The Year of the Ox is upon us again, and the women's magazines are once again packed with glossy star-charts depicting our fortunes for the year ahead.
Horoscopes, and other such pseudo-scientific chicanery, have somehow wormed their way into our most respectable newspapers, as well as our most flimsy tabloids and glossy magazines. I don't remember a time when one could pick up a publication and not be faced with shrew-faced con-women with pseudo-mystical names such as Athena Starwoman posturing their "talent" through writing "predictions" so nebulous as to be applicable to virtually everyone. That is, unless one was leafing through a publication which is aimed exclusively at men. It seems to the publishers that the exclusive consumers of this brain-rotting diet must be women.
It doesn't even seem to matter what type of woman you are. Everything from the celebrity rags (e.g. New Idea, Woman's Day, Who) to the fasion-and-sex glossies (Cosmopolitan and Cleo) to the brick-heavy mixes of journalism and haute-couture (Marie-Claire, Madison, Vogue) contain pseudo-scientific content as regular features. Whether women are bored housewives, teenage schoolgirls, high-powered executives, or anything in between, the horoscopes are provided.
Now, I can't really blame the celebrity rags - even their "factual" content is a heady mix of lies, conjecture, and inside information from anonymous "pals", "insiders" and "neighbours". Cosmo and Cleo can't be blamed either - they would be unreadable even without the inclusion of astrology (well - that's unless you want to know about 58 babe-a-licious ways to make him climax using only a feather, an ice cube and your elbow). The real villains are the top-shelf women's mags, that target young professionals, and apparently credit women with independent incomes as well as independent thought. They present dense, well-written articles on important issues - but expect that after you've read about the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, or female circumcision in Somalia, signed their tear-off petition and sent it to Amnesty International - well, what else would you desire but to read your horoscope?
Flipping through equivalent men's magazines such as GQ one finds no such equivalent patronisation of their readership (unless it's the pages of advertisements for sex toys - but you'll find those in women's magazines too). And, I can't help but wonder, are millions of young women around the world developing interests (and often expending precious time, money and energy) in pseudo-science just because it continues to be shoved down their throats? In a bizarre twist of usual economic principles, it looks like demand is actually being driven by supply. In effect, we read - and believe - our horoscopes, just because they are there.
Naomi Wolf, in her incredible, seminal work The Beauty Myth, points out that as women have become more independent and gained more rights, new ways have to be found by patriarchal structures in which to keep women subjugated. She argues that the focus upon physical beauty, which requires massive expenditure of time, money, physical effort and psychological energy, effectively allows women to subjugate themselves more effectively than men have done for centuries.
Would it be too much of a stretch to apply this argument to the presentation of pseudo-science in women's magazines? Perhaps horoscopes, moon-calendars, feng-shui charts, numerology and so-called clairvoyants are yet another insidious way of keeping women's minds from the important issues at hand, or misplacing our energies in fixing them. Who cares if you're not earning as much as your male colleagues at work, when moving a pot-plant into your Money Corner will see you rolling in the bucks? Why end a relationship with an abusive or inattentive partner, when Venus is on the rise, bringing with it a mystical new age of love and mutual respect?
At best, the magazines are patronising us with facile explanations for the complexities of our lives.
At worst, they're deliberately dumbing us down.
Do you read your horoscope? Does it annoy you that publications targeted at intelligent women still expect us to be interested?
Or is the Bitch just being a Bitch this week?