Look at her: Analysing the depiction of women on the covers of women's magazines from 1975-2015
Women’s magazines have a role in constructing and defining what it means to be a woman. Deciphering messages in mediums specifically designed for women is therefore key to understanding what women may be learning about femininity. This thesis examines the depiction of women in women’s magazines, focussing on sexualisation and the portrayal of traditional gender roles. Traditional gender stereotypes and the sexual objectification of women are key mechanisms contributing to the subordinate position of women in society. This thesis argues that alongside their contributions to gender inequality, such depictions can also reinforce ideas that sustain rape culture with the latter referring to a climate where sexual violence is normalised and trivialised. By conducting a longitudinal content analysis (1975 –2015) of cover pages from New Zealand women’s magazines, this thesis investigates whether there are any changes in the level of sexualisation and depiction of traditional gender roles across prominent women’s magazines. The findings of this thesis indicate that overall there is a low level of sexualisation present in cover page images from women’s magazines, and significant differences exist both between publications as well as across the four decades of analysis. The depiction of traditional gender roles is consistent across the time period studied, and when such gender stereotypes are present they remove agency from women reducing them to ‘decorative’ objects within images. Messages suggesting women should be sexualised and decorative may reinforce ideas central to gender inequality, rape culture, and sexual violence against women. The implications of this thesis suggest that women’s magazines may not be a safe space for readers to celebrate their gender – rather, such publications may influence ideas that facilitate gender inequality.