Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Sensational Kin: Family, Normativity and Women's Weekly Magazines

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Sensational Kin: Family, Normativity and Women's Weekly Magazines

Article excerpt

'Half of all children born today will experience family breakdown by the age of 16. Too often these children attended school where their aspirations were suffocated, within a culture of low expectations ... the section of society on the lowest incomes has become static and entrenched ... too many children born into such communities find that at best, they remain in the same condition as their parents.'

--Iain Duncan Smith, 2011

Whilst preparing to host the 2012 Olympic Games, Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee celebrations, and still reeling from the worldwide spectacle of Prince William and Kate Middleton's 2011 wedding, there was an air of British national pride which circulated throughout the media. Yet buzzing ever increasingly louder beneath the surface of this propagated national pride was an ever increasing fear and uneasiness over other recent awe-inspiring national events. Discourses of discontent and public disorder, as well as class and racial conflicts, dominated the national public sphere since rioting swept England for five days in August 2011. (2) The social and political responses to the riots provide an illuminating context for my discussion, which reads the politics inherent in the familial discourses of a selection of contemporary British 'women's weekly' magazines. (3) Through close textual analysis I illuminate the central claims of women's weeklies' discourses--the linking of reproduction and futurity; the normative and unquestionable desire to bear children; the changing form of the family--and challenge these claims through the use of feminist, cultural, and queer theory.

Women's weeklies have some of the highest circulation of all magazines in the UK, with Take a Break boasting a readership of approximately 4 million ('Mums the word,' 2006). Despite their popularity, women's weeklies have scarcely been the subject of scholarly interrogation. Those scholars who do engage with these cultural texts largely relegate them to passing comments within larger discourses on more prominent women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour (Holmes, 2007; Keating, 2005; Stevens, Maclaran, & Catterall, 2007). Reading women's weeklies alongside other women's magazines does the magazines themselves an injustice and fails to account for marked differences between women's magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, and the cultural texts with which I am concerned. For example, in the popular magazine Cosmopolitan 'sex is used as the primary index of power and freedom for women' (Machin & Thornborrow, 2006: 173). In contrast, women's weeklies' narratives primarily revolve around domestic issues--family life, children, health, and relationships - and gain legitimacy through claims the articles are reader-submitted. The narratives' autobiographical nature generates an authenticity that is attributed to personal narratives and thus render women's weeklies relevant in political debate, positioning them as distinctively representative of the everyday contemporary woman's lived experience (Simmons, 2008: 89). The post-riot political climate and discourses provide an illuminating context in which to undertake an analysis of these domestic narratives.

Speaking at a Conservative party conference following the riots, the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, said, 'the riots provided a moment of clarity for us all, a reminder that a strong economy requires a strong social settlement, with stable families ready to play a productive role in their communities'. For Duncan Smith 'stable families' equates to 'stable two-parent families taking responsibility for their children and creating a strong society'. To entice people towards this lifestyle Duncan Smith proposes that the government reverse the 'biases [that give] financial discouragement' to couples, such as reinstating tax breaks for marriage--and he is not alone. A Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) poll found that 70% of those polled were in favour of the tax breaks and a resounding 80% of people regarded 'family breakdown' as a serious problem facing society. …

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