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Angela McRobbie

Angela McRobbie is currently Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She offers one of the most sophisticated and thoughtful analyses of gender and actual popular culture today.

Her early research work on the relationship between teenage girls and magazines, in the 1970s, involved a rather simplistic model of ideology and how this might be absorbed by readers -- as she is happy to admit today.

However, in Media, Gender and Identity, David Gauntlett notes that, "During the 1990s, Angela McRobbie (re-)emerged as arguably the most thoughtful and sophisticated commentator on magazines for young women. She has paid close attention to the ways in which the magazines have changed since the 1970s, and has repeatedly asked difficult questions about what kind of magazine feminists would want, if they are unhappy with today's magazines."

McRobbie puts distance between herself and those feminist writers who denounce women's magazines outright. Whilst some of their content may be disappointing to feminist readers, McRobbie notes, many of the messages are positive and empowering to young women. (She has interesting things to say about how the old-school feminists seem unable to accept the fact that younger women might want to do things a bit differently). For example, in defence of magazines like Cosmopolitan, McRobbie points out that:

"The idea that sexual pleasure is learnt, not automatically discovered with the right partner, the importance of being able to identify and articulate what you want sexually and what you do not want, the importance of learning about the body and being able to make the right decisions about abortion and contraception, the different ways of getting pleasure and so on, each one of these figured high in the early feminist agenda. This was the sort of material found in books like Our Bodies, Our Selves (Boston Women's Health Collective 1973), the volume which started as a feminist handbook and went on to sell millions of copies across the world." (1999: 57).

McRobbie puts some new questions on the table. If we can accept that modern women's magazines carry one kind of feminist argument - to be assertive, confident, sexual, 'true to yourself', demanding rights and pleasures - then how can this view and the more 'traditional' feminist view (which is unhappy about the magazines for other reasons) talk to each other? Does the more critical, radical (and perhaps only 'academic') feminism know what it would like 'popular feminism' to say to young women today? McRobbie calls for a debate that is more sophisticated, productive and sympathetic to the actual lives and struggles of young women today.

As well as her work on magazines, McRobbie has engaged with many other areas of contemporary culture including fashion, modern art and pop music.


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