Academic journal article Women and Language

Health as Women's Work: A Pilot Study on How Women's Magazines Frame Medical News and Femininity

Academic journal article Women and Language

Health as Women's Work: A Pilot Study on How Women's Magazines Frame Medical News and Femininity

Article excerpt

Abstract: Women's magazines have been a valuable source of health information for their readers, highlighting issues that were ignored by the mainstream press. Yet, in addition to teaching women about health, magazines also teach women about femininity--about appropriate roles and values. This manuscript reports findings from a qualitative analysis of more than 40 articles in 10 women's magazines. Magazines depicted women as caretakers of their own health, as well as the health of their loved ones. Articles framed health as women's work, suggesting that women must be vigilant to protect their families' health. Although they provided valuable information on a variety of health concerns, women's magazines reinforced and idealized traditional feminine stereotypes of women as caretakers. Rather than present caretaking as an expected role, magazines might consider why women are responsible for this work and explore how women view their caretaking tasks.


For more than a century, women's magazines in the United States have provided readers with a wealth of information aimed at helping them develop essential feminine skills and knowledge. Magazines have published articles advising women how to bake the perfect meatloaf, how to maintain the perfect hairstyle, and how to experience the perfect orgasm. Magazines have offered advice about how to save money on back-to-school clothes, how to save time in the kitchen, and how to save a failing marriage. To help women cope with life's imperfections, magazines have provided instructions on how to select fashions that hide figure "flaws," how to cope with male rejection, how to circumvent cranky coworkers or inept bosses, and how to help a child who is failing in school. For about the cost of a fast-food lunch, a single issue of a women's magazine provides at least a dozen articles offering advice to readers on how to make their lives easier, homes safer, and families happier. Women's magazines serve the role of a modern "high priestess" offering step-by-step instructions for "the demanding--but rewarding--state of womanhood" (Ferguson, 1983, p. 131, 185).

Women's magazines have become a how-to guide for daily living, and among the topics included in these instruction manuals is health. Contemporary women's magazines publish informational articles covering a broad spectrum of health topics, and magazines invite readers to learn more about their bodies so they can prevent illness and forestall disease. While these publications have been praised as an important source of health information for women (Consalvo, 1997; Harrison, 1982), magazines also have been criticized for their superficial treatment of health topics (Andsager & Powers, 1999; Gerlach, Marino, Weed, & Hoffman-Goetz, 1997) and their failure to challenge patriarchal and capitalistic ideologies, which dictate that happiness can be achieved through relationships with men and acquisition of products advertised in magazines (Demarest & Garner, 1992; Durham, 1996; Friedan, 1963; Leman, 1980; McCracken, 1993; Merskin, 1999; Steiner, 1995; Weston & Ruggiero, 1985-86; Wolf, 1991).

The purpose of this paper is to analyze health care coverage in a small sample of contemporary women's magazines. This project explores the content of health articles and uses feminist theory and qualitative textual analysis to discover the frames embedded within these health texts. Specifically, the papers seeks to determine:

RQ1: What health issues and topics are covered in women's magazines?

RQ2: How do women's magazines frame health care issues?

RQ3: What do these frames tell us about women's roles in the larger society?

Literature Review

In beginning a discussion of health coverage in women's magazines, it is important to consider the effects of two social phenomenon in the United States: the positioning of health as a consumer product and the second wave of the women's movement. …

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