Adult education through mass media
Clark, Laura Lunde
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The purpose of this study was to identify messages that popular women’s magazines teach women about sexuality. Fundamental questions guiding this study were: 1) What are the sexual messages taught to women by popular women’s magazines?, and 2) How do sexual messages vary by race and age of magazine audiences? Data for this qualitative document analysis were collected from 16 issues of four purposefully selected popular women’s magazines – Cosmopolitan, Essence, More and O The Oprah Magazine. Magazines selected represented various targeted audiences and provided opportunities to compare and contrast identified sexual messages regarding racial differences (Black and White) and age differences (20s-30s and 40+). In the preliminary stage of this study, 12 peer reviewers provided feedback concerning identified sexual messages to help insure validity. From hundreds of advertisements and articles initially identified to contain sexual messages, 10% were randomly selected, along with all magazine covers, for in-depth analysis. Using a foundation of critical media studies and Altheide’s (1996) model of Ethnographic Content Analysis, sexual messages within 16 covers, 24 advertisements, and 38 articles were examined. Sexual messages across all four magazines were found to be framed by five topics. From most commonly to least commonly used, these were: 1) Appearance, 2) Entertainment, 3) Performance, 4) Relationships, and 5) Health & Well-being. Each of these topics framed 11-15 sexual messages, including messages that were common to one or more frames. A number of similarities and variations were found when comparing magazines generally read by women of different races and ages. Issues of sexism, racism, heterosexism, and ageism were recognized and discussed. Four conclusions can be drawn from the findings of this study. First, pervasive sexual messages throughout establish popular women’s magazines as significant informal adult education teaching tools. Second, popular women’s magazines reinforce societal hegemony regarding gender, race, sexual-orientation and age with their explicit sexual messages. Third, popular women’s magazines reinforce societal hegemony regarding gender, race, sexual-orientation and age by excluding sexual messages in conflict with hegemonic norms. And fourth, global similarities among popular women’s magazines’ sexual messages are more powerful than their variations based on race and age of readership.