Awful Assumptions about Teenage Girls

UPDATE: If you want to contact Seventeen, email editor Bernadette Anat at


Confession time: I love magazine quizzes.  So when I found a Seventeen quiz that  which TV character I am, I took it.

The very first question asks me what my favorite class is.  My options are lunch, English, Film Production, Art or Drama.  Science, Math, Shop, or anything that doesn’t involve creativity or emotions is not an option.

The next question asks me about my dream date. Do I envision it at a coffee shop, a gallery opening, a comedy show, a concert, or a candlelit dinner?  Assuming that I actually think about this, none of these options are realistic for the pimply-faced sixteen year old boys that the readers are pursuing.  Seventeen, setting young women up for perpetual disappointment.

The next question asks me which yearbook superlative I’m most likely to earn.  My options include most likely to appear on idol, best dressed, most artistic, biggest flirt, or most likely to succeed.  I get excited to see that we’ve finally acknowledged academics.

Still thrilled to have possibility of a career, I click on the next question.  Do my friends depend on me for relationship advice, gossip, “fun, spontaneous plans,” jokes, or listening skills?  I’m mildly annoyed that this is the second question about what other people think of me rather than my own perceptions of myself.

The quiz continues: What is my favorite website?  Is it Tumblr, Pinterest, Youtube, Perez Hilton’s blog, or Pandora?  I’m surprised that Facebook or Twitter aren’t options and extremely annoyed that there is no option for a news site.

Seventeen’s final question inquires after my other magazine subscriptions.  Do I read Vogue, Glamour, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone or Marie Claire?
At sixteen, I read Time and Newsweek, and I currently subscribe to Ms.  Sensing that none of the above contain quite the same content, I settle for Rolling Stone, the magazine with the highest words to picture content.

While asking which TV character I was most like, the quiz assumed that I was into emotions, fashion, music, and dating boys, traditionally girly interests.  It didn’t ask me about my dreams, career aspirations, and values.  Either way, the quiz would have been wrong; I’m sure that even if Seventeen had asked about careers, Feminist blogger would not be a career option.

I end up as Mercedes Jones, the sassy, black soul singer on Glee.  (Because that’s not stereotypical at all.)  Mercedes, although a problematic character, captured my emotions best in her self-written number, “Hell to the No.”

This quiz makes it sound like teenage girls are all about their friends, their relationships and fashion.  It reduces the wonderful, complex young women they are into melodramatic, entitled mall rats with daddy’s credit card.  No, Seventeen, your readers are more than this.  They read smart magazines, have goals, dreams and want more than the latest printed reincarnation of skinny jeans.  They like all subjects, not just the creative ones.  They want to travel, to dance, to start their own businesses, to change the world.  Believe it or not, they care about more than their crush on the cutie in English lit (stop being so heteronormative while you’re at it.  Your readers aren’t all attracted to boys).

Seventeen is one of a few magazines that caters to teenage girls, and they have a unique opportunity to address the issues that teenage girls face, not to just write a one page insert about them and then show new shoes.  It’s a shame that their quizzes and content perpetuate stereotypes about girls instead of helping them.  But that doesn’t bring in ad revenue, does it?


7 comments on “Awful Assumptions about Teenage Girls

  1. Seventeen is one of a few magazines that caters to teenage girls,

    By the term “catering” did you mean instilling the necessary patriarchal programs/norms for ‘success’ that women should follow?

    • cafeaulait13 says:

      Not everyone is going to pick up Ms. right away. I want my sixteen year old sister to find a magazine that writes about a wide variety of things that she is interested in, including new books, politics, traveling, famous people, fashion and hair.

      Is that so much to ask Seventeen to assume that not all their readers are middle class and white? Or that they may not be attracted to boys? Or that they are interested in more than makeup?

  2. Is that so much to ask Seventeen to assume that not all their readers are middle class and white?

    Is Seventeen in the business of consciousness raising or in the business of selling magazines to as many people as possible with the least amount of fuss? (fuss being minorities, POC and non-heteronormative experience)

    • cafeaulait13 says:

      Fair enough. But I want people to know that it matters and that they are losing business because of their writings.

      • losing business because of their writings.

        Not enough business for them to care.

        The vacuous (and often toxic to the well being of women) message/image Seventeen promotes is fine tuned to be as inoffensive as possible to the majority of its readers. Like most mass media, it is an expression of the dominant values of society.

  3. tiffany267 says:

    The Arbourist has a point. Many of our dominant cultural values are embodied in magazines like Seventeen. If readers didn’t like what it has to say, it wouldn’t sell.

    The only remedy is to promote proper values and to read material that shares those values.

    By the way, magazines are absurdly expensive. I’d rather read your blog for free 🙂

    • cafeaulait13 says:

      It’s true, the best way to send a message is to boycott it. But even the best magazines, Ms, I’m looking at you are still too expensive.

      Keep reading, though! I’ll gladly keep writing for an awesome audience like you.

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