Working Women in Mainstream Women's Magazines: A Content Analysis
Paper submitted to the 2003 AEJMC Convention
Juanita J. Covert
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Campus Box 3365
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365
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Working Women in Mainstream Women's Magazines: A Content Analysis
One of the media's functions is to inform audience members about the world
around them. Unfortunately, they often present stereotypical portrayals of
groups of people and run the risk of affecting how audience members think
of those groups (Harris, 1994; Wood, 2002; Basow, 1992; Herret-Skjellum and
Gender stereotyping has been examined extensively, as the roles society
assigns to each gender, male and female, comprise one of the primary ways
our culture classifies social life (Wood, 2002). However, much of the
research has been limited to portrayals on television. Studies that have
examined print media have generally looked at representation and portrayal
of ethnic or racial minorities and the intersection of race and gender,
especially in magazine advertisements (Taylor, 1995; Bowen and Schmid,
1997; Pluos and Neptune, 1997; Gonzalez, 2000).
This content-analytical study seeks to contribute to research in the area
of gender stereotyping by: 1) examining the representation and portrayal of
working women in magazine article content and 2) examining the issues that
are addressed in articles written specifically about or for working women.
Due to exploratory nature of this study and the new measures created to
examine magazine content and gender stereotypes, this is presented as a
Gender Roles in Television.
According to Wood (2002), women are generally portrayed in a positive light
if they are pretty and focused on home, family, and caring for others. She
also notes that although television shows are increasing the representation
of successful professional women, most of these women may be so only if
they also exemplify traditional feminine values including subservience,
beauty and an emphasis on relationships.
In their meta-analysis of television programming and gender stereotypes,
Herrett-Skjellum and Allen (1996, p. 176) found that television content
"provides a great deal of material that is consistent with traditional
images." Men are featured more often on screen, are in higher status roles,
and are more powerful. Interestingly, Herrett-Skjellum and Allen found that
the most common stereotypes involve the assignment of occupations to
television characters (for example, doctor vs. nurse).
The same meta-analysis also examined studies that tested the effects of
television viewing on viewers' attitudes toward men and women. They found
that in experimental settings, television contributed to viewers adopting
gender stereotypes and that in non-experimental settings (surveys), there
was a positive correlation between television viewing and viewers' gender
stereotyping. Consistent with the content analysis, non-experimental
studies also demonstrated the strongest effects of stereotyping regarding
occupations (instead of behaviors or social roles).
Gender Roles in Print.
Wood (2002) points out that print media, in particular magazines aimed at
a female audience, also present stereotypical portrayals of women. She
explains that while women's magazines do address important issues
sometimes, they focus on physical appearance, weight loss, cooking and
Pluos and Neptune (1997) performed a content analysis of magazine
advertising to study gender (as well as racial) biases. They argue that
"increases in work-role equality seem to be offset by a concomitant trend
toward displaying women as decorative and sexualized" (p. 628). Women are
more likely to be shown with more "body exposure" and in lower positions
Basow (1992) points out that women's magazines have increased the
representation of working women. However, most of the advertisers that
purchase space in women's magazines sell beauty- or fashion-related
products and require "complementary copy" which will incite the reader to
want to purchase their type of product (p. 166). Basow estimates that 75%
to 90% of article content is ad-related.
Women are targeted as consumers of traditionally feminine products, and
magazine article content reflects related issues of stereotypical
femininity, including beauty, family and child care, and housework.
Although women contribute to society as workers (according to the U.S.
Department of Labor, they comprise 47% of the employed over the age of 16
in the United States ), decision makers, and general consumers, they
are not targeted as such. For example, even though "women account for 39%
of new car purchases and participate in 43% of all new cars and trucks"
(Basow, 1992), print media geared toward women do not treat them as taking
part in those types of decisions. Content and advertising regarding those
decisions and responsibilities are reserved for men.
Very few content analyses have studied women and occupations in magazines.
Dodd, Foerch and Anderson (1988) focused on occupation in an interesting
study about the presence and portrayal of women on news magazine covers.
Generally, the topic or the person highlighted on the cover is in the
content of one of the magazine's articles. In addition, the placement on
the cover implies that the topic or person is of significant importance or
interest. The study found that women on the covers were generally in the
category of "art and entertainment" and were rarely professionals.
Socialization and Stereotypes.
The reason the representation and portrayal of women (and in this study
working women in particular) are important is that the media are
socializing forces that affect how people think about and act toward women
and how women think about themselves. Socialization theories argue that
"prolonged exposure to the media comes to teach us about our world and our
role in it." (Harris, 1993, p.21) This socialization is complicated by
experiences and knowledge an audience member has already and alternative
sources of information (Harris, 1993; Arnett, 1995). In other words,
messages and images transmitted by the media are incorporated into an
existing schema. Shemas are defined as "knowledge structures or frameworks
that organize an individual's memory for people and events." (Harris, 1993,
p. 25) Because of these individual schemas, media portrayals affect
audience members differently, though often in the same direction.
Symbolic interactionism, one socialization theory developed by George
Herbert Mead, emphasizes that "awareness of personal identity arises out of
communication with others who pass on the values and expectations of a
society." (Wood, 2002, p. 52) This theory focuses on the effect the media
has on individuals' views of themselves. Just as with the concept of
schemas, an individual's identity comes from a "communication," or a
negotiation, between others' views and her own perspective.
The media's influence on an individual's beliefs about groups of people or
on her self-identity is especially scrutinized when the portrayals
presented are stereotypical. Wood (2002) defines a stereotype as a "broad
generalization about an entire class of phenomena based on some knowledge
of some aspects of some members of a class" (p. 110). Richards and Hewstone
(2001) define it as a type of schema or knowledge structure about social
groups that sometimes leads to negative consequences, including
discrimination and intergroup conflict. Basow (1992) also points out that
the danger of stereotyping lies in both falsehood and oversimplification of
beliefs about social groups.
Gender stereotypes are especially prevalent in the media. Men are
represented as being leaderlike, aggressive, strong, risk-taking,
independent, competitive, ambitious, assertive, dominant, and active
(Durkin, 1985; Basow, 1992; Herrett-Skjellum and Allen, 1996). Women are
represented as being affectionate, gentle, sympathetic, dependent,
emotional, nurturing, submissive, passive, illogical, and preoccupied with
physical appearance (Durkin, 1985; Basow, 1992; Herrett-Skjellum and Allen,
The cultural ratification model, a theory related to socialization,
describes the media as agents perpetuating messages and images that support
the goals or views of the dominant members of society (Durkin, 1985). Those
messages are, therefore, often patriarchal and capitalistic and serve to
encourage audience members to accept gender stereotypes (Herrett-Skjellum
and Allen, 1996). According to Herrett-Skjellum and Allen, the cultural
ratification model was supported in content analyses of television
programming. There was a positive relationship between television viewing
and the acceptance of gender stereotypes, especially having to do with
occupations. It is important to note that the cultural ratification model
cannot prove direction of causality but does help determine if a medium
reinforces dominant societal values and stereotypes.
Subtyping and Subgrouping.
Some media have tried to provide counterstereotypical portrayals in order
to diversify the representations of women in the media. "Token" portrayals
must not be taken at face value, however. According to subtyping theory,
single or few isolated examples of counterstereotypes very rarely break
Subtyping occurs when an extreme disconfirming member of a group is
isolated so that the group's stereotype remains the same (Johnston and
Hewstone, 1990; Hewstone, 1992; Hewstone et al., 1994; Richards and
Hewstone, 2001). In other words, the disconfirming member is thought of as
an "exception to the rule" or as unrepresentative (Richards and Hewstone,
2001). This insulates the stereotype from change.
There are some factors, however, that decrease the likelihood that
subtyping will occur. If the information is "blocked" (information about a
woman is presented in an uninterrupted block), then it will focus the
audience member's attention on the woman's disconfirming attributes
(Hewstone et al., 1994). This is especially important in terms of
portrayals of women in magazine articles. Articles provide a natural block
of information and may therefore aid in weakening a stereotype.
Dispersing the disconfirming information among several group members also
decreases the likelihood of subtyping (Hewstone et al., 1994; Richards and
Hewstone, 2001). In other words, a reader is more likely to subtype if
confronted with a counterstereotypical portrayal of a woman rather than
several such portrayals in one single issue of a magazine.
Subgrouping, on the other hand, occurs when disconfirming members of a
stereotyped group remain included in the category in general (Richards and
Hewstone, 2001). Subgroups are formed when members display a key
disconfirming trait in different ways. For example, a subgroup of
professional women would form when portrayals of women in different
professions were included in a magazine. Subgrouping works to weaken
stereotypes by increasing the perceived variability of the group (Richards
and Hewstone, 2001).
Theoretical Framework For Present Study
As indicated by previous research studies and scholarly literature, the
process of socialization is a complex one. It involves a negotiation
between a medium and its audience. During this negotiation, a medium may
introduce or encourage a stereotype in an audience member's mind (as
dictated in the cultural ratification model). The present study determines
whether dominant gender stereotypes about working women exist in women's
magazine content. If they do, this study would lend support to the cultural
This study also examines whether portrayals of working women in article
content that disconfirm gender stereotypes do so to a degree that they are
likely to weaken those stereotypes. If the disconfirming members appear to
be part of a subgroup (which according to subgrouping theory are still
considered representative members of the larger group), then they are more
likely to weaken gender stereotypes. If disconfirming members appear to be
part of a subtype, then according to subtyping theory, the gender
stereotypes may be insulated from change.
Research Objectives and Hypotheses.
Portrayals of working women in the media, especially print media, have been
largely ignored by media researchers. Herrett-Skjellum and Allen's
meta-analysis of television programming and gender stereotypes (1996),
however, illustrates the need for such a study. They found that occupations
were more likely to be assigned to television characters based on gender
stereotypes than were behaviors or other roles. They also found that in
effects studies, the strongest positive correlation was found between
amount of television viewing and stereotypical beliefs about occupations.
Women's magazines have been identified as powerful supporters of
stereotypical or traditionally feminine ideals (Basow, 1992; Wood, 2002;
Pluos, 1997). Although a majority of women do work and are active members
of society in a variety of important ways (economically, socially,
politically, etc.), article content is generally limited to topics of
stereotypical femininity. This study examines to what extent working women
are represented, how they are portrayed, and what kinds of issues are
addressed (and, therefore, portrayed as important) to working women.
The following hypotheses were tested:
Hypothesis 1: Working women portrayed positively will be more likely to be
described in terms of stereotypically feminine attributes than
stereotypically masculine attributes.
Hypothesis 2: Working women portrayed as successful will be more likely to
be described in terms of stereotypically feminine attributes than
stereotypically masculine attributes.
The following research questions were asked:
Research Question 1: What are the topics covered in articles written for or
about working women?
Research Question 2: What are some characteristics of articles written for
or about working women and what differences, if any, exist between
different women's magazines?
Hypotheses 1 and 2 and Research Question 1 were examined through
quantitative analysis while Research Question 2 was examined through
Definitions. A positive portrayal is defined as a portrayal in which a
woman is presented in a positive way in any area of her life—work, family,
volunteerism, etc. A portrayal of a successful woman is defined as a
portrayal in which the woman is described as having success in her job.
Sample. The sample of magazines consisted of five popular women's
magazines. They were chosen from the Folio 30 list that appears in Folio,
"the magazine for magazine management" (Folio, 2001). It lists current
magazines according to circulation figures. The population of interest was
the group of five general interest women's magazines with the highest
circulation that were included on the list. The magazines chosen are
considered "mainstream" women's magazines. Mainstream is defined as
targeting the majority of the public or exemplifying the "major or
prevailing trend, as of thought, action, literature, music, etc."
(Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition 1991, p. p.p.815
). Special interest magazines targeting subgroups of women based on race
or ethnicity, for example, were excluded. The magazines chosen for the
sample were those women's magazines that target women in general and whose
circulation demonstrates that they are in fact popular among women. The
sampled magazine issues were from Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman's
Day, Family Circle and Glamour. Two issues of each magazine were chosen
randomly from the months of January 2002 to December 2002 for a total of 10
magazines. Diverse issues were randomly chosen for each magazine because a
particular issue or consecutive issues may involve seasonal or topical
biases. (The 10 issues were Cosmopolitan, October and December 2002 ;
Family Circle, April and November 2002; Glamour, January and August 2002;
Good Housekeeping, January and July 2002; and Woman's Day, June and
September 2002.) The coding of these issues resulted in data for 449
articles (54 of which were for or about working women) and 1080 individual
women (699 of which were working women).
Levels of Analysis. The two levels of analysis were the individual-woman
level and the article level. During coding, I looked for the inclusion of
working women in the text and visual images in the articles. Magazines
include advertisements and articles that may be confused for each other. I
verified articles in question by checking the table of contents. I was the
only coder for this study and I created a detailed coding protocol to use
as a reference when identifying characteristics of working women.
At the article level, I coded topics that were mentioned or discussed in
articles written specifically about or for working women. These topics
included balancing (family/home and work), struggle, fashion/beauty,
health/fitness, food, work relationships, networking, money matters
(investing, planning), technology, advancement, insurance, and
contributions. Each article could include more than one topic.
Within each article, I examined portrayals at the individual-woman level. I
documented her educational and occupational traits. Personal
characteristics were also coded, including marital status and motherhood. I
coded each woman mentioned by full name in the text, or appearing in the
foreground of a photo, drawing or other visual image. If there were more
than five women in the foreground, I looked at the five in the center of
the image. If a woman was coded as a working woman, other characteristics
were coded as well. These included good relationship/social skills;
ambition; organizational skills; creativity; risk taking, leadership; and
qualities such as being hard-working, competitive, beautiful, and
passionate. Some of these are stereotypically feminine traits and some are
stereotypically masculine, while others are not generally linked to one
over the other (Durkin, 1985; Basow, 1992).
Definitions of Variables at the Individual Woman Level. I determined the
woman's marital status by indicators such as explicit mention of spouse or
information regarding marriage. This could also be determined in a photo if
the content in the article implied the subject was married. I determined
motherhood by explicit mention of children or in a photo if the content in
the article implied the subject was a mother.
I determined whether she was a working woman. Indicators of employment
were explicit mention of work-related topics or income in the text or
visual representation (e.g. featuring work uniform, badge, etc.).
I determined her specific occupation by the explicit mention of work title,
job description, other work-related topics in the text or visual
representation (e.g. featuring work uniform, badge, job description). I
determined her educational level by noting explicit mention of degree,
highest grade level reached, or alma mater.
If a woman was identified as a working woman, I also documented other
personal characteristics that were explicitly mentioned or implied in the
text of the article. These included good relationship and social skills,
beauty or fashion sense/style, passion, creativity, intelligence,
organizational skills, hardworking, risk-taking, ambition, competitiveness.
Definition of Variables at the Article Level. I determined that an article
was about a working woman if it profiled a woman, her occupation was
mentioned and her work was described. Merely mentioning that the woman is
employed or noting her occupational title did not suffice. I determined
that an article was for a working woman if it discussed some aspect of
employment, occupational advancement or other work-related issues (such as
child care for working mothers).
If an article was identified as for or about working women, I coded for
topics emphasized in its content and topics described if the article
profiled a working woman. They included balancing, struggle,
fashion/beauty, health/fitness, food, work relationships, networking, money
matters, advancement, technology, insurance and contributions.
Balancing could include such topics as balancing marriage and work,
balancing motherhood and work or child care. Struggle could include such
topics as sexual harassment, sexism, or a "glass ceiling." Networking could
include such topics as communication or relationship-building for
advancement purposes. Money matters could include such topics as investing,
money management, or retirement planning.
Data regarding working women portrayed positively or as successful was
analyzed to determine whether they were more likely to be described using
stereotypically feminine attributes than stereotypically masculine
attributes. At the article level, data was analyzed to determine the kinds
of topics that are more likely to be included in articles about or geared
toward working women. Qualitative observations were also gathered to
contribute to a more comprehensive exploration of the type of content for
or about working women.
Working Women. The coding results indicated that 65% of women featured in
articles were described (or shown) as working women. Of those working
women, only 5% of them were described as married and only 6% were described
as mothers. The largest percentage of women featured were artists,
musicians, actresses due to the emphasis on celebrity in the magazines.
Professional models accounted for 37% of the working women. This was
followed by the percentage featured as professionals or management (26%)
and "other" (24%), which was composed mostly of professors and writers who
were included as "experts" on different topics.
Most working women's educational level was undetermined (80%). When the
article included mention of education or the woman's occupation implied a
certain level of education, she was more likely to have an advanced degree
(anything above a college degree, including master's and Ph.D. degrees).
Fifteen percent of working women featured had advanced degrees. An
additional 4% of working women had college degrees (for a total of 19% with
college degrees including those with advanced education beyond college).
Four additional characteristics were coded for working women—positive
portrayals, success, leadership and power. Coding results indicated that
64% of working women were portrayed positively, 11% were portrayed as
successful, 15% were described as leaders and 16% were described as powerful.
Positive Portrayals of Working Women. Results supported the first
hypothesis. Working women featured in articles were more likely to be
described using stereotypically feminine qualities than masculine
qualities. (See Table 1 for the percentage of working women portrayed
positively that were described with particular characteristics.) For
instance, 22% of women were described in terms of beauty or fashion sense.
This was the most frequent type of characterization. This was followed by
19% of working women described as good at building or nurturing
relationships or having good social skills. Two other feminine attributes
were hardly mentioned. Only 2% of working women were described as
passionate and 3% as creative.
Attributes defined as stereotypically masculine were mentioned rarely.
Only 1% of working women were described as risk takers. Only 1% were
described as ambitious and only one working woman in the entire sample was
described as competitive (0.2%).
In addition, other characteristics not defined as either stereotypically
feminine or masculine were coded. Only 5% of working women were described
as intelligent, 2% as organized and 3% as hard-working.
Portrayals of Successful Working Women. Results supported the second
hypothesis. Successful women featured in articles were more likely to be
described using feminine qualities than masculine qualities. They were,
however, less likely to be described with stereotypically feminine
attributes and more likely to be described with stereotypically masculine
attributes than women in positive portrayals. (See Table 2 for the
percentages of successful women described with particular characteristics.)
Seventeen percent of women were described in terms of beauty or fashion
sense. This was the most frequent type of characterization. This was
followed by 15% of working women described as good at building or nurturing
relationships or having good social skills. Two other feminine attributes,
again, were rarely mentioned. Six percent of working women were described
as passionate and 6% as creative.
Attributes defined as masculine were also rarely mentioned but they were
not as rare as in positive portrayals. Only 3% of working women were
described as risk takers. Only 5% were described as ambitious and only one
working woman in the entire sample was described as competitive (1%).
Two "neutral" attributes were also mentioned more frequently in successful
women's portrayals than in positive portrayals—intelligence (12%) and being
hard-working (8%). On the other hand, only 3% of successful working women
were described as organized.
Articles For or About Working Women. Of all the articles in the magazines,
5% were written for working women and 17% were written about working women.
This does not result in a total of 22% of articles because some articles
were written about and for working women (for example, an article on
resigning from a job featured testimonials and tips for other women).
Topics in Articles For or About Working Women. Table 3 shows the
percentages of articles that featured each of the topics coded. The topics
featured most frequently were fashion and beauty (28% of articles featured
fashion- or beauty-related information), two traditionally feminine values.
This was followed by 24% of articles regarding struggle and 17% regarding
contributions a working woman made at (or through) her job. Fifteen percent
of these articles were about advancement and 13% about health and fitness
(which also included articles on exercise and eating right to look
good). Nine percent of the articles featured content about work
relationships, 7% about food and 6% about balancing home life and work. Six
percent of the articles were about money matters, 6% about balancing, 4%
about technology and only 2% about insurance. There were no articles about
Magazines with Isolated Articles For or About Working Women. Woman's Day
rarely featured articles about working women. In fact, the June issue did
not have any at all. Its content focused on summer activities and plans for
eating outside. One relevant article that did appear in the issue revolved
around choosing the right clothing to wear at work. In "Suit Yourself" the
author wrote, "A great suit can take you anywhere you need to go (it's all
about the accessories darling)." The other relevant article featured three
working women that faced a tragedy and found a way to cope with it ("I Will
Family Circle, likewise, had fewer articles for or about working women
than the other three magazines in the sample. It did, however, have a focus
on non-celebrity women and their contributions and achievements in ventures
that help others. In the November issue, for example, "Dancing with Big
Dreams" presented a woman who transformed herself from a high-powered money
broker to the founder of a humanitarian organization helping children in
Uganda. The author wrote, "Alexis wanted more—not for herself, but for the
In both Woman's Day and Family Circle, then, working women in articles
were portrayed according to dominant feminine stereotypes—concerned with
fashion and beauty and focused on helping or caring for others.
When Working Women Abound. Differences in the portrayal of working women
begin to emerge as one reads articles for or about working women in
Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Good Housekeeping. The focus on celebrities and
fashion becomes apparent in Cosmopolitan. On the other hand, Glamour and
Good Housekeeping presented a broader range of working women and topics
geared toward them. All three magazines contained regular monthly columns
for working women but the differences in the content is striking.
Celebrities and Fashion. The focus on celebrities (whose success often
depends on beauty) and fashion in women's magazines lends support to gender
stereotypes. Cosmopolitan in particular, emphasizes traditionally feminine
attributes in its content. The October "Fun, Fearless Female" feature
describing TV personality Jules Asner is a good example. The author wrote,
"Her fun, self deprecating personality is always endearing." and "Now the
5-foot-10-inch brunette is a fixture on the small screen." One cannot help
but think of Asner in physical (beauty) terms, by the description in the
text and by the fact that her photo comprises three-quarters of the
Cosmopolitan also featured two longer (4-page) articles on actresses Katie
Holmes ("Katie Holmes Heats Up," October) and Halle Berry ("Bond
Bombshell," December). Holmes is described by the author as having
"model-like grace" and as being "the same sweet Midwestern girl she has
always been." Even though she is also "professional on the set" she is
overwhelmingly described using traditionally feminine terms.
Berry, on the other hand, is presented with more diverse terms. She is
said to have "burning ambition", having "poured herself into her career"
during one stage in her life. Much of the article, however, focused on
Berry's decision to act in nude scenes. The author wrote of the
"5-foot-7-inch beauty", "It's that emotional depth that allowed Halle to be
so naked onscreen—both literally and figuratively." In other words, the
emphasis on Berry's body is linked to her success as an actress. The
section heading "Risks and Rewards" strengthens this point.
Another interesting approach to working women in Cosmopolitan is in "Mad-
Dash Beauty"(December). The author wrote, "On those occasions when you find
yourself stuck without lipstick and craving some color, dot a non-toxic
pink highlighter over your lips and lightly rub them together before the
color sets…and it looks good—like a pink popsickle stain." In this case,
the magazine encouraged women to use a tool at work for a traditionally
feminine purpose, to be beautiful in case of an unexpected date.
Glamour and Good Housekeeping also included articles on celebrities and
beauty but to a lesser extent. In Glamour, "The Perfect Hair for Your
Life—Find It, Get It" (January) featured the "first-job pony(tail)" and the
"college-grad bangs." In "Mon-Fri Denim," "Wear Your Denim to Work (without
getting fired)," and "Gwyneth Paltrow's Dos and Don'ts" (all in the August
issue), the emphasis is on fashion and its importance in the life of a
In Good Housekeeping, the articles on fashion and celebrities were even
rarer. "Style Cheat Sheet," and an article on the Nona Gaye, Marvin Gaye's
daughter, were some examples. In fact, in July, the magazine takes a
different approach to celebrities. While still emphasizing celebrities'
looks, "Christie Weighs In" featured Christie Brinkley speaking out against
obsession over being "stick-thin body types," and "Bigger Bodies are back"
featured a number of actresses that have become comfortable with their
natural bodies. In other words, the articles rejected the traditionally
feminine desire to lose weight and be perfectly beautiful. This is in
contrast to the article "Celebrity Trend: The Incredible Shrinking Stars"
in Cosmopolitan (October). Although the article does criticize these stars,
it focuses on them and their weight loss instead of providing an
alternative portrayal that women can use as a model for healthy behavior.
Talking Down and Making Fun. Perhaps the most alarming observation about
working women in women's magazines is the propensity to talk down to them
or make fun of them. In Cosmopolitan, non-celebrity women were generally
limited to the regular monthly (one-page) column titled "Your
Job." Specifically, they were featured in "blooper" sections. In October,
"Oops I sent that e-mail where?" featured four women's stories of sending
gossip to the wrong person at work. The subheading was "These women made
some of the world's stupidest cyber screwups." In December, the title of
the section is "I got nailed for skipping work." Clearly, the working women
included were portrayed as being incompetent at work. These representations
lend support to the gender stereotype of work being a male sphere in which
women do not (and should not) fit.
Other sections of "Your Job" contained tips ("The New Job-Search Skills You
Need" in October and "How to Survive a Day From Hell" in December) and an
answer to a reader's question. In October and December, both questions
revolved around relationships, another traditionally feminine value. The
questions are "A coworker and I had a regrettable one-night stand. How can
I deal?" (October) and "My boss doesn't like me as a person. What should I
do?" Understandably, these topics are of interest and importance to a
working woman. On the other hand, the fact that these types of questions
were chosen for the column over others (which may have been about
advancement, productivity, etc.) is questionable.
Glamour and Good Housekeeping on the other hand did not include content
that so clearly patronized non-celebrity working women.
Diversity of Working Women. Glamour included a variety of working women,
including celebrities and non-celebrities. It also included a variety of
subjects, including dressing for work, earning more money and working in
politics. In "We're Speaking Out" (January), "three powerful women tell
Glamour how they're facing the national crisis (9/11)." The women featured
include a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the president of the
International Association of Flight Attendants, and a scholar specializing
in public policy and terrorism. A sidebar included an interview with
Senator Hillary Clinton.
In a short article in the "Dos, Don'ts, News and Views," Glamour criticized
the lack of female news broadcasters. The author of "Do Let a Woman Take
Over the Nightly News" wrote, "Do people really think Diane Sawyer can't
handle the nightly news? Come on." Glamour actively promoted the inclusion
of working women in the particularly male-biased field of broadcasting news.
Good Housekeeping included the greatest diversity of working women and
topics. For example, the January and July issues included articles on the
use of technology. Both advised women on how to deal with unsolicited and
offensive messages. While the topics do imply that technology is a
frightening, unfamiliar territory for many women, the content of the
articles indicated a genuine concern for working women and women using
technology at home. In addition, these articles did not talk down to
readers or make fun of women using technology. They even went as far as
describing how technical mechanisms work to show women how to stop the
harassment or dangers they encounter over email. In "X-Rated on E-mail"
(July), the author wrote, " Most e-mail providers offer built-in
spam-busting features…Here are a few worthwhile ones." In "Don't Get Robbed
Over E-mail" (January), the author detailed, "A program imbedded in the
site disconnects your computer from the Internet, then reconnects it
through a different service provider based in some foreign country." The
articles in January and July were five and three pages long, respectively,
and included thorough descriptions of the problems and resources to deal
with them. This contradicts the traditionally feminine stereotype that
women are incapable of mastering technology or dealing and are easily
Two other examples of the diversity of working women in Good Housekeeping
are the articles "The Doctors Kids Adore" (January) and "Women Who've
Changed Our Lives" (July). The latter featured a number of powerful women,
three of which won Good Housekeeping Awards for Women in Government (the
others featured were runners-up). The women were described with a variety
of terms, including stereotypically feminine and masculine ones. For
example, the director of the Office of Family Affairs at the Department of
Defense was described as being compassionate and caring. The author also
wrote, "Although she was still in a daze herself (following the 9/11 attack
on the Pentagon)...Falk knew just what the department needed to do." This
woman is presented, then, as both loving (traditionally feminine) and able
to take charge of a challenging situation (traditionally masculine). The
author wrote of two other award winners, "Outraged, they battled—Snowe in
the House, Miljowski in the Senate—to make sure women's health received the
attention it deserved." These women are described as assertive,
hard-working women that did not give up until they achieved their goal. On
the other hand, they are also commended in the article for their ability to
work together despite their differences (a traditionally feminine
attribute) while their male counterparts have difficulty doing the same.
In "The Doctor Kids Adore," the chief of pediatric surgery at the C.S. Mott
Children's Hospital in the University of Michigan Health System, who has
spina bifida herself, is described as caring and thoughtful as well as
successful in the traditionally masculine career of medicine. The author
wrote, "But by the time she's through, patients can usually walk and
function better, a fulfilling achievement that rewards Muraszko for the
incredible effort and drive she has invested in her own life and career."
The woman's hard work and ambition (traditionally masculine qualities) are
highlighted as well as her ability to deliver special patient care to
children (traditionally feminine quality).
Columns for Working Women. Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Good Housekeeping each
included a monthly column for working women. As already described,
Cosmopolitan one-page column included a bloopers section which featured
non-celebrity working women, a tips section and a question and answer
section about relationships at work.
Glamour's "Work, Money & Bliss" column, on the other hand, was one page
long in January and two pages long in August. The articles included topics
from how to "quit smart" after "landing a new job" and how to manage and
earn more money to three (New Year's) resolutions for work and an interview
with a female special agent from the State Department who was assigned to
protect Secretary of State Colin Powell. The emphasis on advancement in
terms of money and productivity demonstrates that working women are treated
as legitimate, valuable members of the work force. In addition, women are
encouraged to be assertive at work. In "How does she make all that money?"
(August), the author wrote, "grab opportunities," "speak up…if you don't
ask, you don't get," and "Feel the fear. Have the doubts. Go for it anyway."
In contrast with Cosmopolitan, non-celebrity women are featured in both
positive and negative lights as they wrote in stories of how they quit a
job the "right" or "wrong" way. In general, the focus of the Glamour column
is to find happiness in and through work (by earning more money).
Good Housekeeping's Jane Bryant Quinn column, "Your Money," was
significantly different from Cosmopolitan's and Glamour's columns. First,
it focused on one single topic each issue and each topic was related to
money management. In "Stay-Safe Strategies for a Shaky World," the author
advised women on how to take care of finances during the economic downturn.
Again, as in technology articles in the magazine, the author did not talk
down to women but instead respected their intelligence. The author wrote,
"I'm all for stock-owning mutual funds when you're building capital. But
some portion of your money belongs in bond funds." Working women reading
the column are treated as responsible, intelligent individuals that can
understand and make financial decisions—something a stereotypically
feminine woman would not be expected to be.
In "What Rich People Know That You Should Too," she advised women on how to
invest their money and spend more wisely. She wrote, "Blowing money on
meaningless or ostentatious purchases won't win you lasting friends—and it
could leave your bank account in tatters." Here the author directly
contradicted two traditional feminine values that are usually linked to
advertisers. She discouraged working women from spending money on frivolous
things (one could read: fashion or beauty supplies) and from expecting that
by spending money on products, they will win over more friends or men.
It is also interesting to note that the Jane Bryant Quinn column in Good
Housekeeping did not feature working women in its content. This may be due
to the fact that working women in a variety of portrayals are spread
throughout the magazine's content and, therefore, a column focusing on them
may be viewed as unnecessary. This may imply that working is a natural,
integral part of a woman's life and does not need to be segregated into its
Cultural Ratification. The support for hypotheses 1 and 2 demonstrates
some evidence of cultural ratification. Working women, both in positive
portrayals and in portrayals of success, are more likely to be described in
terms of the traditional feminine stereotype—beauty, fashion, relationships
and social skills. In addition, the most popular topics in articles for or
about working women were beauty and fashion. The emphasis on celebrities
and the importance of advertising in magazines are two significant reasons
why these topics may be so popular and why the women portrayed were
described using stereotypically feminine attributes. The emphasis in
articles on looking good, attracting men, and fostering relationships
complements the advertising for the types of products that are often
featured in women's magazines—beauty products, clothing, and accessories.
The second and third most popular topics, struggle and contributions to
work, characterize much of the content in women's magazines. Articles which
presented a woman who overcame obstacles to later succeed in some area were
routine in the women's magazines (including if the woman was a celebrity).
Articles that present a working woman making a contribution (as in Family
Circle's monthly section "Women Who Make a Difference") often emphasized
how the woman helped someone else, was empathetic or in some other way
demonstrated traditional feminine attributes.
Subtyping and Subgrouping. Evidence of the likelihood of both subtyping
and subgrouping was found in the qualitative analysis of the differences
between the sampled magazines. As described previously, Cosmopolitan,
focused almost completely on celebrity women in articles about working
women. Celebrity women are by no means representative of the average
working woman and it is likely that a woman would find it difficult to
relate a celebrity to the average working woman. Reading Cosmopolitan,
then, may result in subtyping. The reader can easily dismiss celebrity
working women as exceptions to women in general. According to subtyping
theory, even if the celebrity woman is described in terms of
stereotypically masculine attributes (as Halle Berry was in the December
issue—risk taking, ambitious, etc.), gender stereotypes may be insulated
from change because she is thought of as an exception to most working women.
On the other hand, Good Housekeeping and Glamour offered a mix of content
on celebrity and non-celebrity working women. The women were from diverse
occupations and backgrounds. The articles for or about working women
covered a variety of issues, including politics, medicine and journalism.
In particular, Good Housekeeping featured working women throughout its
content and uses a diversity of traditionally feminine and traditionally
masculine attributes to describe working women. Because of this variability
in the portrayal of working women, they are more likely to be subgrouped
within the general population of women. According to subgrouping theory, if
the members of as a group display a disconfirming attribute in different
ways (in this case, working women with stereotypically masculine
attributes), subgrouping may increase perceived variability of the group
and weaken stereotypes.
Positive Portrayals and Success. One interesting result of the study was a
difference in positive portrayals of women and portrayals of successful
women. Although, a larger sample of portrayals would need to be examined in
order to come to any generalizable conclusions, one can speculate as to the
reasons for the discrepancy. Positive portrayals were coded as such if a
woman was presented in a positive way in any area of her life—work, family,
volunteerism, etc. On the other hand, portrayals of successful women were
limited to success as a working woman. In other words, success was only
coded if the text explicitly commended her on something she did at work.
Women in positive portrayals were, therefore, more likely to be compared to
other women because they were being judged on a variety of roles a woman
might have. They may have been described with stereotypically feminine
attributes more frequently because they were being judged more frequently
in stereotypically feminine roles. Successful women, though, were only
judged in the role of a working adult—a role that may still be considered
stereotypically male. Success also implies a sense of competition, which
has been defined as a stereotypically male characteristic. Successful
working women, then, may have been described with stereotypically feminine
attributes less frequently and with stereotypically masculine attributes
more frequently because of the gendered nature of success.
Limitations of Study. This pilot study provides some useful measures of
gender stereotyping in article content. Identifying the study's limitations
may also contribute to future research in the area of working women in
One limitation to the study was the size of the sample. Although the sample
of working women coded was large (N = 699), the subsets of the sample
(positive portrayals, N = 449 and successful women, N = 78) were small. The
sample of articles for or about working women was also small (N = 54). This
did not allow for generalizable conclusions but rather for exploratory
findings that should be examined further. Also, the sample should be
expanded to include other women's general interest magazines whose
circulation indicate are popular among the general population of women.
Another limitation is the absence of coding for negative characteristics.
It was assumed that the content about women featured in women's magazines
would be flattering, as much of the content seems to be meant to instruct
and inspire. The qualitative findings in the study, however, indicate that
some working women are featured critically, especially in terms of their
use of technology. These findings illustrate the importance of future
research including negative as well as positive characteristics in women's
portrayals as well as the importance of qualitative study of women's
magazines to find issues that cannot be easily coded or foreseen.
In addition, this study provided some evidence for cultural ratification
but could not do so for socialization. An effects study, measuring the
influence of gender stereotypes in articles, would need to be conducted to
demonstrate whether socialization occurs.
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Descriptions of Working Women in Positive Portrayals
Percentage of Working Women Described with Characteristic
Good relationship/social skills
N = 449
Descriptions of Successful Working Women
Percentage of Working Women Described with Characteristic
Good relationship/social skills
N = 78
Topics Featured in Articles For or About Working Women
Percentage of Articles Featuring the Topic
N = 54