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Society'S Subordination : Popular Culture'S Ideologies

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Like it or not, popular culture is an undeniable influence on how society perceives itself. When examining mass culture, one must keep in mind the equilibrium between how much we, as a society, affect the way popular culture is constructed and to what extent popular culture influences the way we view ourselves and shapes our ideologies. An aspect of popular culture that may serve to greatly exemplify this theory of society as both the affecter and the affected is the genre of magazines targeted at young women. Though these publications are targeted as the representation of our society's adolescent females, they actually have a great influence over the ways in which teens view and construct certain social ideologies. This essay will shed light on the influences these publications have in shaping, regulating, and defining young women's perceptions of femininity, sexuality, and romance. Consequently, it will also reveal an irony in the fact that "women's magazines", written for (and mostly by) women actually mold their beliefs and actions into those that reinforce female subordination through the traditional standards of a patriarchal society.

For the purpose of analysis, I will focus on three publications for women, each with a slightly different audience according to the age and class brackets targeted and the subjects offered. In her analysis of one of Britain's women's magazines called Jackie, McRobbie identifies four codes that form the content of these publications: those of fashion and beauty, romance, personal and domestic life, and pop music (Christian-Smith,8). The magazines I will examine all exemplify the four factors of McRobbie's codes.

The first publication is a magazine called Twist. From the content, one may infer that the main target of this magazine is a high school age bracket. The cover stories include "Make-him-Melt Prom Hair and Makeup", "Is it Love or Lust", "Real Guys Reveal What Their Mixed Messages Really Mean", "New Zit Zappers", and "Celeb's Happiness Secrets". Inside, the reader finds pop music icons, advice on how to act and look to find a member of the opposite sex, advertisements targeted at younger consumers of cheaper goods, and pictures of stereotypically attractive teenagers.

The second magazine I will be discussing is Complete Woman. This magazine is aimed at a slightly older audience and includes more mature and in depth articles that focus on sex, dating, commitments, and love. The cover stories include "Men, Sex, and You: Real Men Tell You How to Push Their Pleasure Buttons", "Ten Ways to...Have a Lust-Worthy Body", "Sex and Love Guide", "Dare-to-Wear Lingerie", and "Make Him Yours Forever (Or, For as Long as You Want Him)". While Twist deals with sex more evasively, Complete Woman gives more detailed and open sexual advice. From the subject material, we can gather that this is a magazine aimed at older teenage to early twenty-year-old women. Because this publication contains no advertisements, it is difficult to make an analysis of class-orientation of this publication. However, we may assume because of the age bracket it targets, Complete Woman is aimed at about the same consumer class as Twist.

The final magazine I will be examining is Marie Claire. This is another publication aimed at a more mature audience, with a deeper focus on beauty through materialism. Like Complete Woman, it contains more explicit sexual detail and a more serious focus on relationships. Also, because of its abundance of advertisements of expensive cosmetics and clothing, we may assume that this magazine is class-specific to a wealthier consumer. Marie Claire's cover stories include "What Your Style Says About You", "How to Get Perfect Skin: 44 Products that Really Work", "How Often Do You Have Sex?", "Men: What They Don't Want You To Do", and "428 Fashion and Beauty Ideas".

Though the three magazines have slightly different audience targets, the underlying themes are basically the same. They deal with (heterosexual) romance, (hetero-) sexuality, physical beauty, and the idea of power and control through these factors. They teach young women the essential importance of a male romantic object and the importance of stereotypically subordinating physical and mental attributes in attaining such a goal. In conjunction with the advertisements, reading material, and photographs, the importance of materialism and consumerism is a constant underlying message. With the incorporation of some feminist analyses, it will become apparent that the messages these publications convey play a definite role in constructing ideologies of femininity and reinforcing stereotypical gender identities for their audience.

The key factor in popular culture via women's magazines is romance. Christian-Smith points out that romance is one of the "organizing principles" of the domestic and public spheres of young women and that the "code of romance" plays an active role in constructing feminine ideologies (16). If one considers the cultural influences of romance available to young women, they will find that much of it is represented through media such as women's magazines. While Christian-Smith focuses primarily on romance novels, she parallels her work with that of McRobbie's study of Jackie in a way that makes her work applicable to the women's magazines of this essay (148). Christian-Smith offers seven themes that structure the "code of romance" in popular culture:

1. Romance is a market relationship.

2. Romance is a heterosexual practice.

3. Romance manages sexuality while privileging nongenital forms of sexual expression.

4. Romance is a transforming experience giving meaning to heroines' lives and endowing heroines with prestige.

5. Romance is about the dominance of men and the subordination of women.

6. Romance is about learning to relate to men.

7. Romance is a personal, private experience (17-18).

These stereotypes are ever-present in all three of our magazines, inferring that romance should be the main focus of a post-pubescent girl's attention. None of the magazines I examined offered advice on how to lead an independent life, but focused on happiness through a male counterpart. The best article to represent the view of the magazines comes from Complete Woman and is titled, "Listen Up - Don't Break Up!". As a result of these types of ideals, girls learn



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