The Problem with Women's Magazines

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As much as I enjoy chewy reads, I love reading mindless magazines as much as the next person. So I’ve read my share of women’s periodicals—especially for brainless entertainment.

Yet I only ever turn to women’s magazines for mind candy. When I seek something to expose a new topic or challenging line of thought, I look elsewhere.

Is that sad?

Light fluff and “articles” selling makeup and clothes and accessories and entertainment compose women’s magazines. The contents repeat each month: beauty tips, weight-loss tricks, fashion guidance, celebrity profiles, and skim-the-surface current-issues pieces that avoid hot buttons.

After reading one or two of these magazines, I weary of content telling me what to wear and how to look and what to buy, over and over and over again. Even when seeking brainless reading, I can only take so much superficial advice.

Citrus infuses today’s perfume trend? The season calls for plaid? Don’t care.

Women’s magazines target the widest possible readership by catering to as generic a female audience as possible—and refusing to publish anything controversial enough to turn off anyone.

It works. The first meaty current-issues publication I could find on a list of magazines by circulation was The New Yorker, which ranked 79th. Almost every mainstream fashion magazine ranked more highly, with Vogue at 58th. Good Housekeeping led the list in women’s magazines at 6th.

In return for large circulations, these magazines reap significant advertising dollars—and the attention of media-relations professionals who ply them with products to push. Good for them. Their cookie-cutter, bland tables of contents make for smart business.

So what’s the problem?

The category: “Women’s Magazines.” The descriptor implies that the topics therein comprise the only ones women find of interest.

And that makes me sad.

You think I’m too touchy? I should chalk up the term to an easy broad category definition and move on? Maybe.

Yet what we call things shapes how we see them. And how we see things affects how we treat them. The implication that women choose publications that shy away from challenging discussion and insightful debate could prove harmful.

Your take?