In February 1996, the journalists' weekly UK Press Gazette reported that girls' magazines had "soaring sales". Magazine covers featured in the report included the following "strap lines": "My magic powers can get me any boy", "make-up special: be a BABE this Valentine's Day", "sneaky ways to make him want you", "free 16-page booklet - Sex and You", "get the coolest outfit for just £30!" and "are they bitching about you? here's what to do" (Sugar); "the hot date issue", "the girl who stole Paul Nicholls' heart", "Boy-pulling fashion", "What that Valentine's card really means", "I was the school slut" and "sealed sex section - boys & you" (It's Bliss); "Real life - I'm addicted to boys", "Catwalk looks without splashing your cash", "Pssst! 101 boy secrets a girl's gotta know" and "Lump him or dump him? When to bin your boy" (Just Seventeen). It's Bliss editor Dawn Bébe described her title as "aspirational" (UK Press Gazette, 5/2/1996, p11).
Growing public concern about the content of these magazines was reflected when Peter Luff, the Conservative MP for Worcester, introduced The Periodical (Protection of Children) Bill under the 10-minute rule procedure. If this had become law, publishers would have been obliged to print the recommended minimum readership age on the magazines' cover or face a fine. Luff explained: "It's not just the sexually explicit stuff. These magazines are deeply sexist. They're all about sex and preparing yourself for boys. Nothing about the other things girls should be thinking about - careers or sporting heroes." (The Guardian, 6/2/1996, p2).
Suzanne Moore, also writing in the Guardian, defends the sexual content of the magazines, but points out that:
The problem is not that the focus has moved on from romance
to sex, but that the focus remains so narrow, that girls are still encouraged
to define themselves solely in relation to boys rather than to anything
. . . Yet I could make, and I have made, the same criticism of much media that is aimed at grown-up women. If we cannot escape a heavily sexualised culture, then perhaps we should be glad that our daughters have the good sense to prepare themselves for it. (The Guardian, 8/2/1996, p5)
In my opinion, the problem is not the sexual content of the magazines, which provides much-needed information to young people. (A survey by the Children's Literature Research Centre at the Roehampton Institute found that more than three-quarters of girls and almost two-thirds of boys would rather learn about sex from magazines than from parents or teachers - the Guardian, 23/2/1996, p7). The problem is the lack of non-sexual content in the magazines, coupled with the lack of alternatives.
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