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Sexual Messages in Black and White: A case study of Essence and Cosmo
Unformatted Document Text:  The voice (i.e., gender) of the writer must also be considered when contrasting the two magazines’ advice columns – the majority of Essence writers were female, but in Cosmo, the numbers of male and female writers were about equal. Findings from the present study contrast with those of Matsau (2007), who studied a wider range of articles and advertisements, concluding that Cosmo offered an assertive, independent femininity, and that Essence reinforced patriarchal ideals of femininity. Both studies remain exploratory in that they examined data from a limited number of issues in a single year (albeit different years). The foregoing analysis offers a glimpse into the ways that womanhood and sexuality are constructed at the intersection of race and class in the sexual discourse of advice columns in two widely circulating women’s magazines, Essence and Cosmopolitan. The need for more expansive empirical work on the messages surrounding womanhood and sexual liberation in both magazines would strengthen what is known about both publications. We also suggest the need for audience research to determine how women read these advice columns in terms of their needs, interests, and lived experiences. 18

Authors: Byerly, Carolyn. and Reviere, Rebecca.
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The voice (i.e., gender) of the writer must also be considered when contrasting the two 
magazines’ advice columns – the majority of Essence writers were female, but in Cosmo, the 
numbers of male and female writers were about equal.  
Findings from the present study contrast with those of Matsau (2007), who studied a 
wider range of articles and advertisements, concluding that Cosmo offered an assertive, 
independent femininity, and that Essence reinforced patriarchal ideals of femininity.  Both 
studies remain exploratory in that they examined data from a limited number of issues in a single 
year (albeit different years).  
The foregoing analysis offers a glimpse into the ways that womanhood and sexuality are 
constructed at the intersection of race and class in the sexual discourse of advice columns in two 
widely circulating women’s magazines, Essence and Cosmopolitan.  The need for more 
expansive empirical work on the messages surrounding womanhood and sexual liberation in both 
magazines would strengthen what is known about both publications.  We also suggest the need 
for audience research to determine how women read these advice columns in terms of their 
needs, interests, and lived experiences.
18


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