"Between the Covers" @ The Women's Library
Writing about web page http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/whats-on/exhibitions/betweenthecovers.cfm
"Between the Covers: Women's Magazines and their Readers" is the current exhibition at The Women's Library, which I finally got to visit this weekend. The exhibition brought together a fascinating collection of magazines, following their development from the late 17th century (the first magazine was dated back to the 1690s and the earliest exhibit on display was from the 1770s) up to the present day. The content of magazines had unsurprisingly remained somewhat consistent throughout the years, with an emphasis on beauty and fashion in particular, but shifts in how different themes were addressed reflected the changing conceptions of "femininity"; different readerships were also, of course, an issue with a split in the market occurring from the early 20th century. The relationship between magazines and the different waves of women's liberation movements was interesting, as magazines played an important role right from the earliest formations of feminism in the 19th century, and more recently in second-wave feminism. Supplementing the many visual resources were recordings of interviews with women that had been highly instrumental in the development of magazines in the latter part of the twentieth century, such as Sue O'Sullivan, editor of feminist magazine Spare Rib.
It was particularly interesting to visit this exhibition with my mother who could not only remember the magazines that had been influential for women of her era - from the first magazines aimed at teenage girls in the late '60s, through to those for career women of the '80s - but could also recall the magazines that my Grandma read in the 1950s: it was surprising just how dated and old-fashioned these now looked, with their knitting patterns and articles on the Royal Family as the "celebrity" culture of the day!
I'm not a reader of any women's magazines, far preferring the content of online feminist magazines/blogs like The F-Word, and it would've been interesting if the exhibition had considered how the internet has changed (if indeed it has) the demands on publication of women's magazines- there are a number of feminist publications in print such as Subtextbut these often struggle to maintain a wide readership (in stark contrast to the vast and ever-growing amount of cheap tat like Heat etc. that seem increasingly pervasive on the magazine racks) but the internet has enabled feminist content to reach a wider population than it's even been able to achieve through print distribution.
The exhibition continues to run until the end of August, and it's definitely worth a visit- I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for future events at The Women's Library as it seems they have a wonderful collection of resources to be discovered.