decisions based on their own interests and desires, and not
what other people want them to do. As I say in Media, Gender and Identity
In the magazines
for older teenagers and young women, the encouragement of women to be sexual actors
- even predators - rather than sexual objects or victims, reflects a 'feminist'
turning of the tables. Feminists never really suggested that having sex with lots
of men was a goal in itself, but the rejection of passive femininity, and the
freedom to openly desire others, is feminist progress.
So that's one view,
but really we need to check it out by talking to actual teenagers. To that end,
I spent a lot of time on internet message boards for teenagers, such as Teenfront.co.uk,
sending messages and emails to young people from the UK and further afield. (Being
a 30 year old man hanging out on teen websites for research purposes raises ethical
concerns, of course - I was always careful to say who I was, what I was doing,
and reminding teenagers not to disclose their address or other personal details
to anyone on the net).
Most of the young
women liked More's openness about sexual matters:
I get every issue
of More magazine and I think it is good that they talk about sex in the
way that they do. I think that More is aimed at people in their late teens
(e.g. 15/16 to early twenties or older) so the majority of these people are probably
sexually active and the information they give you is good for these types of people.
I am 16 and have been getting More for about a year now, before that I
got Bliss magazine but I felt that I was growing out of it a bit. I still
buy other mags too though like Bliss and J17. I personally think
that if someone is reading More magazine and their parents are not happy
with the content, they should not let them buy More magazine. But I think
that More has a lot of information to offer about sex, and young people
need educating about the facts, the more information you have the more you are
going to know. Magazines are another source of information. My mum said she did
disapprove at first of me reading More magazine because of the men on the
centre pages and the sex position of the fortnight etc, but she was just finding
it hard to believe that I was growing up - she still let me read it though. I
don't think my mum has any problem with me reading it now though. So basically
I think that More is good for the right age group.
age 16, UK)
I think they should
have a bit about sex in them, because some people don't know properly about sex
and stuff, but are too embarrassed to ask at home about it, but if they see it
in a mag it might help them a bit... But if there's too much it does get boring.
I think it's good
that magazines discuss sex... I'm 17, and I think it would be unrealistic to expect
a magazine aimed at my age group not to discuss sex, as it's already 'part of
our lives' if you know what I mean. Personally, I think that sex being discussed
in magazines makes me feel more confident, as the stuff you read in magazines
is probably more reliable that the stuff people tell you, and so, if you know
facts about getting pregnant or whatever, you are more likely to make 'informed
choices' about sex etc.
responses made direct and indirect reference to changing gender roles and historical
I agree that with
magazines discussing sex help us teens realise not only that we have to be careful,
but I think it has made me more confident. With girl power and all, it has changed
the roles a lot - not long ago the men were the bread winners and the women stayed
at home looking after the children. Now it has all changed, a lot of women are
the main money bringers, which would have seemed odd, back then.
It's good that
magazines write about sex and boys. You learn so much, and it's pretty interesting
too. Boys are still ahead of us girls with lust and stuff. If a girl has sex with
some guys, people call her a slut, and if a boy does the same thing people consider
him cool. It's not totally equal, yet. But I hope it will be some day. In relationships
it's more equal, I guess. I think it's great that magazines brings the 'girl power-message'.
It makes you feel more confident, and it helps you 2 stand up for your rights
as a girl!
I reckon its great
about equality, that something I feel strongly about everyone should be equal.
however, I do think that sex is still a bit of a taboo subject hence all the teenage
pregnancies. I think nowadays it is more open but not completely. in relationships
girls are being the more dominant role and I reckon thats great we should all
have a chance, but I think it tends to be the boys with the more dominant role.
woman was supportive of sex coverage in general, so that readers would be well
informed, but raised concerns about the tone of the writing:
I think it's good
that sex can be discussed in magazines as other types of media are a lot less
willing to do it. However, More is slightly worrying as it focuses on the
sex itself rather than the emotion, like younger mags (e.g. J17), and it
only carries a small thing at the bottom of the page about contraception. If we've
got one of the highest pregnancy rates then why aren't mags constantly promoting
'safe' rather than 'fun' sex? Kids need to be clued up and with the prudish society
we live in, mags are sometimes the easiest way to get it. As long as the content
is aimed at the audience and is informative, I see no problem whatsoever. In my
opinion, if parents aren't willing to talk openly to their children about sex
then they're in no position to criticise mags that give them the information they
Others were less
certain that a lot of material about sex was a good idea:
I think that you
should have not too much about sex, but you should have some of it but just the
right amount, as if there's too much it gets really boring.
And some found
the repetitive emphasis on sex rather oppressive:
I'm a virgin and
don't really understand what the point in underage sex is to be honest! I think
I'd want to have sex when I'm settled with someone I love, not just to lose my
virginity. ... I think mags inform people about safe sex and I agree that all
these 'Sleeping with my best mate's boyfriend' stories are quite funny.
not really a 'teenage' magazine of the same category as stuff like Bliss,
Sugar, J17 etc. I'm 17, and so technically still a teenager, and
it's one of the ones we most read now. Some of my friends actually keep the 'position
of the fortnight' bits, either for current use with their boyfriends, or for future
ideas! I think it aims to make women feel more powerful about sex, like they're
in control etc, which is a good thing. As a 17 year old who is still a virgin,
however, I do sometimes get a bit depressed by it. I find the 'younger' mags I've
mentioned before too immature for me, but reading about all these people and their
various romps does sometimes make me think 'what's wrong with me, why aren't I
doing this?' The paradox is that I tell myself I'm happy being a virgin, that
in the end it'll be worth it, and anyway, it's not like there's been any great
opportunity for me to lose it. But sometimes it seems to be implying that what
goes on in their stories etc is 'normal' and a positive thing to be encouraging,
and that those of us who aren't doing it are missing out. The publishers will
probably argue that it isn't aimed at our age group, it's meant for a bit older,
but everyone reads it, and so is influenced by it.
I'm 14 and even
though I don't often read magazines like that, when I do I find it annoying. It
seems to put pressure on teens to have sex, which I think is stupid.
teenagers were well able to think critically about the magazines. Although some
young and not-quite-so-young readers found the repeated sex themes to be rather
claustrophobic, most readers recognised that they were useful in information
terms, and also somewhat empowering, particularly when considered in contrast
with gender roles and attitudes of the past.
Of course, it could
be argued that teenagers themselves are not best qualified to say what they should
and should not be reading - shouldn't that be left to psychologists, teachers,
politicians, social scientists? Well, maybe these authority figures can make a
contribution, but we have seen (here and elsewhere) that young people are relatively
cautious and sensible about their media choices - even surprisingly conservative
'girl power' messages of magazines like More give young women a language
of empowerment and self-fulfillment which is a vibrant element to stir into the
mix of influences that teenagers face every day. This only makes sense within
certain limits, of course - sexual power is not the same as power in other arenas,
such as the workplace, and an emphasis on sexuality is often (though not necessarily)
linked to certain notions of glamour and beauty. Nevertheless, the positive, confident
message of magazines like More is surely a refreshing change from the subservient
feminine lifestyle models of the past.
Got any comments?