• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Sexist Meanings Beneath a Glossy Cover

Women’s magazines, declaring itself as model of modern woman interests and promoters of actual trends, in point of fact promote 19th century values. That’s the conclusion Elena Meshkova has drawn in her research

Senior Research Fellow at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Elena Meshkova analyzed the evolution of women’s magazines having used  Russian old periodicals ‘Rabotniza’ – ’Female Worker’, ‘Krestijanka’ – ’Peasant Woman’, and ‘Mir Zhenshini’ – “Woman’s World” issued in 1991 and 2001 as examples.

The research work ‘The Influence of Women’s Magazines on the Establishment of the Socio-cultural Gender Environment. A Case History’ was presented at the conference ‘The Development of the Russian Media Space: Communication and Ethical Issues’, which took place at the HSE.

From a Tough Woman to a ‘Lady Girl’

From 1991 (year of Soviet era end) to 2001 there was a period of significant changes in Russia both in press and in the society as a whole. The attention of the mass audience switched to depoliticized media. At the same time major illustrated periodicals showed up on the Russian media market. The popularity of these magazines among readers grew rapidly. Traditional domestic periodicals had to struggle for readers’ attention.

Visual analysis of several women’s magazines published in 1991 and 2001 has demonstrated significant changes in the imposed image of a modern woman. At the beginning of the 90’s tough and strong women working on the country’s prosperity and willing to achieve maximum success in the profession prevailed on periodical pages.

At the beginning of 2000’s the magazines’ iconography radically changed. Russian periodicals switched to a new target audience – so called ‘lady girls’. More than half (68 of 104) of the photos in ‘Krestijanka’ (#4, 2001) represented young women posing in front of the camera, advertising fashion clothing, cosmetics and hairstyles. Only 30 photos were dedicated to middle aged women, and only one picture depicted an elderly woman. The professions of only three women were mentioned in the issue.

The author of the research points out that this kind of image of a modern woman in glossy magazines is a global phenomenon. For example, in the USA a woman is usually pictured as a bride, consumer, housewife, mother, and husband’s mate whereas the statistics proves that the majority of women are educated and prefer working.

The Conflict between Reality and Adverts

The examination of illustrations of several western periodicals in Russia has helped to determine the main interests of women. Here are few of them: women want to be attractive to men and to be good housewives. And that is the stereotype that is being imposed.

Meanwhile the research states that in reality modern Russian women are socially active, they demonstrate civil consciousness and a scientific view of the world. They respect themselves and feel themselves to be attractive.

It seems that stereotypes being imposed are not being accepted in society, though the research carried out at the University of Delaware showed that the repeated impact of advertisements with role stereotypes strengthens them. The advertisements with reverse gender roles help to break stereotypes and also make women feel more self-confident and independent.

Youth is at a Premium

Analysis of Russian periodicals showed that their target audience is getting younger. In 2001 a third of all publications was addressed to women of 26-39 years old, and a quarter were dedicated to younger readers.

Table 1. Age dynamics of magazine heroines

                                                              Age, %

Year of Publishing






70 and older

No Answer

















Source: E. Meshkova, 2013

At the same time publishers were not as interested in the appearance of women as before. In 1991 every third woman in periodicals was attractive, in 2001 only every seventh woman was considered to be beautiful.

Table 2. Appearance dynamics of magazine heroines

                                             Appearance, occurrence, %

Issue Year




Not Mentioned

No Answer













Source: E. Meshkova, 2013

More Fast Food Advertisements

The author of the research supposes that numerous publications of different recipes, home appliances and fast food advertisements in women’s magazines were not accidental. The number of women engaged in housekeeping hadn’t changed in ten years, from 1991 to 2001. The number of women who share their household duties with the family was also unchanged. Fewer women needed the assistance of a housemaid (the number decreased by 2,2%: from 6,6% to 4,4%), but more respondents just ignored the question about housekeeping (the number increased by 9%: from 69% to 78%).

Elena Meshkova assumes that families started using labour-saving devices and preferred fast food menus because of an increase in advertising.

Education Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Glossy magazines promote the idea that education is unimportant. In 1991 education wasn’t mentioned in 46% of publications. In 2001 this number reached 64%. In 1991 42% of women with higher education appeared in periodicals, in 2001 the number dropped to 36%.

The author of the research has come to the conclusion that the new media, which have appeared in the gender segment of the Russian media market, serve as a means of social control and manipulation of mass conscience.

Women’s illustrated weeklies don’t confront the readers with serious issues, they transform them into statements that need no reflection as all answers and behavior models are provided.


Author: Maria Selivanova, August 16, 2013