Feminine Agendas: The Historical Evolution of Feminism as Reflected in the Content of American Women's Magazines

By Kyra Gemberling
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 3/3 |

Conclusion

Despite some general inconsistencies and variations, the majority of American women’s magazines from the 18th century to present day show a steady increase in support of feminist ideals based on several researchers that the author reviewed. By reading the articles published in these magazines, female readers were able to gain knowledge about the feminine agenda of their time. Over the course of three distinct periods studied, women’s magazines from the early 1770s to the late 1860s served as early advocates of female civic participation when female subservience was a cultural norm. Women’s magazines from the 1870s to 1970s encouraged female independence through involvement in academia and the workplace, mirroring the huge cultural and political changes in the United States during times of war.

Finally, women’s magazines from the 1980s to the present day provide empowering content that allows women to form their own, unique feminine identity in an age when a better variety of lifestyle choices are available. Furthermore, this research found that magazine authors over time were not the sole determinant of what ideas would be presented in the content their audience read. Female readers also had set the public agenda by providing commentary on the content of women’s magazines, and by writing content themselves. Women’s magazines have served as a reflection of America’s changing political and cultural landscape over the years, and they can be credited with delivering feminist ideals to an ever-developing, progressive female society.


Acknowledgements

The author is thankful to Dr. Michael R. Frontani at Elon University for his supervision and guidance, without which the article could not be published. The author also appreciates numerous reviewers who helped revise this article. Finally, the author especially wants to thank her family and friends for their unending love and support of her academic pursuits.


References

Aronson, Amy Beth. “Domesticity and Women’s Collective Agency: Contribution and Collaboration in America’s First Successful Women’s Magazine.” American Periodicals 11 (2001): 1-23.

Aronson, Amy Beth. Taking Liberties: Early American Women’s Magazines and Their Readers. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002.

Ferree, Myra Marx and Beth B. Hess. Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement Across Four Decades of Change. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Flora, Cornelia Butler. “Changes in Women’s Status in Women’s Magazine Fiction: Differences by Social Class.” Social Problems 26, no. 5 (June 1979): 558-569.

Gauntlett, David. Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Hewitt, Nancy A. “From Seneca Falls to Suffrage? Reimagining a ‘Master’ Narrative in U.S. Women’s History.” No Permanent Waves, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt, 15-38. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.

McCall, Laura. “‘The Reign of Brute Force Is Now over’: A Content Analysis of ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book.’ 1830-1860.” Journal of the Early Republic 9, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 217-236.

Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1964.

Pierce, Jennifer Burek. “Science, Advocacy, and ‘The Sacred and Intimate Things of Life’: Representing Motherhood as a Progressive Era Cause in Women’s Magazines.” American Periodicals 18, no. 1 (2008): 69-95.

Starr, Martha A. “Consumption, Identity, and the Sociocultural Constitution of ‘Preferences’: Reading Women’s Magazines.” Review of Social Economy 62, no. 3 (September 2004): 291-304.

Taylor, Natalie Fuehrer. “The Personal Is Political: Women’s Magazines for the ‘I’m-Not-a-Feminist-But’ Generation.” In You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Women, Politics, and Popular Culture, edited by Lilly J. Goren, 215-32. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

Walker, Nancy A. “Critiques of the Women’s Magazines, 1946-1960.” In Women’s Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press, edited by Nancy A. Walker, 228-61. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998.

Waller-Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. “‘Old Homes, in a City of Perpetual Change’: Women’s Magazines, 1890-1916.” The Business History Review 63, no. 4 (Winter 1989): 715-756.

Winship, Janice. Inside Women’s Magazines. New York: Pandora Press, 1987.

Zaslow, Emilie. Feminism, Inc.: Coming of Age in Girl Power Media Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.


Endnotes

  1. Amy Beth Aronson, “Domesticity and Women’s Collective Agency: Contribution and Collaboration in America’s First Successful Women’s Magazine,” American Periodicals 11 (2001): 1.
  2. Ibid., 3.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 5.
  5. Ibid., 6.
  6. Amy Beth Aronson, Taking Liberties: Early American Women’s Magazines and Their Readers (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002): 78.
  7. Laura McCall, “‘The Reign of Brute Force Is Now over’: A Content Analysis of ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book,’ 1830-1860,” Journal of the Early Republic 9, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 228.
  8. Ibid., 231.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Nancy A. Hewitt, “From Seneca Falls to Suffrage? Reimagining a ‘Master’ Narrative in U.S. Women’s History,” in No Permanent Waves, ed. Nancy A. Hewitt (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010): 15.
  12. Mary Ellen Waller-Zuckerman, “‘Old Homes, in a City of Perpetual Change’: Women’s Magazines, 1890-1916,” The Business History Review 63, no. 4 (Winter 1989): 747.
  13. Ibid., 750.
  14. Nancy A. Walker, “Critiques of the Women’s Magazines, 1946-1960,” in Women’s Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press, ed. Nancy A. Walker (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998): 228.
  15. Jennifer Burek Pierce, “Science, Advocacy, and ‘The Sacred and Intimate Things of Life’: Representing Motherhood as a Progressive Era Cause in Women’s Magazines,” American Periodicals 18, no. 1 (2008): 71.
  16. Cornelia Butler Flora, “Changes in Women’s Status in Women’s Magazine Fiction: Differences by Social Class,” Social Problems 26, no. 5 (June 1979): 563.
  17. Ibid., 567.
  18. Martha A. Starr, “Consumption, Identity, and the Sociocultural Constitution of ‘Preferences’: Reading Women’s Magazines,” Review of Social Economy 62, no. 3 (September 2004): 296.
  19. Ibid., 297.
  20. Myra Marx Ferree and Beth B. Hess, Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement Across Four Decades of Change, (New York: Routledge, 2000): 159.
  21. Natalie Fuehrer Taylor, “The Personal Is Political: Women’s Magazines for the ‘I’m-Not-a-Feminist-But’ Generation,” in You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Women, Politics, and Popular Culture, ed. Lilly J. Goren (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009): 216.
  22. Ibid., 217.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid., 220.
  25. Ibid., 221.
  26. Ibid., 80-1.
  27. Ibid., 116.
  28. David Gauntlett, Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2008): 206.
  29. Winship, Inside Women’s Magazines, 158.
  30. Gauntlett, Media, Gender and Identity, 215.
  31. Ibid., 217.

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