Delighted, Destroyed and Dangerous: women in the media.

Do you ever get fed up of the same messages from trashy magazines? Tired old aspirations that belong in another era, for example?


Or thinly disguised warnings that we can’t have it all?


I had a bit of fun with Company’s female fashion tribes a while back, but the lazy pigeonholing doesn’t stop there. May I introduce you to three of the biggest women clichés… The Delighted. The Destroyed. And the Downright Dangerous.

So who are they?


Key words: radiant, glowing, ecstatic, fulfilled
Most likely to be photographed… smiling happily at the camera, nuzzling lover in some street-side cafe

Of the three this is probably the tamest, but the most passive…and as a result, just as insulting to us ladies. Who gets to be delighted? In general, anyone who has been ‘given’ a baby by their fella, anyone who has been proposed to (and by extension saved from the bleak future of spinsterhood). Kate Middleton is one of the more recently delighted, of course, and her high-street shopping is celebrated as some kind of move against the highly traditional institution that she’s entered into.

Lucky old Chezza, eh? What will she do about her career now?!


Key words: crushed, humiliated, distressed, devastated, gutted
Most likely to be photographed… looking thinner, looking down or in huge ‘hide the eyes’ sunglasses

Oof. No-one wants to be in this one…unless it works for PR purposes. This includes personal tragedies, like Kylie’s battle with cancer or Lily Allen’s miscarriage, but the media becomes a real circus when someone’s partner is unfaithful. This may well have all started with Jennifer Aniston, who can still barely escape from the ‘Brangelina’ shadow years later. Will she ever be considered in any other way than the dumped woman who can’t find love? I hope so. The classic example is Cheryl Cole – Mr Cole’s sordid exploits generated incredible media sympathy, and led to endless discussions on her weight loss and appearance. Everything she’s achieved since has been viewed as ‘one in the eye’ for Ashley. What else could a girl do? If she’d crumpled, put on 3 stone and gone grey overnight, that would’ve been it. You can’t deny it. I saw this post the other day:

She may have been screwed over by the man she loves, but at least she’s still wearing a fabulous lipstick!! Phew!


Key words: seductive, provocative, enticing, inviting
Most likely to be photographed… in very few clothes

Uh oh. Enter: Imogen Thomas et al. These ‘homewreckers’ are demons of the first degree, apparently. Women without morals who eat men for breakfast, they are that end of the madonna-whore spectrum. Most women foolish enough to have flings with married footballers are lumped into this category, a category which entitles the media to speculate about the variety of one’s sexual partners, often conveniently forgetting that it takes two to tango…

SEX-HUNGRY, no less.

See? Sexual liberation has a lot to answer for. It’s also insulting to men, suggesting that some women’s sexual magnetism is so great it unzips their trousers for them. And gay women get a look in – later the article suggests RL has had flings with women too, as proof of her ‘depravity’.

NB: Angelina Jolie has managed to dodge this particular bullet; the fact she ‘broke up’ Hollywood’s golden couple has been neutralised with her charity work and love of adoption. Plus, you know: she gave Brad children, so job done.

The Passive Sense

I know you don’t need me to lay it on any thicker than that, so I’ll put the trowel down. I’m sure you’re also aware that male stereotypes exist (which certain Premiership footballers seem determined to perpetuate): the laddish moneybags, the ageing and sleazy lotharios, the ‘date em and dump em’ Hollywood bad boys. What I can’t stand is the passivity of the female clichés. Look at the vocab: fulfilled, crushed, gutted – these are things that are done to a person. The Dangerous Dames, who actively lure men away from wives and families, are an exception, and their very activeness is used more as an excuse for male infidelity.

And, as usual, sexuality and power are conflated, and either either stifled or over-blown.

"What do you mean, there's no 'Middle Ground Bubblebath'?!"

How do you feel about images of women in the media?

And what other stereotypes do we need to get rid of?


This post is one of a series of monthly posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers.
Read the other ‘Women in the Media and Popular Culture’ posts here.
Join the discussion in the Google group here.


53 thoughts on “Delighted, Destroyed and Dangerous: women in the media.

  1. OMG, freakin hilarious! The step-by-step guide to becoming a footballer’s wife! I remember the “you can’t have it all” one and thinking that is pretty hateful. The press is cruel to successful women. Our best defense is to be each other’s cheerleaders which is a movement in itself.

  2. Oh can’t believe I missed the step by step guide for WAGs oh well guess I will have to ern my own money LOL. These headlines make me wanna vom, I find it even more infuriating when they are on Grazia as inside the mag it is not all about the trashy stories. Ive read countless comments on their web page by readers begging them to stop using these headlines and put some actual fashion on the front cover. No one buys Grazia for the trash there are plenty of other mags for that so why on earth do they think they need it to sell!!!!

    • Yeah, back to the drawing board for you, P! It makes me frustrated, too, that fashion magazines have to capitalise on trashy celeb rubbish to sell themselves. Look magazine used to avoid all that, but I’ve had to stop buying that too.

  3. OOps I nearly slipped up entering my website to comment.. wildernesschic poem.. is so easy to write wildernesschic porn.. mm well that is another story ..
    Such a fabulous post.. I dont really know the solution .. except that is will continue until us women are less envious and kinder to each other..
    I sometimes embrace the sisterhood… something I have been suspicious of since a child .. but often to end up being possibly more broken than by any man.. men are simple they are either into you or they are not…
    Women we are complicated we love to see these sort of stories especially the bad ones.. we buy the magazines etc etc ..
    So.. with no real comment to make about he subject except that I loved the post .. here’s me signing off xx

  4. Great post and well said! I remember years ago when newspapers contained real news rather than the kiss and tell stories now. I want to see great role models who inspire me, not how to become a wag or reality star.

  5. Fabulous post. I think it’s interesting when you think of who is fueling the tabloid market. I dare say it’s women and not men. Perhaps an interesting question to ask oneself is, “Why are women so interested in the self destruction of other women?”

    • It is an interesting question, and one which I reckon the FFB should get stuck into – if they subscribe to it at all, of course. But yes, a few of the UK’s tabloid newspapers are edited by women – it’s all the more shocking that they’re ‘playing the game’…

  6. Great stuff! What i always find so hilarious is the way female single celebrities are portrayed as these disasterous losers in love while men get applauded for their going on dates with lots of gorgeous girls. But if, say Jennifer Anniston or Cameron Diaz go on a date with some hot-but-possibly-a-little-thick guy, its because they are desparate for a baby and ‘looking for love’.

    • I know! You can’t win. The whole Jennifer Aniston thing is just ridiculous – she seems to be a strong woman with close friends and a good career, and super-imposing this jealousy/revenger persona on her has become incredibly boring…

  7. Funny but ultimately very true – it’s really quite worrying to think that this IS how women are actually portrayed in the media. Courtney makes in interesting point about asking oneself “Why are women so interested in the self destruction of other women?” It’s true, as all of these magazines that stereotype these women are all marketed TOWARDS women! I agree about Grazia too – why the need for the attention grabbing headlines when it’s predominantly a fashion magazine?

    • I suppose because that need has now been created – we are so used to the ready consumption of titbit gossip, that we expect it everywhere we look. Would we miss it if it went? Probably not. Are the magazines brave enough to put an end to it? No way.

      Courtney’s point is an interesting one, and I’m still mulling it over – it may even end up the subject of another post!!

  8. Very interesting post – I could hear the table slamming. How has it come to this? I am a bit lost right now to respond properly. You’ve captured the hopelessness of the portrayal of women in the media perfectly. Too churned up to continue…

    • I’m torn between wanting to put my head in my hands and drowning the whole thing in ridicule. Considering the sheer volume of this rubbish, though, I’m leaning towards the former… I think these magazines and chick lit are so dangerous!

  9. I know it’s more of a general thing than a point about stereotypes but it drives me mad when one issue of a magazine is filled with headlines and features about how great celebs look when they get “curvy” (ie bigger than a size 8, or have a boob job) and the very next issue is about how someone exactly the same size is now looking fat and desperately needs to lose weight to save their career/love life etc. I’ve given up on women’s magazines – I just read Oh Comely and Horse & Hound. Ha, way to break the fashion blogger stereotype eh?

    The Huma Abedin thing does interest me. It’s not just newspapers taking that slant though. I was watching News 24 late at night last week when it transferred over to ABC World News and they talked about her for a good 5 minutes, most of which was discussion about how pretty she was. The barest lip service was paid to her intellect or the demanding job she does so well…

    • Oh god, I know, it’s so goddamn PREDICTABLE!!! It drives me mad that we’re stuck in this rut. Have you seen the first Sex and the City film? I remember being shocked that they showed SJP looking drained and exhausted…because we’re so unused to it. Famous women get credit for being beautiful in the face of adversity: what is this, the 1940s?!

      It’s funny you should mention Oh Comely – I’d never heard of it, but my housemate told me about it the other day. I may give Horse and Hound a miss, but I’ll definitely check that one out!! 😉

  10. I think the biggest problem is so many women feed into the lies, and stereotypes. Women keep this horrible cycle going, and we have to be the ones to stop it. You are not a slut if you own your sexuality. You are not a complete failure if you don’t want kids. I feel like women have been put into a little box for so long, but we are evolving now. Hopefully the media will catch up soon. Oh, and the most annoying stereotype to me is the smart always right snarky wife, and the dumb always clueless husband. You see it way too much on sitcoms, and it bugs me to no end.

    • Oh, I know! I hate that too, and Mr B finds it incredibly insulting. Mind you, I think a lot of people discuss men in that way: “they’re all useless” etc etc, and I refuse to go down that road. When it comes to gender, generalisations make me cringe – however humorous they’re meant to be!

      As for: “You are not a slut of you own your sexuality. You are not a complete failure if you don’t want kids.” – if only we could incorporate that into high school education we’d make great leaps forward!

  11. ..women’s sexual magnetism is so great that is unzips their trousers for them. Say it, sister!!!

    As for the giving of babies, can’t have it both ways. Brad gave Angelina the babies…:)

    • Ha ha! Though I could argue that she was in a position to ‘give’ Brad babies because she was already in the active role of villainess! 😉 Or perhaps Ms Jolie has found a way to be an exception to the rule…

  12. I read that particular magazine that saw “another dilemma” in the future for Cheryl Cole. And I wanted to barf on the spot. That is just so ridiculous. OMG he promised her a baby! Way to go back to a worthless marriage! Because all women just love babies so much they’ll give up everything just to have one with their sleazy scumbag of a cheating husband. I can only imagine her thinking “Hmmm… Promising career and building my own future on one hand… Tied to that douchebag forever through an innocent child that is born into this trainwreck of a marriage, thus destroying my career advances on the other hand? HARD CHOICE!!” D’Oh!

    Relatable Style

    • Ha ha! Brilliant summation of ‘Cheryl’s Choice’! She’s very much painted as someone who has (had?) it all, but it seems like an excruciatingly hard life to live. Mind you, a lot of the footballers’ wives seem to have that dilemma when they’ve given birth – the footballers themselves are the biggest cliche!!

  13. Great post. As far as stereotypes go, I’d also like to see an end to the long-suffering, noble mother who takes care of everybody except herself. We honor these women — for example, on makeover shows — by making them “Queens for a Day” and encouraging them to nurture themselves. But there’s a weird mixed message because it’s as if women only earn the right to look out for themselves by sacrificing for others, first. Just see how quick society is to vilify women for who fail to live up to a certain preconceived maternal ideal.

    • That’s an excellent point; I think I find the long-suffering mother stereotype the most upsetting, as they’ve devoted so much of their lives to looking after others with no thought for themselves. It’s a waste, and yes, gives a terrible message. What concerns me most is that this ‘ideal’ is passed down through families as children pick up clear messages about the links between entitlement and gender.

  14. Great post! The fact that the only women who aren’t passive are the dangerous ones says a lot. It’s still considered so wrong for women to be active agents isn’t it!! I also love the way you highlighted how the mags always report how the lady is so lucky to have been *given* a baby by their fella. Well I really hope that they made the decision to conceive together, and the woman is the one who is going to be doing all the work growing the baby! So ridiculous.

  15. uhm, how about getting rid of EVERY stereotype? I for one would love to see just ONE movie or series where an attractive guy falls for a REAL, every day or even less than pretty type of girl for her great personality. Movies like my sassy girl INFURIATE me: you don’t mind a girl that is downright cuckoo in the head, dangerous for herself AND you, as long as she’s CUTE? AEGAUOrhgorzgirzhrz

    Also, movies about older women. Sunset Boulevard really got me pissed because the main character is discarded by EVERYONE, including our “nice” protagonist, just because she can’t back up her bravoure with youthful looks anymore. Literally discarded, they all treat her like a piece of trash, and we as an audience are supposed to find her a really sad, crazy old lady. She looks like she’s 36 and it becomes very clear after just a small amount of screentime that she’s actually a very sweet but extremely insecure woman, if you ask me. So yeah, that stereotype that paints old women who don’t shut up as crazy can go to.

    • I don’t know Sunset Boulevard, but it’s far too familiar a stereotype. And yes, I’m so bored of women always having to be ‘the most beautiful person in the world’, ‘ugly’ girls simply having to swap glasses for contact lenses, blah blah blah… I’d love it if women woke up in films with messy hair and flaky mascara. And I remember watching Jurassic Park and thinking, “Why does Laura Dern still look nice? She’s been chased by two velociraptors!!”

      Noticed you found an exception though, in Hairspray. Loved that post!

  16. Steps on how to become a footballers wife? Bleurghhh. I admit to buying Grazia and Look magazine but I always skim past the stupid stories about Jen being a loser in love and Cheryl back in contact with Ashley. I hate those feckin, pointless, stories that makes it seem like the only way these women will be happy is when they are in the arms of a man…. and then the cheating stories start. I categorically hate, Ok magazine and all others of that ilk. Terrible waste of ink and paper. Why must women always be desperate for love in them?

    • I know – however successful they are in their careers, this is simply a front for their desperate yearning for a husband and a child. Yawn. I have to say, I rarely read mags like this any more – these photos are always taken furtively in the newsagents…!

  17. Oh wow, these are indeed blatant stereotypes. All the better for us to analyze, which you did wonderfully. I realize that stereotypes and snap judgments were useful strategies at some point when the world was a much more dangerous place, and may therefore be hard-wired into our ways of thinking, but they’re just not helpful in the world of today… so raising awareness is definitely needed!

    • That is such an interesting point – I suppose pigeonholing like this is an attempt at some form of ‘security’…but yes, they’re unhelpful at best, and at worst they’re downright dangerous!

  18. What a motley bunch!
    I’ve never got women’s magazines, I despise them and loathe the advertising and product placement even more. It looks like they’ve got even more appaling of late but still women insist on buying the rags. xxx

    • I didn’t think they’d be your bag! They do seem to have gotten worse lately – I always take photos of ridiculous covers stories, and it was far too easy for me to find these examples… xx

  19. Wow I think it’s a bit scary that young women want to become a ‘WAG’ nowadays and that there are girls who’s only goal in life is to end up with a footballer on their arm. Articles like that one in OK I guess don’t help matters. But like others have mentioned, all stereotypes are bad.

    • I know – the thought terrifies me that any daughters of mine would have that as their sole aspiration! Apparently when kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, most of them say a footballer’s wife, a singer on the X Factor or a lottery winner. It’s so sad…

  20. Great post – those mag headlines are so judgemental and cliched. wish you had pulled them out of a vault, but alas, they’re current. THe WAGs thing has always disturbed me. I’m not sure why anyone would want to build an identity from someone else’s fame, but obviously there’s a selling point or the how-to wouldn’t have been published.

  21. Interesting post, I avoid reading these magazines at all as they are such complete rubbish. yes it is quite scary that people read them , and even more scary that people actually take what they are saying seriously. I am definitely sticking to fashion blogs for more a intelligent and inspiring read

    • I’ll drink to that, my dear! I just hate it when this trashy stuff infiltrates the fashion mags – not everyone likes fashion AND celeb gossip!

  22. Yes, this is the reason I despise many tabloid papers/women’s mags just dreadful. It’s most frustrating when instead of focused on an intelligent element it’s overthrown by a stereotype or body image issue or who she’s shacked up with. It would be nice to see women in a better light, not considered a failure just because they didn’t give a baby to their fella, lol. Wow, I think women probably read/buy these the most, which is sad, hence the tabloid business just keeps flourishing as the destruction gains way. Great post!

    • That’s it – the whole feed-demand cycle means it flourishes, and gets worse, and gets more and more tacky. One of the commenters above suggested stereotypes make people feel better because they know who they are and understand their motives – it’s like we’re scared of diversity and women who don’t want marriage or babies!!

  23. Brilliant post, lady! Though I want to rip my hair out, I hate this trash and try to shun my eyes from it. What kills me is that it is mainly other women who read about this stuff and how it flashes in front of younger girls’ eyes at the grocery store, etc. I guess the best thing to do is laugh it off, but really – it infuriates me! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    • I know, I hate the thought that young girls are seeing it and getting such overwhelming messages about aspirations, body image, relationships… With that and the top shelf soft porn, it could be very damaging – makes it hard to laugh it off, doesn’t it?!

  24. Pingback: Trashy stories | Kiboexpedition

  25. Terrific post! I do have to point out though… even Angelina isn’t safe from the tabloids! I’ve noticed that every once in a while, the tabloids will print something about her crazy home life or some weird habit she allegedly has or how she is a bitch to Brad. It’s crazy how much the media loves to tear women down… even, an allegedly feminist-leaning site tears certain women (Gwyneth Paltrow is a favorite) down regularly. And it really only happens with women… you would never see an article about how George Clooney is desperate to get married.

    • Ha, yeah you’re right – no one is immune…though I get the impression that the media are a bit scared of Ange!! And yes, women are torn down all the time, while many male actors are venerated by men and women alike. Thanks for your comment, love!

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