Girlfriend, Your Style Has a Splinter: Polish Women's Magazine the Feminist Press, 1989-2002

By Lanoux, Andrea | Indiana Slavic Studies, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Girlfriend, Your Style Has a Splinter: Polish Women's Magazine the Feminist Press, 1989-2002


Lanoux, Andrea, Indiana Slavic Studies


Artifacts from the new Polish market economy gather dust in the bottom of my drawer: a bottle of pink nail polish, self-tanning cream, a faux-silk scarlet necklace, bath salts, two bouillon cubes, an envelope of vanilla-flavored grain coffee (kawa zbozowa), a tape measure, a canvas handbag, a pocket guide to dating, and a panty liner. These are some of the "free gifts" I received with the purchase of Polish women's magazines during the summer of 2002. They are physical extensions of the ads that cover glossy pages and evidence of an over-saturated market marking the end of an era when enthralled readers would buy several women's magazines a week for their open discussions of sex, coverage of exotic lifestyles, and "real-life" drama. By now their novelty has faded: This month's Cosmo offers more of the same, making the "free" gift a standard feature of contemporary Polish women's magazines, which in 2002 cost the equivalent of thirty cents to two and a half dollars. The apparent dual function of the free gift-to sell magazines and promote products--in fact has a single aim: To harness the buying power of millions of Polish women whose traditional homemaker roles and increasing incomes have made them the object of serious courting by multinational corporations. That Polish women are avid readers and still observe the Soviet-era practice of sharing reading material makes this an ideal forum for advertisers, who get much exposure for their ztoty. But as these free gifts indicate, the commercial press is also pushing a brand of femininity known all too well-one in which beauty, youth, and sex appeal are touted as women's greatest virtues.

The post-1989 boom marks an unprecedented growth in the history of the Polish women's press and a fascinating socio-cultural phenomenon in its own right. The 172 new titles that appeared in the five and a half years between 1989 and 1995--nearly double the number that had emerged over the course of the previous forty-five years--are just part of the cultural explosion prompted by the political and economic reforms of 1989 and 1990 (Sokol, Prasa, 59). These reforms included the privatization of the publishing industry, the elimination of state censorship, and the end of journalistic monopolies, all of which sparked an immediate influx of foreign capital. The subsequent publishing boom brought drastic changes in the kind, content, and appearance of periodicals marketed to women, and a seemingly overnight diversification of the market. New magazines began to appear on specific topics, such as health and fitness (Zyjmy dluzej [Let's Live Longer], Zdrowie [Health], Vita); child rearing (Mamo to ja [Mama--It's Me], Twoje dziecko [Your Child], Rodzice [Parents]); weight loss (Super Linia [Super Waistline]); gardening (Kwiaty w domu [Flowers at Home], Bukiety [Bouquets]); and astrology (Wrozka [Fortune Teller], Horoskop [Horoscope], Gwiazdy mowiq [The Stars Speak]). Topics that had been covered before 1989, such as teen culture (Filipinka), cooking (Ciasta domowe [Home Baking]), sewing (Sandra), and fashion (Moda [Fashion]), began generating a multitude of new titles (Sokol, Prasa, 242-48).1 New general interest magazines, such as Poradnik domowy (Domestic Handbook), Tina, and Claudia, achieved record circulation numbers in the millions. Meanwhile the Polish feminist movement, galvanized by the abortion debates of 1989-90 and the renewed ban on abortion, produced dozens of new periodicals. Although these publications have much smaller print runs than their commercial counterparts, they significantly broadened the spectrum of issues addressed and femininity represented in women's magazines.

Zofia Sokol, author of the only monograph on Polish women's periodicals, defines the women's press (prasa kobieca) as "that group of periodical publications intended for women, as designated in their title or subtitle, program, content, thematic organization, structure, as well as linguistic form" (Sokol, Prasa, 8). …

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