Hard News by Russell Brown

105

Women and their representations

The New Zealand Woman's Weekly has turned 80 years old and celebrates this week with a sleek, perfect-bound "collectors edition" that focuses "our most inspiring women". The five-colour cover features Lorraine Downes (chosen I'm told, because she hasn't had cosmetic surgery and refuses Photoshop touch-ups) and, in a nice touch, the issue includes a replica of the Weekly's first issue.

A panel (Joan Withers, Katherine Rich, Pamela Stirling, Jacinda Ardern, Sara Tetro, Beautrice Faumuina, Kerre Woodham and Weekly editor Sarah Stuart) was convened over lunch to hammer out a list of the "the top 10 women who have shaped New Zealand". They came up with the following:

1. Helen Clark

2. Kate Sheppard

3. Jean Batten

4. Janet Frame

5. Dame Silvia Cartwright

6. Dame Whina Cooper

7. Marilyn Waring

8. The Topp Twins

9. Dame Rosanne Meo

10. Dame Lois Muir

Several more pages are giving over to Q&As with some of the top 10, and others -- from Jenny Shipley and Georgina Beyer to Ladi6 and Ngila Dickson. If a few answers carry a little too much of the air of personal development, the whole is quite inspirational.

But ... (and I'm not suggesting the Weekly is by any means the main offender here) the more common stock-in-trade of the "women's magazines" seems to be less to make women feel inspired than to make them feel anxious.

Body image is perhaps the core topic of the sector. In successive weeks -- or even in the same issue -- it's customary to see "OMG! Too fat and has cellulite!" set against "OMG! Star wrecks beauty with fad diet!"

The atmosphere of anxiety was underlined in this month's NEXT magazine, which characterised the selected results of a survey of New Zealand women by Nielsen thus in its press release:

New Zealand’s women are feeling sidelined, are fearful about the crime culture in this country and are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to succeed in life.

Yikes. There's more: a similar survey by the magazine earlier in the year found that 86% of women think about their weight every day

Women are also the target of a great deal of consumer marketing, because they do so much of the consumer spending in our economy. The targeting of women as consumers has evolved since the days when household good were pitched by men-in-white-coats -- but where is it at now? How do companies get through to women? What do they say? And what are they selling?

We'll be discussing this and more in this week's Media7, with Sarah Stuart, comedian Urzila Carson and ad-man Dave Walden. We're hoping for a lively, informative and entertaining discussion -- and you're welcome to join us if you're in Auckland.

If you'd like to come to tomorrow evening's recording, come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ (it's a gate leading to a courtyard) some time between 5.15pm and 5.40pm. As ever, it's helpful if you can click on the envelope icon at the bottom of this post and email to let me know you're coming.

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