Essentially non-essential

When I was 12-16 years old I devoured any Cosmo or Cleo I could get my hands on. Especially ones with sealed sections, because hurr hurr sex.

These magazines filled my teenage brain with faux excitement over the fact that “if you mostly answered b – he has a huge crush on you”. They provided absolutely no tough questions or challenges for the status quo of my life. This was good, because I was busy enough with important things like which Roswell character I liked the most.

It was normal for girls to ruthlessly compete with each other. Wanting the best possible clothes, the blondest hair, the hottest sex tips (to please HIM, ladies) were all things other media told me I should want. Cosmo and Cleo were the emphatically supportive peer reviewers of those messages.

By the time I was 20 and I had realised that there was something very wrong with those messages, I never looked back. I remember picking up a Cosmo once at a friend’s house and noticing immediately how white everyone was. There was an article about a “lesbian experience” which closeted bisexual 16 year-old-me would have read as comforting. I now read it as offensive, sexualised and dismissive.

I’m not the only woman I know who experienced growing out of the media she once held dear, but I’m also not the norm. Apparently women are supposed to graduate from Cleo to Next and Essential Mums to widen their repertoire of sit ups to “fight” not only “unsightly flab” but also “Mummy Tummy”.

The posters of eligible bachelors get replaced with recipes. The gossip about Katie Holmes’ character having sex in Dawson’s Creek gets replaced with Katie Holmes’ real-life messy divorce. Somewhere along the way I’m supposed to start caring about interior decorating and the Evers-Swindell twins.

Women’s media is pink. It’s really, really pink. It’s also white. It’s upper-middle class. It’s mostly heterosexual, cis-gendered and distinctly Christian-flavoured.

Unless you’re acquainted with the feminist media counter-culture, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is completely fine and not ‘othering’ at all. Or that gossip site Jezebel, which provides some good critique and some absolutely awful shit, is the pinnacle of progressive women’s media.

The thing is, I am a child of the media. I crave it, I love it, I learn from it. But in the last few years the only media I have consumed which has genuinely taught me anything of worth has been from doing a shitload of research and stumbling across some amazing blogs.

Basically, if you’re a woman and you don’t want to read about juice diets, how to achieve work/life balance while ignoring how gendered that guilt and stress is, or how to please your presumed man through becoming double-jointed, you have to hunt for your media.

I am 26. I am a stepmother to a 4 year old. I am looking at getting married in the near future and having a baby in the next few years.

I have SO many forms of privilege, starting in this context with the fact that mainstream media even acknowledges my existence. But apparently the sites aimed at me are still ones like “offbeat mama” and “offbeat bride”.

I don’t really feel “offbeat”. I feel like I should be able to visit a parenting sub-site of one of this country’s most popular news sites and be afforded the option to read another parent’s political opinion on affordability.

If a white, employed, able-bodied, cis-gender woman in an opposite-sex relationship is marginalised by media supposedly aimed at her, take a second and think about those who are queer, trans, disabled, or non-white and who never see themselves represented at all. Not only are they not the target audience for anything, they also apparently don’t exist.

I’d like to know where the New Zealand (or, you know, planet) these sites represent is, because I sure as hell don’t live in it.

My partner, an amazing father who was the primary carer of his son when “Essential Mothers” was launched, was immediately excluded from a site that’s positioning itself as the parenting site for New Zealanders. Apparently, he’s non-essential.

I don’t think that mothers are “essential”. I think loving parents and guardians are essential. I think diverse representation is essential. I think the many intelligent women of New Zealand should be able to, at the very least, not be completely ignored because apparently we should only want to read about juice diets and decoding our husbands.

There is more to women and families in New Zealand (and the world) than stock photos of pregnant white people. But it’s clear who’s viewed as “essential”, and it’s bullshit.

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