The Feminist Case for Gossip Mags?

// 30 January 2008

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I’m sure we’ve all done it. We groan when we see yet another front-cover revelling in the cellulite, spots and general physical imperfections of the nation’s “favourite” celebrities. We righteously tut when it seems that, yet again, women in the public eye are being scrutinised for their looks far more than their male counterparts ever are.

Of course, there is also an argument that these magazines actually expose the myth of perfection for the sham it really is, which is the position Julie Burchill takes in an excellent piece in today’s Guardian:

Consider the evidence: namely, that the famous women we see in the gossip mags are gloriously, recognisably human. In chav-mag land, beauty comes and goes with smoke and mirrors – it’s all a construct and, as such, liable to fall apart at any time, which means that the colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady (or Jade Jagger and Jade Goody in this case) are sisters under the skin…

“Ooh, a hundred years of feminism gone down the drain!” a certain sort of killjoy Jeremiah is wont to whinge when they see a civilian chick sniggering over a Heat snapshot of some starlet’s un-fake-tanned ankles. To which I would reply no, it’s you that’s a disgrace to our living, mutating feminism, with your apparent feeling that to be a “proper” woman one must never bitch, smirk or get a cheap laugh out of someone wealthier’s imperfections. So a woman should be pure in thought, word and sense of humour, eh? A veritable Angel of the Hearth, indeed! How very Victorian – and how very boring.


The great thing about Birchill is that she embraces every argument thoroughly. She isn’t afraid to dedicate the time many of us allot to agonising about “fairness to both sides” to more exciting and noteworthy rhetoric. There are no mealy-mouthed grey areas or justifications in some defensive attempt to pre-empt the opposition. She just does her thing and to hell with whatever her detractors might say. Some of her arguments may be deeply flawed or even offensive at times but, in her complete dedication to the point in hand, she manages to expose the snobbishness and hypocrisy lurking within even the most worthy of causes. Her handle on class prejudice in general is particularly astute.

Any woman liberated enough to admit she’s “quite like” the deluded David Brent is alright as far as I’m concerned. Pompous fool, I salute you!

Photo by petname, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Thanks to Emily Turner for alerting me to this article!

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