The media is a very powerful force. Within the western world we encounter its forces everyday, and whether we choose to be consumed by it or not, it influences our culture and the way we view ourselves. Women’s magazines play a huge role in shaping how genders and races are perceived and perceive themselves. Power, culture and representation are all at play to varying degrees within women’s magazines. However, it is the way that these concepts interact, which has the greatest impact on our society.
It is the representation of genders and races within women’s magazines, and the degrees to which they are empowered or disempowered that ultimately impacts heavily on our culture. Power is generally defined as a form in which groups or individuals can implement control over other individuals or groups. However, as Michael Foucault argues, power is not an asset which people have; it is something that is exercised within relationships and interactions. (1998: p93) “Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere….Order now
Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (The History of Sexuality, Volume One: the Will to Knowledge 1998. p93) Representation is continuously at play within our civilization. Everything we read, watch and hear through the media represents something about our society. It may not adequately represent the reality, but it does represent certain ideals within society.
Therefore, it is essential to look at representation in its many forms. As Leisbet Van Zoonen asserts “There is no such thing as a delivered presence or “truth in cultural discourse, but inevitably a re-presence or representation” (Questioning the Media: A Critical Introduction 1995: p 319). Van Zoonen follows Edward Said’s suggestion that “analysis must therefore focus on a variety of discursive elements, not the correctness of representation nor its fidelity to some great original” (cited by Van Loonen 1995: p 319) Culture is the world that surrounds us.
It is a set of values that draws a group together and which we grow to understand. Tony Thwaites defines culture as “the ensemble of social practices by which meanings are produced, circulated and exchanged”. (Tools for Cultural Studies 1994: p1) However, he is quick to point out that culture does not produce one standard meaning. “Meanings migrate from one context to another, sometimes ending up very far from where they started – they are always getting displaced, diverted, reworked and exchanged. It is the very process of meaning. ” (1994: p1)
The world has its own culture, countries have their own culture, cities have their own culture, and it is the influences within those boundaries which produce a culture. Gillian Rose uses the metaphor of a watershed encompassing a city to describe the way in which many different beliefs, customs and values are geographically bound to produce a culture in itself. “Cities are a cultural watershed, for in the city there are diverse cultures, customs, beliefs and values”(Gillian Rose; cited in Key concepts in Cultural Theory 1999: p. 102).
In today’s society it is incredibly important to understand the way the media functions. The media not only provides information, it is a very powerful signifier of who we are as a whole, and has the ability to exert large amounts of influence. Therefore, it is important that we understand and are able to critically examine what is being fed to us everyday and why. By analysing the way power, representation and culture are at play we are able to gain a greater understanding of how the media functions, which subsequently enables us the discerningly evaluate its influence and content.
Despite the fact that within the media, women’s magazines generally fall into the same category, the enormous range of titles do not contain the same content and target a diverse set of female audiences. To understand the way power, representation and culture are at play it is essential to look at women’s magazines as a whole and individually. Consequently, I will look at women’s magazines covering an array of demographics from Dolly to Cosmopolitan to Woman’s Day and Vogue.