Saturday, 12 June 2010

Mad Mags - Elen Caldecott

After writing my previous blog post about magazine memories, it seemed like a good idea to go and find out what girl’s magazines are like these days. So, I went to my local Tesco’s aircraft hanger to find out.

Finding the girl’s magazines was the first challenge. The tiny tot’s rack was easy to spot – various Disney and Nickelodeon characters grinned on every cover. But I wanted the mags for young girls – the Bunty and Mandy equivalents for today. They were hard to find, as they were actually disguised to look exactly like the Cosmos and MarieClaires with which they shared a shelf. Each one was glossy; cellophane-wrapped with multiple free gifts. The covers were a busy riot of JLS, Justin Bieber, TV soap stars, swirls and hearts. I went for one called ‘Go Girl’, my free gift was a pimp my mobile phone kit.

What has happened to girl’s magazines?

This one was definitely aimed at 8-12 year old girls (there were no boyfriend tips, and the fashion spreads were from Tammy@BHS). But the tone of it was like a lobotomised TV Quick. The content was patchy at best. Most of it was the kind of quizzes that categorise you into three Goldilocks groups (mostly As, you’re lazy; mostly Bs, you’re OCD; mostly Cs you’ve got just the right attitude, girl). There were true life stories (share your cringiest moments), crosswords, spot the difference (both based on pop music knowledge) and finally a few celebrity pull-out posters.

There was no fiction of any kind.

I find that incredibly sad. I know the same thing has happened to adult magazines; we are no longer reading short stories in our wimmins weeklies. But it seems a shame that girls have followed our lead and are happier to consume celebrity gossip than stories.
And it is just the girls. At the same time as buying ‘Go Girl’ I bought the Beano and, bar the shinier pages, it is pretty much exactly as I remembered it. The boys are still happy to be boys. The girls on the other hand, have one eye on the mags their mothers are reading.

Over the past few days, I’ve been wondering why this is. I can’t help feeling that women my age are somehow to blame. Not only are we the mothers of these young girls, we are also the editors and journalists who write these mags. However, there’s also something more fundamental. I think, growing up in the 1990s, we felt that there were no barriers to what we could achieve, there were no limits as women. All that feminism stuff was just silly. So if there was nothing to fight against, it was OK to let our brains switch to standby, conserve battery, do a Justin Bieber wordsearch. Until adult women ask more of themselves, the girls who emulate them won’t either.

Pass me the Beano, at least Minnie the Minx is standing up for herself.
www.elencaldecott.com
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13 comments:

Charlie Butler said...

That's very depressing, and alas true. It's not that girls don't read fiction, of course: many of the readers of those magazines will also be into Jacqueline Wilson, from my observation. But the demise of the Bunty-esque comic is sad in itself.

Do you think of Beano as a boy's equivalent, though? I'd have thought that was more unisex: it's always had a fair sprinkling of girl protagonists, at any rate, though not admittedly 50-50. The obviously-gendered boys' comics such as Eagle, Victor and Dan Dare, which had 'serious' stories in amongst the fun ones, have gone the way of Bunty and Mandy.

frances thomas said...

I agree with you - these magazines are awful and mindless; why are they trying to send girls back to the dark ages? And where did all this pink come from?

Elen Caldecott said...

Charlie - The Beano was a boy's comic in my mind when I was a child. I would read it, but I wouldn't buy it. There were other boy's mags on the shelf, but for the life of me I can't remember what they were. Mostly tie-ins I think...

Frances - I really do feel that it happened in the 1990s. There were lots of women saying 'we can be feminine, we don't need to burn bras'. And so it went to the other extreme and our daughters have a choice of any colour as long as it's pink.

Charlie Butler said...

I know it's been mentioned before, but it might be a good time to remind ABBA readers of Pink Stinks! http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/

Linda said...

You're right about it being up to adults to set a decent example here. It was the birth of WAGs which almost broke my spirit: if a girl is encouraged to aspire to be merely the wife of, or the girlfriend of, what is the hope for them as free and self-motivating individuals? (dear heavens, I sound like those rather scary ladies of the sixties!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Really interesting post, Elen. Was it David Fickling who tried to start up a new comic? I never saw it - wish I had. I wonder why that didn't work? I used to love my regular weekly comic. We didn't buy books in my house (though I borrowed lots from the library), but it was taken as read (ha ha, sorry) that we should have comics. I can still visualise some of the stories. They had a considerable impact.

Elen Caldecott said...

Thanks for the link, Charlie - I hadn't seen it before.

I know what you mean about WAGS, Linda. It's so regressive. There is an advert for a WAGS Come Dine With Me on at the moment. I haven't seen the show, but in the ad there are three grown women sitting around in fairy costumes. GROWN WOMEN. Makes my eyes bleed. I really, really hope that in the show one of them starts a chat about art or books or politics... but even if they did it wouldn't make the final edit, would it?

Thanks, Sue. I heard about it (DFC?), but never saw a copy. I think it was subscription only. I know how hard it is to get a comic into shops, but I think a lot of mags are impulse buys in Tescos. I imagine shop presence is key.

佩GailBohanan1蓉 said...
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Stroppy Author said...

[Elen, can you pls delete the Chinese porn link above?]

Yes, David Fickling's comic failed because it was subscription only and that model is just not commercial these days. Had it been in shops, I would have bought occasional copies, but I couldn't (at that recession-hit point) afford to subscribe.

When I was trying to use 1990s girls' comics for social research for a book, I was told in Cambridge University Library that they had opted not to keep them. That's quite something, a copyright library refusing their option to take publications, and is a considerable (if wrong) indication of the assessment of their value. They do, of course, have historical value - and would allow us to trace the point at which it all went wrong. But they have no other value! I buy Look magazine for Small Bint (which is for an older market) but it is all tripe about celebrities and fashion and she reads it in about 20 mins. There is nothing of any substance.

Charlie Butler said...

There's also Aquila magazine, which is certainly celebrity-free, but a tad worthy for my taste (and, more importantly, my children's). At least it's there, though.

Katherine Langrish said...

And yet, in America, there is a stable of really brilliant, high quality, unisex chidlren's magazines. It starts with "Babybug" (board book) goes on to the five plus age group with "Ladybug" (poems, stories, games all by top quality childrens' writers and illustrators (my girls LOVED it) then, for nine plus there is "Cricket", and finally for eleven plus "Cicada" - and there's also a science magazine spin-off too, the name of which escapes me. You can subscribe and get them sent here - but the in US they are available in the shops. Glossy strong paper, lasts for years - GORGEOUS things, and I do wish we could have them or something like them here.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Does anyone remember Princess? I got it from the first even issue and there was a little coronet given away for free. But in the end I preferred my brother's Superman comics. I used to read SHOUT when my daughter got it as a young teen, just to check it wasn't giving out inappropriate advice. I thought it was excellent and still going I think.

Meg Harper said...

I've just written a short story for Caris girls' magazine which was the Church Times' attempt to produce a less featherweight magazine for girls - but it is folding with its bumper summer issue as they couldn't make any money out of it - too worthy and poor marketing I guess. I wonder if you can still get Aquila? I got that by subscription for my kids - excellent magazine.