Magazines' representation of women and the influence on identity construction
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The history of South Africa has many scars of oppression and women have long experienced a disempowered position in society. It is also a history of intrepid efforts to emancipate South Africans from past afflictions. Media in South Africa played a key role in amplifying the apartheid regime and also overthrowing it. Media has significant power, is regarded as a bastion of freedom and nation building, and by means of its representation, contributes to our individual and social identities. Magazine media, in particular, are modern and popular cultural forms of representation. It is a significant force in South African culture and plays a central role in shaping public opinion on women. South Africa has a deep-rooted patriarchal value system and while advances can be commended, significant challenges persist. Despite women actively engaging in various aspects of society, from business to sport, they continue to receive marginal support and media attention. Stereotypical representations abound in magazine content and women are often sexualised and objectified in traditionally feminine, decorative roles and framed by their social positions as homemakers and non-professionals. This study explores magazines’ representation of women and the influence on identity construction. The connected landscapes of media’s production and consumption practices is also addressed, as there is a powerful interplay of how the economics of publishing significantly shape media content. This study proposes a model that contributes to promoting diversity in media content, ownership and control, critical citizenry and media accountability in terms of social change and gender equality. The qualitative methodological approach addresses the issue of objectification of women in editorial content and advertisements of two of South Africa’s leading consumer magazines, YOU and DRUM. The findings reveal that gender stereotypes thrive in magazine texts that repeatedly represent women as objects for male consumption, thereby not reflecting the diverse and progressive roles of modern day women. Magazine media can play a powerful role in helping to dislodge the patriarchal, public attitudes towards women. Diversified, equitable representation of gender in media is important so that it may demonstrate, and influence, society’s shift towards egalitarian principles. This study serves as a catalyst for change by building a knowledge base and raising awareness regarding magazines’ role in identity construction, by advocating gender issues and by contributing to gender parity in and through the media.