What do women learn from magazines?

On 2nd of December Teresa Doherty, Tricia French and I organised the first of a series of (what we hope will become) termly Gender and Education Association events at The Women’s Library. About 30 people came to discuss what women learn from magazines. The chair, Kim Allen from London Metropolitan University, and the two speakers (pictured left), Pamela Church-Gibson from the London College of Fashion and Hatty Oliver from Goldsmiths University of London, kicked things off.

Both Pamela and Hatty highlighted the ways that the learning offered by women’s magazines is increasingly that of how to consume. Pamela looked back to a time when magazines were about more; when they offered practical advice to help women in their everyday lives rather than simply advice on how and what fashions to consume. Hatty traced the shift in British magazines from Elle to Look and discussed the views of women journalists who work for magazines now, showing how they see their women readers as wanting two things: escapism and practical information, but argued that both are framed within consumer culture.

Throughout the talks and the questions and answers that followed, it was clear that women have an ambiguous relationship with magazines – often gaining pleasure from them while critiquing them – they are indeed guilty pleasures. This is something that comes through strongly in the exhibition on women’s magazines currently at The Women’s Library – which Teresa Doherty took attendees on a guided tour round. The exhibition includes extracts from interviews with women magazine editors and contributors, many examples from the library’s extensive magazine collection and a video of women talking about their consumption of magazines.

We tried to create a relaxed atmosphere at the event. This seemed to work as people hung around afterwards continuing their discussions over mulled wine, mince pies and soft drinks. Interestingly one person told me as she left that she was off to make pear and parsnip soup. “Did you get that recipe from a magazine?” I asked half-jokingly, but indeed she had found it in Country Life – which her mum had given her a subscription to.

Heather Mendick (GEA Executive)


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