When women’s magazines were born in the 19th century, they claimed to represent a new era, in which free and independent women cultivated their own interests. But the interests portrayed in this new media tended to fall into either household issues or fashion; the independent woman's freedom to choose was a freedom to choose between aprons and party dresses.
This same empowering/diminishing duplicity still exists on the newstands today, and any woman with a subscription to Cosmopolitan might quite reasonably suffer from a borderline personality disorder thanks to its advice.
Such magazines assume readers to be image-obsessed and in constant need of tricks to lose weight, look good in pictures, and even to look good naked. After demolishing any lingering hope that you might look good without tricks, the Cosmo cohort then suggests ways to gain “epic confidence”, (hint: wear “clothing you already know you look best in”). Quizzes are another confusing attempt to build women's self-awareness, usually in terms of what men think of you: are you a“good-girl hot or a bad-girl hot”? Are you an “over-sharer or mysterious?".
And there's a reason such magazines have survived the years: they were and still are highly profitable, as advertisers were eager to finance a product that had huge neon signs saying: “Here’s an easy way to make money out of women’s insecurities! Make them buy the foundation that will literally correct their faces”. Decades later, the trick still works.
But Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott, the founders of alternative magazine Spare Rib, didn't want to write a catalogue for passiveness. Combining 60's anti-capitalism and Women’s Lib, Spare Rib replaced pages of fashion products, cooking appliances and lotions with real articles about women on strike or women in popular music, and argued that both sexes needed freedom from capitalist consumption.
Spare Rib's writers were also collectively organized activists who worked “against the stereotype of woman who keeps quietly in the back”, thus challenging journalistic conventions of both hierarchy and apolitical neutrality. As they explained in a February 1975 editorial:
“To work collectively is to crash through the disastrous conventional attitude that some jobs are done by the clever and intellectual people (men, writers, editors, designers) and others are done by the not-so-clever, boring even stupid people (women, secretaries, assistants, cleaners, accounts, selling advertising), to tumble tradition so that we, as women, make new chances, our own chances, to redefine ourselves”.
The magazine was published monthly in Britain from 1972 to 1993.