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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Myths in advice : regulating women’s desire in Mademoiselle Ulrich, Jessica


For centuries, prescriptive discourses have circulated in western culture; these are often based upon gendered ideals, and many devoted to audiences of women. Since the 1700s, advice has been included in women's magazines. Currently, women's magazines, and numerous other sites in popular culture, dispense advice on sex and relationships. As a provocative form of pubic discourse, the meanings underlying sex and relationship advice are of interest as these contribute to the social construction of gender and hetero/sexuality. In this thesis, the question and answer advice pages on love, sex, and men in one popular woman's magazine, Mademoiselle, are under investigation. Attention is paid to the advice columnists' gender to gain an understanding of the gendered nature of advice. Using content analysis and semiotics, Mademoiselle's advice pages are examined, thereby contributing to the documentation of one magazine's set of meanings. Content analysis is used to thematically code values, behaviours, attitudes. Semiotics is used to expose norms, and reveal these as myth. Heterosexuality and gender are revealed as complex and contradictory constructions. However, a dominant mythical code resonates in the manifest and latent findings which reveal that advice codes sex as male, and relationships as female. In this manner, men are designated as libidinous, and women are constructed as relationship experts. Care and understanding of relationships and men's (sexual) needs are assumed to be part of the practices of femininity. In the main, the advice re/creates a gender dichotomy, founded upon hetereosexist assumptions. Myth obscures the social forces which contribute to shaping of hetero/sexuality and gender, to signify these concepts as natural, normal, and desirable. Within the contradictory moments, breaks from dominant sex and gender norms are offered. Although female eroticism and desire is at times recognized, advice frequently overlooks women's sexual pleasure, and often places women's desire in response to men's. To this end, women are discursively organized in relation to men, thereby subordinating women's sexuality, and reinforcing male heterosexual domination. Gender and heterosexuality are placed within feminist politics, whereby the eradication of women's oppression includes placing women's erotic possibilities within feminist politics.

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