This internet, most magazines in the 21st century

This chapter examines a few popular women’s magazines read
across USA, UK and India. The four primary magazines titles under the scanner
in this chapter would be Good
Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Femina
and Sananda. It should be mentioned that the
secondary sources include publications like Grazia, Vogue,
Filmfare and the feminist
publication Ms. With the advent of the internet, most magazines in the
21st century are now available online. However, there are usually
two versions of most of these journals. One version is available in print, the
other online. Though it may have been worthwhile to
focus on a particular decade or era in women’s magazines, I have endeavored to
look at the past fifty years of their existence, to get a sense of their
history and the role they play in women’s history. “Women’s
magazines” is in itself a vast term which includes various titles and
genres. Nevertheless, no matter what the genre is, a sizeable section of these
magazines are full of advertisements. Hence, it becomes important to study some
of these advertisements. Before examining the pages of these magazines in
details, it is worthwhile to devote sometime to briefly study the nuances of


i)      Advertisements:

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have a regularly allocated budget for research that tries to ascertain consumer
reactions. Catchy slogans and the use of positive words like “life” or “energy”
help advertisers to sell their products by creating an illusion of desire. Much
money is spent by advertisers to promote things that the consumer does not
actually need. Hence this involves a manipulation of consumers’ desires by
creating a false sense of need. The reader or viewer thus is duped into
believing that buying certain cosmetics would translate to buying beauty. In
this manner, concepts of families, homes, partners, youth, happiness and beauty
are sold to the consumers everyday through advertisements.

is a known fact that the pictures presented in advertisements portray
stereotypical roles for men and women in society. In a review analyzing
sex-roles in the media, it was found that 90% doctors are male and half the
women were housewives. Advertising emphasizes traditional patriarchal notions
of roles for women – and shows that their place is within the house (mainly
kitchen and bathroom) – as a wife or mother. The predominant image for women
was not that of a corporate business working woman. Moreover, a woman is more
often than not shown to be a young fashionable model with large breasts and
narrow waists. The over representation of the young and the beautiful in
advertisements, actually symbolizes society’s attachment to these ideals. 1

families shown are mostly nuclear where the men go out to work, while the women
cook, clean and serve food. The stereotyping of roles works for men too.  So the men are seldom portrayed in the
kitchen. They may often be the salesmen for gadgets and compliances, but the
buyers and users are women. Psychological theories behind the advertising world
draw from Freud’s theories of the conscious and unconscious mind. Advertisers
know that to appeal to the buyers, they must strike a chord in the unconscious
mind. For this, visual images are much more powerful and potent than mere
verbal messages. Actions and images speak louder than words. The message is
thus tailored according to the target group and medium where it is used. Women’s
magazines like the GH thus have many
more advertisements on household items and appliances than Vogue or Cosmopolitan
would. 2 These latter journals would instead feature advertisements
on cosmetics, clothes and other products of fashion and beauty.

stereotypes to basic necessities is a fundamental characteristic of these
magazines. Magazines like Working Woman
too are filled with advertisements of household items and cosmetics. However,
advertisements for tobacco, cars or alcohol are not featured here. These are
found in magazines that target male readers. Until recently, popular women’s
magazines on lifestyle were more in numbers than those for men. Men’s magazines
like Forbes were to do with trade or business. Recently, however, there has
been an increase in the number of lifestyle publications for men as well. They
include – Maxim, Esquire and Loaded. All these magazines, for men as well as
for women, play a significant part in constructing notions of gender in society.



Suzanne Romaine in her book  Communicating Gender says:

“The advertisements and the feature content
of magazines (e.g., fashion, beauty, food, problems with the opposite sex)
construct representations of femininity and masculinity for their reader.”3

like Firestone, thus, Romain’s research also shows and validates ample evidence
of the significant impact of these magazines on social constructions of gender.
The forthcoming section examines in some details the pages of the magazines.
The first one of these four is – Good Housekeeping.


The first magazine under
surveillance in this section is Good Housekeeping. In 1987, Janice
Winship had written about the ‘double-edged’ character of conducting research
on women’s magazines, in her study Inside Women’s Magazines (1987). As a
feminist, she felt both a repulsion from these magazines as well as a strange allure.
In her words it was a ‘simultaneous attraction and rejection’ towards women’s
magazines. Winship shares that this aspect had problematised and hindered her
research of this genre for quite some time. 
She explains that on the one hand she was fascinated by the relaxing aspect
of ‘escape’ that these journals provided. Hence she realized well the reason
for their mass popularity. On the other hand, being a feminist, she felt a strong
necessity to ideologically reject the erection of the concept of womanhood projected
by these popular women’s magazines:

‘Many of the guises of femininity in women’s magazines contribute to
the secondary status from which we still desire to free ourselves. At the same
time it is the dress of femininity which is both source of the pleasure of
being a woman … and in part the raw material for a feminist vision of the
future’. (Winship, 1987) 4


This conflict of interest is
something that many modern readers report to have experienced while reading women’s
magazines. It is not easier for contemporary women to handle the ethical and
moral dilemma today than it was a few years ago. There is a certain sense of
duality about women’s magazines. When one considers the titles of magazines
like Good Housekeeping or Ideal Home, they describe and prescribe
a domestic role for women. This often appears to incorporate both – an old
fashioned stereotypical gender construction (for instance in a magazine, like Good
Housekeeping, the reference is to a domesticated time for women) but at the
same time present more in terms of career advice, the suggestion of disposable
income and the assumption of independence than ever before.


Good Housekeeping is a magazine for women owned by the Hearst
Corporation. It was
founded in 1885 by Clark Bryan. The founder had indicated that the objective
of the magazine was to help the family to achieve a better life. It was,
according to Bryan, “a family journal conducted in the interests of the
higher life of the household.” The magazine features topics related to housekeeping that are supposedly
of interest to women readers. 5

 In 1911, the magazine touched a circulation of 300,000, and was bought by the Hearst
Corporation. It crossed one million subscriptions in the
mid-1920s, and continued to rise. The circulation grew even during the Great Depression. In 1938, the magazine advertising dropped by 22 percent. Then, Good Housekeeping presented an effective revenue of
$2,583,202. This was more than thrice the profit of Hearst’s other eight
magazines combined,6 and probably the most profitable monthly of its time. Circulation topped
2,500,000 in 1943, 3,500,000 in the mid-1950s, 5,000,000 in 1962, and 5,500,000
per month in 1966. 1959 profits were more than $11 million.7

Good Housekeeping belongs to a group of women’s magazines
known as the “Seven Sisters”. In 1922, the
Hearst Corporation created a British edition along the same lines. Many famous writers wrote for this
magazine – including Somerset Maugham, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Frances Parkinson Keyes, A. J. Cronin, Virginia Woolf, and Evelyn Waugh. An analysis of the sales and
circulation of Good Housekeeping magazines in the UK between 2003 and 2015 show
a figure of about 392 thousand copies. 8

In 2016 GH was ranked 7th
amongst the topmost circulated magazines in the USA. The number of copies in
circulation were cited as 4,427,964. 9

“Top 100 U.S. Magazines by
Circulation” (PDF). PSA Research Center.
Retrieved February 6, 2016.

The articles in GH cover
products tested by The Good Housekeeping Institute, recipes, diet, health as
well as literary articles. It is famed for the “Good Housekeeping
Seal,” popularly referred to as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of

GH featured images:

Featured below is a cover page of a Good Housekeeping magazine from
1961. The image of the little girl is a painted picture, unlike in magazines of
the 21st century, where the cover pages feature photographs of

 Image 1

The next image shows two inner pages featuring the table of contents of
this August 1961 issue of GH. The image of a child in her mother’s arm is a
typical stereoptype.

Image 2

It projects the mother as the natural care-giver, who must know how much
and what medicine must be given to the sick child. Even the titles of the
articles are open advice to women on how to go about their household duties
with ease. For instance articles like “For the very Young Wife” feature
housekeeping tips or “Mother’s Guide to Bird watching” depicts pictures of
children in and about the house. There is an interesting write up about
Princeton University admitting its first woman student in its 215th
year. This news end with the line: “Well, she’s used to being with men.” Thus
somehow by turning the attention back to the other gender, the sensational news
loses its lustre.

The next image shows two covers of two GH magazines from the early 21st

Both covers portray photographs of well-known celebrities. Both the
women featured in image 3 are actresses in Bollywood. The wide smiles, body
language and postures of these women exude a sense of happiness and confidence.

Image 3

Contents of GH:

is always in the 21st century
GH, a section on health. This can be seen in the image below – that
illustrates the concern of the magazine with important issues as well as the
trivial. The topics on health range from advice on maintaining a proper diet to
taking care of teeth or heart to managing hair loss. In the 19060s there was an
open agenda of teaching women to take care of the entire household. In the 21st
century on the other hand, there is some more focus on the women themselves.

Image 4

is also a separate section on Beauty. This bit usually features advice from
celebrities with glamorous photographs to validate their positions and
comments. Image 5

is also some presence of advertisements from certain companies on products
related to beauty. These advertisements are often published under the guise of
counsel. The next section illustrates some advertisements found in this

Some advertisements from the 1960’s GH are featured below.

It would be worth noting that all the products needed for domestic work
use only female models. Women and young girls are seen as the sole rulers of
this domain of domesticity. Thus while the mother labours away at domestic
chores, the little daughter assists her alongside, thereby promulgating an
invisible norm for society to harbor and follow. The image below typifies this
sexist view – of women washing clothes and making the bed.

 Image 6


Even scrubbing the collars of the shirts worn by men
are done by  women – as signified by the
perfectly manicured  ‘feminine’ hand
holding the brush – in the image below:

Image 7

Just by reversing this above image, if we visualise
that the hand was holding gun instead, it would have been a picture of
empowerment. There is in these advertisements, a show of help. These household
products convey the sense of helping women by making their tasks easier.
However, while suggesting ways for women to handle domestic labour well, they
magazines serve a patriarchal purpose. By showing how the household chores can
be better carried out by women, the advertisements in these magazines actually powerfully
reinforce the domestic roles of women in society. The visual medium – is known to
convey much more strongly than words. So these pictures make an powerful impact
on the minds of the readers. They leave an indellible imprint which projects
that it is the duty of women to starch clothes, clean collars, make the bed and

At the same time, the woman also needs to take care of
her appearance. So the section of beauty product related advertisements
contains photos of women spraying perfume or controlling their diet to lose

Image 8


is an entire section of the magazines that is dedicated to kitchen, recipes,
food and cooking. A promotion for some sauce would often be camouflaged as a
recipe. So in the 1960s and 70s, the advertisement for Hunt’s sauce would
feature an interesting new recipe of fried rice. The reader would thereby carry
back the image of the thick red sauce and recall this visual queue when she is
grocery shopping at the supermarket or neighbourhood departmental store next

 Image 9


advertisements in the 21st century:

this has not changed even in the 21st century! So a similar
advertisement can also be seen in a recent 2008 issue of GH. Only this time the product has changed to Tabasco sauce. The
external packaging however, remains the same.

 Image 10


are in addition to these advertisement, articles that always show the kitchen as
being a space for women. This again helps to reinforce the hidden agenda of the
magazine. The editors and writers it seems were trying to lay the foundations
of stereotyped roles for men and women. Being a magazine for women, the GH had a crucial role to play in leading
the readers to imagine how or where they should be.


woman’s place in the 21st century still appears to be in the
kitchen. Her ‘dreams’ should be related to this special space. This is where
she rightfully belongs. The below image comprises two snapshots – each
prescribing to women to get the kitchen ‘right’ , thereby implicating that
there can be a way that is not right. So it becomes important for the woman
readers to be on the right place as far as kitchens are concerned. The home is
an extension of the kitchen, so that ‘space’ must be well guarded and
maintained by the women.




for a variety of dishes continue to be shared in the 21st century
magazine issues. It is here – in this space – of her kitchen, that women will
successfully prepare the exotic dishes. Competitions for readers are also
regularly featured to cater to the various culinary interests. The below image
is from a 2008 edition, featuring a recipe for a crème brulee (Cream Brule.)



is of course, a dedicated section on beauty and make-up. The section on beauty at
times features tips and tricks. However, what strikes out as new is the fact
that the model in the cosmetic advertisement sports short hair. In the 20th
century most beauty and cosmetics models sported medium to long hair.  This boyish cut thus is part of a new image of
the 21st century woman. It is symbolic of an increase in the power
of women to not be restricted to the traditional long-haired look.

image is also symbolic of breaking a stereotype. The advertisers want to subtly
appeal to the unconscious mind of the readers. So an advertisement is good not
only when it sells the product but also when it leaves a lasting impression on
the minds of the viewers or readers. A break from the norm”thus may have been
used to capture the readers’attention and to hold it.

Image 13

light and frivolous topics in women’s magazines include mainly beauty tips, and
relationship advice. Unlike most other magazines, GH also regularly keeps some topics that deal with more serious
issues. Some serious topics in GH
include – Finance, investment, raising children, disciplining and even recent
topics like divorce and re-marriage.

Image 17


issues are always a major hit it seems with all these life-style magazines.
Only the approach and the illustrations differ.

Image 18



Magazine was originally called The Cosmopolitan. It was launched in 1886 as a
family magazine by Schlicht and Field Publishers. After changing several
publishers, it became popular for its serialized novels and short stories. In
1950s, with the rise of the television and cheap paperback books, circulation
for magazines like the Cosmo dwindled. In 1965, the Hearst Company (publishers
of Cosmo at the time) were planning to stop production of the magazine.  It was around the same time that the magazine
industry was going through a shift in its perspective. Magazines were beginning
to shift their focus from general interest to special interest themes – aimed
at specific groups of readers.

Now, Helen Gurley Brown, an author of a best
seller called Sex and the single Girl was
looking for a publisher to launch a magazine that would speak to the women
readers of her book. Her target was young professional women who were trying hard
to find and make a place in the modern world – for themselves. Brown sent a
proposal to the Hearst Company for this. They gave her the reins instead of
closing down the magazine. Brown changed The Cosmopolitan to Cosmopolitan as
the new editor. It shocked many people in the mid sixties to find a magazine
for young or single women talking about sex freely. To top it off, the magazine
even encouraged women to enjoy themselves like men did.

Brown published a cover story on the birth control
pill titled