Negotiating Sexualities: Magazine Representations of Sexualities and the Talk of Teen and Young Adult Readers
Thesis DisciplineFeminist Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In response to contemporary moral and feminist criticisms regarding the hypothesised effect magazine discourses of sexuality have on readers, this thesis explores how six groups of adolescents and young adults respond to representations of sexualities from the teen and women's magazines Cosmopolitan, Cleo, Girlfriend and Dolly. Drawing upon theories of poststructural feminism, cultural studies and audience reception this work expands upon existing magazine literature by attending to the ways teen and women's magazines are interpreted and talked about by different groups of adolescents and young adults. This analysis fills a gap in contemporary magazine research, which has generally failed to address how gender and sexuality, as they are portrayed in contemporary periodical publications, are made sense of by readers. Therefore, in focusing on reader talk this thesis is also able to address the ways in which individual and collective identities are constructed interactively in the socially specific context of focus group discussions. Attention is given to looking at the complexities surrounding the relationships that exist between magazine reading, representations of sexuality and adolescents and young adults through an examination of the discourses girls, boys, young women and young men draw upon in their talk on magazine representations of sexualities. I argue that readers of magazines are active producers of meaning who think and talk about magazine representations of sexualities in a variety of complex, contradictory and often ambiguous ways. Research participants employ interpretive repertoires, drawn together from various new, traditional and alternative discourses about sexuality, in the process of attributing meaning to contemporary sexualities, as both cultural objects and aspects of everyday life. Thus, rather than take up and accept the sexual subject positions that magazines make available to readers, the talk of the research participants in this project illustrates how sexualities are constantly being negotiated. The articulation and performance of masculine and feminine sexualities is therefore recognized within this thesis as a highly contradictory, contextual and negotiated process.