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Women's Magazines: Reinforcing the Patriarchy Using Women to Police Women

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I read Cosmo once when I was a teenager. It had an article on why swallowing sperm was bad: it's high in calories. Clearly, this is what you should be thinking of when having sex: whether or not you will get "fat". Not thinking about preventing STDs or ensuring that your relationship involves mutual respect and consideration so that both partners are sexually fulfilled without one doing something that makes them uncomfortable. Nope, swallowing is bad because it makes women fat. Of course, that was 15 years ago. Considering the mainstreaming of porn, I'm sure swallowing is mandatory and those pesky calories can be covered by not eating anything else that day.

That is the purpose of women's magazines: to make women realise how imperfect and pathetic they are and then flog them clothes, make-up and other assorted crap to make them feel like "real" women, as if there is a reachable category of "real women". It's capitalism. Yes, some magazines like Marie Claire used to be pro-women including articles on work/life balance, sexual health and family relationships. But, that isn't what they sell now. Women's magazines now sell that same old reductive, constrictive, and boring construction of female sexuality where we need to be sexually available to men at all times and concerned entirely with their orgasms whilst at the same time doing all the childcare, housework, and ensuring that we remain entirely fuckable by being physically perfect.

This is why I wasn't at all shocked by OK Magazine's newest cover story: "Kate's Post-Baby Weight Loss Regime". Body-shaming a woman less than 48 hours after they gave birth is entirely keeping within the normative behaviour of women's magazines. OK Magazine might have been the first of the women's magazines to publish diet tips for the Duchess of Cambridge but they won't be the last. They certainly weren't the only magazine body-shaming the Duchess of Cambridge during her pregnancy. Not a week goes by without a woman's magazine body-shaming other women for being too fat, too thin, too orange, too pale, for having "cankles" or cellulite. Nothing women do is ever right and this without addressing the media who've congratulated the Duchess of Cambridge on giving birth to a boy as if she should [and could] have sent a girl back to the stork for exchange. Equally perplexing are those who have congratulated the Duchess of Cambridge for not hiding her "post-baby belly" as if she could have misplaced it for the ten-minute walk from the hospital entrance to the car.

The body-shaming of women isn't the only harm that women's magazines cause: they shame women for having sex too often whilst excusing men for having affairs. They publish articles attacking women so we can laugh at Kerry Katona or Britney Spears and buy make-up at the same time. The fact that both Kerry Katona and Britney Spears had very public breakdowns because they were ill is irrelevant. They are lambasted for being what "good" women shouldn't be and we get to make ourselves feel better about failing the Patriarchal Fuckability Test by humiliating other women.

Women's magazines reinforce the Patriarchy by using women to police other women. We become our own jailers: judging other women for not shaving their legs, having grey hair, or being overweight. Women buy magazines that call women who have literally just given birth fat. Women buy magazines that tell them they are frigid for not wanting to have anal sex, as if consent is irrelevant. Women buy magazines that tell them to shut up in order to get a man. Women buy magazines that tell them that they can only be one of two things: fuckable or invisible.

Personally, I will dance in the streets at the demise of women's magazines. I am glad that women are choosing to use blogs and twitter to talk with other women. Collaborative blogs like Jezebel, F-Word and Vagenda are replacing Cosmo and OK Magazine. These online magazines aren't without their own problems but they are a start. Teenage girls, who are surrounded by a pornified culture that devalues and denigrates them, can access Scarleteen for information on sexuality and birth control. The Internet might be responsible for the explosion in violent pornography but it's also the place of a deeply subversive underground of brilliant women writers who are fighting back; refusing to police the behaviour of other women in order to receive some crumbs from the Patriarchy's Table of Plenty.

Women loving and supporting each other is what will destroy the Patriarchy. We need to stop financially supporting media, from magazines to television, which is built on body-shaming and humiliating other women. We need to remember what sisterhood actually means and stop buying into capitalist, patriarchal rhetoric on the "good " woman and remember that we are all beautiful.

Otherwise, we are doomed to see magazine cover after magazine cover calling a new mother fat.