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Sexual Messages in Black and White: A case study of Essence and Cosmo
Unformatted Document Text:  Feminist historians have taken varied approaches to exploring the ways that second wave feminists factored sex into pursuits of greater freedom. Similar to hooks (2000), Rosen (2000) notes that feminists who advocated greater sexual liberation ultimately also had to address men’s sexual exploitation of women. She said, “[T]he excavation of the hidden injuries of sex underscored the inadequacies of the male sexual revolution, redefined certain customs as crimes, and ultimately redrew the political and social agenda of American political culture” (p. 195). Rosen’s work serves to remind researchers of the present study to discern sexual discourse that warns women about sexual exploitation, or affirms their rights to say no, when examining magazine columns containing personal advice. Feminist researchers and theorists continue to examine the media for cultural interpretations of women’s roles and statuses due to the recognition of the powerful influence that media possess as agents of socialization and of ideological influence. Van Zoonen’s (1994) assertion that “media are used as a tool to transmit sexist, patriarchal, and capitalistic values to contribute to the maintenance of the social order” (p. 27) presents feminist scholars with an empirical challenge to investigate those media and determine whether and how her statement holds true. If media (like magazines) provide a context for people’s understanding of the social world, they also provide, within that context, clues to sexually appropriate behavior. Here we are interested in the transmittal of messages regarding sexual behavior as presented in magazines differentially targeted to Black and White women. Women’s magazines have a long history in the United States. Feminist media scholar Ferguson (1983) pointed out that as early as the 1700s, women’s periodicals, as they were then called, were socializing women in the proper behavior and appearance from parenting to extreme sports. For feminist scholars like Roy (2004), however, these publications are not merely 7

Authors: Byerly, Carolyn. and Reviere, Rebecca.
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Feminist historians have taken varied approaches to exploring the ways that second wave 
feminists factored sex into pursuits of greater freedom.  Similar to hooks (2000), Rosen (2000) 
notes that feminists who advocated greater sexual liberation ultimately also had to address men’s 
sexual exploitation of women.  She said, “[T]he excavation of the hidden injuries of sex 
underscored the inadequacies of the male sexual revolution, redefined certain customs as crimes, 
and ultimately redrew the political and social agenda of American political culture” (p. 195). 
Rosen’s work serves to remind researchers of the present study to discern sexual discourse that 
warns women about sexual exploitation, or affirms their rights to say no, when examining 
magazine columns containing personal advice.
Feminist researchers and theorists continue to examine the media for cultural 
interpretations of women’s roles and statuses due to the recognition of the powerful influence 
that media possess as agents of socialization and of ideological influence.  Van Zoonen’s (1994) 
assertion that “media are used as a tool to transmit sexist, patriarchal, and capitalistic values to 
contribute to the maintenance of the social order” (p. 27) presents feminist scholars with an 
empirical challenge to investigate those media and determine whether and how her statement 
holds true.  If media (like magazines) provide a context for people’s understanding of the social 
world, they also provide, within that context, clues to sexually appropriate behavior.  Here we 
are interested in the transmittal of messages regarding sexual behavior as presented in magazines 
differentially targeted to Black and White women.
Women’s magazines have a long history in the United States.  Feminist media scholar 
Ferguson (1983) pointed out that as early as the 1700s, women’s periodicals, as they were then 
called, were socializing women in the proper behavior and appearance from parenting to extreme 
sports.  For feminist scholars like Roy (2004), however, these publications are not merely 

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