When I was a young girl in the ’90s, most of the magazines targeted at my demographic were very girly-girl in nature. I was told how to do my makeup and hair and shown how to dress so boys would like me, given tips on how to lose weight so I could look like a model, explained how to act so other girls would be my friends, and tutored on kissing like a pro. I’m pretty sure there were never any features on how to fix a broken television or how to change a flat tire, updates on sports teams, or suggestions on pursuing a career as a police officer or firefighter.
I’m not sure I would have been interested in those things if they had been offered to me, but who knows. Maybe the reason I feel that way is because society sort of dictated what I should be interested in before I really got to make up my mind for myself.
Flash forward to 2016, when the gender gap continues to tighten up and society isn’t totally okay with stereotyping girls as “sugar and spice and everything nice” and boys as “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.”
Well, apparently Girls’ Life magazine hasn’t gotten the memo yet.
The magazine, targeted at girls around the age of 12, is under fire this week for their September 2016 cover — which pretty much focuses on fashion, makeup, first kisses, and ways to “wake up pretty!” This month’s issue of Boys’ Life, in contrast, focuses on exploring future careers. The covers are being featured side-by-side, and people, including mom and business owner Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll, are really, really mad.
The mother of five penned a fierce letter on Facebook to the head editorial figures at the magazine and it is going viral.
“Your cover has a lovely young lady with a full face of makeup and you invite your readers to ‘steal her secrets’,” she writes.
“The BOYS’ LIFE cover has in bold letters: EXPLORE YOUR FUTURE surrounded by all kinds of awesome gear for different professions — doctor, explorer, pilot, chemist, engineer, etc. subheading — HERE’S HOW TO BE WHAT YOU WANT TO BE.
Could there possibly be two more divergent messages?”
She goes on to highlight the cover’s topics: Fashion (how to SLAY on the first day), Confessions: My first kiss, Wake up Pretty, Your Dream Hair, as well as gives them props for at least mentioning doing well in school, “even if it does come at the end of this: How to have fun, make friends … and get all A’s. But, whatever will they do with all those A’s since it is the boys who will be the Astronaut, Artist, Firefighter, Chef?”
She continues to point out the contrasting messages:
“You to girls: Be like this girl. Wake up gorgeous, steal a girl’s secrets, slay on your first day, have fun, make friends … and kiss … and get all A’s. BOYS LIFE to boys: Be what YOU want to be. Here are some of your awesome choices! We’ll show you how! Your true stories are: real girls smooch and spill. Boys’ Life true stories are: True stories of firefighters in action.”
She questions what the editors are trying to teach girls, especially as “working, professional women” themselves.
“Is this the message you are proud of? Is this why you became publishers, writers, graphic designers? To tell girls they are the sum of their fashion, makeup and hair?”
She urges them to change the direction of society and “fight the tide of objectification of girls” by creating “covers and stories that treat girls as more than hair, lips and kisses.”
Her other solution, which she posted in response to her letter going viral, is that if parents feel the same way as she does, they should stop buying these magazines and write letters to the editors urging them to change their editorial direction.
“We are the consumers. We can make the difference for our daughters,” she concludes.
Karen Bokram, publisher and founding editor of Girls’ Life, responded to Refinery29 about the letter.
“Are we more than lip gloss and clothes? Of course,” she told the website, adding, “It’s okay to like lip gloss or be interested in fashion. … I don’t know how [the problem] became ‘either you like lip gloss and clothes or you like being an astronaut.'”
She also used the “don’t judge a book by its cover” argument, urging people to actually read the magazine before jumping to conclusions about what it is all about.
As a mother — as well as someone who works in the media — I can see both sides to their argument. While I feel girls should be exposed to everything that boys are and shouldn’t be pigeonholed, the editor is paid to create content to fulfill the needs and wants of their target demographic. It is a supply and demand industry: if girls weren’t interested in what they are selling, they wouldn’t be buying it and the magazine would change their editorial strategy.
But I agree with Keats-Jaskoll. If you don’t like the message that magazines like this are promoting, then refuse to buy them and do write letters to the editor urging for change. If enough people demand change, it will happen. Until then, you can always buy your daughter Boys’ Life.More On