This book calls out the need to, not just ask for, but demand a media that is representative of who women really are.
The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media by Holly Baxter & Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (published by Square Peg)
The Vagenda started out as a blog in 2012 created by twentysomethings Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. After years of magazine consumption they were fed up with how it punted the importance of women’s daily regimes of grooming, ways to sexually pleasure your man and the exhibitionism of celebrity culture.
The book has received mixed reviews; with Victoria Sadler of The Huffington Post hailing the book a failure for forth wave feminism, producing very little new info in this field; while The Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon called the writers out as ‘anti-women’. Yet, Gordon praised its laugh-out-loud wit and candid criticism and subversive attitude towards today’s online and print media’s repetitive message of conformity.
The authors hone in, in detail, on the world they call ‘Magazineland’.
From guides encouraging and teaching women to be good housewives – dating back as far as the 1700s – to how magazines like COSMO and Glamour coach young women into playing the part of the ‘young, sexually free, working gal’ who is really just a cog in the patriarchy machine we call life.
Sex tips are called out as ‘rubbish’ as mags suggest kinky tips every ‘modern woman’ should know. The Vagenda dispels the notion that women are anything remotely like this in real life.
Their discussion of body politics in the media shows us the constant focus on our bodily ‘flaws’ and ‘imperfections’. Ads encouraging girls to lose a few kilos as ‘men prefer slimmer girls’ have, over the years, harshly spelt out to women that their value lies, ultimately, in their weight and appearance rather than their smarts or skills.
Later in the book they discuss how the average magazine feature is now a measly 300 words – apparently because women can’t read more than that in one sitting (?!) Career articles with tips on ‘how to land that interview’ are now much more about grooming than personality or actual experience.
They take on the fashion industry’s aversion to eating anything with more calories than a grape, cite a designer ejecting a model for being “too fat for Chanel” from a show; and describe a brief flirt with the fashion industry as: “After only a matter of hours in the industry your self-confidence has plummeted as low as your blood sugar (although at least you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that a diabetic coma provides a handy excuse for you to be fed via drip without anyone asking too many questions).”
I was not happy with their debasing, generalised, ‘Devil Wears Prada’ view of the fashion industry cultivated in this book. It allows very little room for exceptions as their approach is patronising, sarcastic and very much demeaning to anyone associated with this world.
Many have critiqued the authors for calling out an interest in fashion and beauty as downright ‘unfeminist’. A practice very ‘unfeminist’ in itself as feminism is all about choice.
The Vagenda’s almost superior attitude gives me the idea that they really do think women are dumb creatures who only care about their next mani/pedi. Instead of coming up with a creative new idea for a magazine, which would be more representative of women and who they really are, this book gives us more of an overview of female subjugation in the world of media.
Example after example of why it basically sucks to be a woman is mentioned – leaving you extremely angry and a bit sad for humankind. Yet, it’s a very entertaining read that will definitely see you reconsidering your next magazine purchase.
Keen on reading this book? Buy your copy now.