Her Step Backward

“Her Campus” Magazine delivers sexist content under the guise of modernity

An unfortunate side effect of the many successes of the feminist movement is that feminism is often prematurely deemed obsolete, a quaint relic of a chauvinist, bygone era that has since been replaced by a culture of equality. “Her Campus” Magazine, an online publication aimed at female college students, is a fascinating specimen precisely because it, on the one hand, constructs itself as a modern, progressive publication that empowers college-educated women, but on the other, is a product of the reactionary, antifeminist trend that threatens to do just the opposite. “Her Campus”, striving to celebrate independent women, ultimately falls short of its goal and instead perpetuates the very obstacles that stand in the way of women’s social equality.

“Her Campus”’s piece “HC’s 20 Favorite Bathing Suits for Spring Break,” typical of women’s magazines, features mainly unrealistically thin, flawless models. The negative psychological effects that such features have on women are well documented and cannot be underestimated, but what makes this article especially disconcerting is that the one model who does appear to be of a realistic sports a suit that covers her entire stomach and midriff, while virtually all of the others wear standard bikinis. Ironically, the caption says “if you have amazing curves, don’t be afraid show them off [sic] and have fun with your swimwear.” “Her Campus” deserves recognition for attempting to incorporate realistic representations of the female body, yet the implicit message here is tremendously problematic for women of all body types: Slim, conventionally attractive women should show off their bodies, but the rest of you who just can’t live up to our impossible standards should just cover up—the only way for you to accentuate your bodies is to hide them.

Much of HC’s advice on sex, far from adding anything original or insightful to the discussion surrounding sexuality, instead panders to the double standards that we all know and love. A piece addressed to a sexually active college woman from “Her Gay Best Friend” reproaches her for having “become a bit of a ho.” Lazily built on the assumptions that women who sleep around are bound to get hurt and should preserve their chastity to earn respect from men, the article can be characterized as at best a misguided attempt at helping women and at worst a blatantly sexist denunciation of women’s sexual agency.

The piece also propagates frustrating stereotypes about men, asserting that “men don’t buy the cow when they can get milked for free”—that is, men won’t commit to you unless you force them to. By comparing sex with milking a cow, the article constructs sex as something given to men by women rather than something that both parties desire.

Her Gay Best Friend’s disclaimer, naïvely overlooking the realities of sexual inequality, maintains that “almost every piece of advice in this article is also applicable to guys.” While this is certainly true, that fact is that this advice is generally not applied to guys, and when it is its implications are vastly different because of the cultural prestige of male promiscuity. Women, far more than men, are subject to this brand of sexual policing.


Above all, HC’s problematic nature is rooted in its highly prescriptive perception of what it means to be a college woman. HC fails to challenge the impossible standards to which women have historically been held, and in doing so has failed to be what a magazine for independent young women should be. Publications like HC, perpetuating obsessionswith physical appearance and chastity, threaten to subject women to the very forces from which the feminist movement seeks to liberate them.

Marina N. Bolotnikova ’14, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.


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