This month the Feminist Fashion Bloggers are considering women in the media and popular culture. Obviously, media and popular culture is a pretty wide field, but what immediately came to mind was magazines.
Now, I have a pretty ambivalent relationship with magazines, and have done ever since I graduated from the kind of comics which just had cartoon stories in to the ones which had articles on fashion and beauty and pictures of pop stars I was supposed to fancy; I just wasn’t interested in the kinds of things the magazines told me I should be interested in. Even at the age of ten or eleven I could dimly sense that my Girl and Jackie magazines were trying to push a lifestyle that I didn’t really want; eventually I ditched them in favour of a subscription to Doctor Who Magazine, and later the NME and Melody Maker. In my twenties I did occasionally buy Cosmopolitan and later Red and Marie Claire, if only to look at the pictures of clothes and read the career advice articles, although I haven’t done so for a few years; I was getting increasingly fed up with the magazines’ assumption that their readers would all have or want to have children, and the final straw was when my eye was caught by a column on the beuaty pages (which I never really read) suggesting that it was perfectly natural and understandable that men would find ‘ungroomed’ female pubic hair repulsive, at which point I threw the magazine across the room and decided I could do without spending rather a lot of money on something which was trying to tell me that my body was disgusting.
Since then, the only magazines I’ve bought have been craft magazines, but those aren’t perfect either. A lot of the knitting magazines are aimed at more traditional knitters, and are full of patterns for children’s clothes and stuffed toys. I do like some of the newer magazines, though; Knitting and The Knitter in particular generally concentrate on garment patterns in mainly adult sizes, and Yarn Forward (now Knit) has done in the past although recently there have been fewer patterns I’ve liked. I also find that The Knitter in particular has interesting articles about the history of knitting. On the other hand, I don’t buy them all that often as they aren’t cheap and I’ll only buy them if there’s at least one pattern I might want to make. And there is still a tendency to include patterns for children’s clothes and soft furnishings which makes me feel that as a child-free and not-particularly-domestic knitter I’m perhaps not quite the person they’re aimed at.
I feel this even more with a couple of new titles that have been launched recently, Mollie Makes and Handmade Living. Given my new interest in sewing I was initially attracted by the idea of magazines which weren’t limited to a single craft, but in reality the magazines seem to be buying in to the cosily-domestic vibe of Kirstie Allsopp and Cath Kidston which doesn’t really chime with my interests. I love crafting and being able to make things, but I want to make clothes, not soft furnishings or cosies for everything in sight (teapots excepted, but then again teacosies serve the useful purpose of keeping your tea warm). When it comes to interior design, I like minimalism. (In fact, I would say the same thing about clothes; I like simple, unfussy shapes in bright colours or bold patterns, rather than frills.) The domestic idyll just isn’t for me. More generally, I’m a little conflicted about these magazines. On the one hand, I don’t really agree with the way they relegate the mainly-female activity of crafting so firmly to the domestic sphere (what about laptop cosies, or colourful handmade accessories to brighten your office desk? Although of course, as both magazines are so new, those may well come), but on the other I am a great supporter of this modern version of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and want to see it spread, and I know people who get an enormous amount of pleasure from making beautiful things for their homes. But then again, it was mentioned in the comments to a post on this subject a few months ago that crafting is not necessarily a step away from consumer culture, and I think that perhaps one of the things that makes me a little uneasy about the proliferation of crafty lifestyle magazines is that it can be viewed as the publishers trying to cash in on the popularity of crafting and thrifting and to draw what started out as a reaction against consumer culture into the mainstream.
In the end, I suppose all I can really say is that none of the magazines I occasionally read has ever felt as though it was actually aimed at me; instead, they’ve mostly left me feeling like an outsider looking in on a world I don’t belong to. But then, I’m not sure that matters any more. Why do I need a monthly printed magazine when I have the Internet, and can assemble my own magazine from blogs and Twitter and Ravelry and news sites where content is updated hourly or daily and I can tailor what I read to my own preferences exactly?