‘Everything a girl could ask for’? Fashioning Feminism in Just Seventeen

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In October of 1983 the first issue of EMAP’s Just Seventeen landed on British newsstands in fighting form. Featuring a scarlet-lipped model posing in a red headguard and boxing gloves on its cover, the new magazine promised its young readers ‘prizes, pop and plenty of punch’. While the sales of girls’ magazines had dwindled in the 1980s (Sanders, 1983: 42), EMAP’s decision to task editor David Hepworth with producing a magazine that was ‘more expensive, […] stylish [and] slightly racier’ than other teen titles marked the publishing industry’s renewed courtship of girls as consumers (Hepworth, para. 11).
As Angela McRobbie remarks in her pioneering work on youth cultures, Just Seventeen’s signal abandonment of ‘silly’ photostories represented its rejection of the ‘romantic individualism’ promoted by earlier magazines like Jackie (1964-1993) and instead set the tone for a fresh generation of ‘sassy’ girls’ magazines, including Mizz (1985-2012) and More! (1988-2013), that responded directly to ‘a new climate of confidence and self-esteem among their potential readers’ (164). In the only academic article to explore the rich contribution made by Just Seventeen to the media landscape of the 1980s, Janice Winship usefully identifies the magazine’s indebtedness to ‘the women’s movement and organised feminism’, while also acknowledging the writers’ studious avoidance of ‘the label of feminism’ (42, 37). Winship thus discerns in Just Seventeen a feminism ‘that dare not speak its name’, presciently evoking the ur-critique of postfeminist culture that would later emerge in the 1990s.
In this chapter I undertake a detailed analysis of how feminism is fashioned and refashioned between the covers of Just Seventeen and its market competitors. Focusing on issues from the first ten years of production (1983-1993), I examine Just Seventeen’s depictions of feminist ideas and actions – from its coverage of the Greenham Common campaign to the ‘safe sex’ messages carried in the advice pages – in order to illuminate the magazine’s complex and dynamic engagement with the changing politics of the 1980s and 90s. In doing so, I argue that the style and content of girls’ magazines in this period are not only shaped – as Winship argues – by the debates and discourses associated with the ‘women’s movement’, but also, more explicitly, by the tone and texture of feminist periodicals, including Spare Rib (1972-1993), which developed distinctive strategies for mediating ‘new politics through familiar forms’ (Fell 2).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen's Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1940s-2000s
Subtitle of host publicationThe Postwar and Contemporary Period
EditorsLaurel Forster, Joanne Hollows
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781474470001, 9781474469999
ISBN (Print)9781474469982
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

Publication series

NameThe Edinburgh History of Women's Periodical Culture in Britain
PublisherEdinburgh University Press


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