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"Irs Good to Blow Your Top": Women's Magazines and a Discourse of Discontent, 1945-1965 Eva Moskowitz Americans of the Cold War years are often remembered for their zealous commitment to domesticity. One prominent source identified with this cult of domesticity is women's magazines. As such, they became targets of feminist criticism. Beginning with The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan condemned women's magazines for their "happy housewife" images. She accused them of representing women as "gaily content in a world of bedroom, kitchen, sex, babies, and home," while women experienced pain, dissatisfaction, and self-loathing.1 Building upon these complaints, radical feminists took direct action against the magazines. In the 1970s, for example, feminists occupied the offices of the Ladies Home Journal.2 To this day, women's magazines of the Cold War era remain symbols of antifeminism.3 Scholarly and popular accounts portray them as containing grossly distorted images of womanhood. They criticize them for "depict[ing] happiness where there was frustration," portraying the "home" as a "haven," and "promulgating a happy-housewife syndrome," in the service of what popular writer Marcia Cohen described as the "all was peach nectar heaven" editorial standard.4 Whether women's magazines relentlessly filled their pages with images of happy women is an important question, not only because these images can tell us much about a powerful ideology directed primarily at white middle-class American women during the Cold War era, but also because they can shed light on the context out of which recent feminism emerged. In accounts of this emergence, Cold War women's magazines occupy a critical place. According to feminist historiography, women's magazines misrepresented women as fulfilled, thereby keeping them in the private world of home and bedroom, in contrast to feminists who presented women with the truth about their condition, encouraging them to free themselves from the bondage of domesticity. Students of women's history emphasize the role of Betty Friedan and feminists in the Civil Rights movement and the New Left in exposing the myth that domesticity fulfills. One historian describes these women as among those "finally willing to say that the emperor had no clothes";5 another as those who "like the proverbial child who points out that the emperor had no clothes" first realized "the discrepancy between myth and reality."6 © 1996 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 3 (Fall) 1996 EvaMOSKOWTTZ 67 Tltis article reexamines the myths about womanhood that feminists sought to deconstruct and that Cold War era women's magazines promoted , by looking at the three with the largest circulation of the period 1945 to 1965: Ladies Home Journal, McCaIIs, and Cosmopolitan.7 My research suggests that these magazines did not merely promote "the happy housewife" image. Indeed, far from imagining the home as a haven, the women's magazines often rendered it as a deadly battlefield on which women lost their happiness, if not their minds. Images of unhappy, angry, and depressed women figure prominently in these magazines, and this is found to be particularly evident in marital relations. In monthly columns such as "Can This Marriage Be Saved?," "Making Marriage Work," and "Why Marriages Fail," the magazines document women's discontent. This discourse of discontent requires that we rethink the dichotomy between women's magazines as mythmakers and feminists as unveilers. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to theorize the distinctive contribution of recent feminist rhetoric, I would like to suggest that the conceptualization of feminism as a "eureka" moment against a background of the magazines' silence about women's unhappiness is inadequate . Instead, I propose that we recognize women's magazines' discursive contribution to this problem. I also suggest that the rhetorical continuities between women's magazines and recent feminism are worth examining, because the shared use of psychological discourse can help us understand not only the historical context for, but also some of the political limitations of, 1960s and 1970s feminist rhetoric. The Unhappy Housewife Month after month women's magazines reported the difficulties women encountered in realizing the satisfaction that marriage and motherhood supposedly guaranteed. Women, it turned out, did not effortlessly nor easily achieve the domestic ideal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 66-98
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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