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Women's Magazines and a Discourse of Discontent,

Eva Moskowitz

mericans 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 Eriedan 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.' 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.^

To this day, women's magazines of the Cold War era remain symbols
of antifeminism.''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."* 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";^ 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."^



This arficle 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, McCalis, and Cosmopolitan.'^ 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
conceptualizafion 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 difficulfies
women encountered in realizing the safisfaction that marriage and motherhood supposedly guaranteed. Women, it turned out, did not effortlessly
nor easily achieve the domestic ideal. Indeed, many found it exceedingly
difficult to attain the happiness domesticity potentially afforded. Women's
magazines not only documented this problem, but also sought to help
women overcome it. They assumed this could be done by raising their
readers' consciousness about the psychological satisfacfion to be found in
domesticity and inculcating therapeutic principles of psychological
Even Marynia Famham, coauthor of the infamous The Moderii
Woman: The Lost Sex, explored women's difficulfies achieving the domestic
ideal. In the arficle, for example, "Women and Wives," she discussed the
challenges domesticity posed for women, finding that women somefimes




possessed strong negative feelings. Many suffered from "envy of her

husband's supposedly exciting and stimulating life by contrast with her
quiet, less apparently stimulating vivid existence."^ Others suffered from
resentment. Women felt angry because they experienced "drudgery and
the monotony of dirty dishes, difficult children and household routines
while Itheir husbands] enjoy[ed] a glamorous life."^" Famham found that
women's dissatisfaction was a serious problem, and one that often
stemmed from their inability to accept the gendered effects of the domestic
ideal. Farnham thus promoted domesticity while she described the difficulties women had in fulfilling its prescriptions. She issued warnings
about any departures from domesticity in the same breath as she warned
society of the consequences of failing to deal with women's dissatisfactions with domesticity.
Dorothy Thompson, another writer with a well-deserved antifeminist
reputation, also grappled with the problems of domesticity. She found that
women had deep reservations about their roles as wives and mothers. In
"Occupation: Housewife," for example, Thompson focused on women's
negative feelings about their occupation. She found that n:\any women felt
that "when I write it, I realize that here I am, a middle-aged woman with
a university education and I've never made anything out of my life. I'm
just a housewife."" Women, she explained to her readers, often suffered
from "an inferiority complex."''^ According to Thompson, such a sense of
under achievement stemmed from women's failure to understand the
importance of housewifery and the psychological satisfaction it provided. She also maintained that the "real solution to this problem lies
in your mental attitude."'-* But as Thompson herself acknowledged, a
good mental attitude toward domesticity appeared difficult for many
women to obtain.
Drawing upon the work of pollsters and social scientists, the magazines provided statistical as well as qualitative pictures of the precarious
psychological situation of the American housewife. As one magazine
announced, it had made "a scientific study of the problem within recent
years" and was in the process of "uncovering the hard, cold facts of what
causes happiness and unhappiness... ."'^ Investigations of the American
woman's state of mind indicated that women were more unhappy than
men. Their unhappiness apparently stemmed from their dissatisfaction
with their domestic roles:
The explanation seems to be bound up with the responsibility of
marriage and rearing a fannily. Women are inclined to think an
undue share of these responsibilities falls on the wives; the majority
of women think they lead a harder life than men; and they think their
happiest years end sooner. Perhaps too, they think a housewife's life




is duller; an earlier journal survey found that the group of workers

least likely to enjoy their jobs washousewives!'Women's magazines also found that marriage contributed greatly to
women's dissatisfaction. As one arficle reported, "from the testimony of
more than a thousand married couples" and the "replies from the one
hundred uiiliappiest wives," surveyors concluded that unhappy wives
were dissatisfied with their marriages and, given the chance, would not
marry their husband again.^'' Drawing upon surveys and in-depth interviews, the magazines kept readers up-to-date on the housewife's dissafisArficles on selected topics also indicate that women's magazines gave
considerable attenfion to women's unhappiness. In articles such as "How
Do You Beat the Blues?," "What Do You Do When Worries Get You
Down?," "I Can't Stand It Anymore," "Why Do Women Cry?," "How to
Recognize Suicidal Depression," "Blues and How to Chase Them," and
"How to Get Over Feeling Low," women's magazines normalized their
readers' feeUngs of discontent.^^ They reported that unhappiness was a
common affliction among women. "Crying as Catharsis," for example,
reminded readers that they were not alone in feeling frustrated and
unhappy. As the author explained, "tears are a natural and universal
release for many minor emotions. They siphon off the small frustrations
that confront all of us every hour of every day. They are a way of protesfing
the things we can't do anything about." The arficle recommended crying
as "a natural safety valve to dissolve away many of our tensions."^^
Recognifion of acute emofional tension was not uncommon for women's
Indeed, women's magazines featured a steady stream of articles
about overwrought and depressed women. "How Emotions Cause Unnecessary Surgery," for example, told the gruesome story of a woman who
had twenty-nine needless operations. It warned about "women whose
husbands are too busy to notice them" who "may, in desperation use the
operating table to regain their love"^^ (Fig. 1). "Autocondifioning Can
Make You a Happy Person" also took for granted a high level of dissafisfaction and depression among its readers. It recommended reading about
autocondition ing "if, like most people you are searching for a way to live
your daily life free from worry and depression."^^ The article encouraged
women to acknowledge their discontent by assuring them that it was quite
common and normal to feel bad: "Before we realize it, we find ourselves
sinking into discouragement, or feeling resentful, or lying awake at night
in an agony of worry, fear, and perhaps self-disgust"^^ (Figs. 2-3). Cifing
recent examples of how autocondition ing helped people with various




Figure 1. Danger Signal: When daily demands make you want to scream,
"How much more can I take?" From "Have You Reached Your Emotional
Breaking Point?" Cosmopolitan January, 1957.




forms of depression, including those with suicidal impulses, the article

encouraged women to try this new method of feeling better. As proof of
this technique's effectiveness, the article offered the following testimony:
"High marks on the mood meter were achieved by those suffering from a
variety of emotional problems." Some even achieved moods ranging from

Figure 2. The first truly scientific answer to unhappiness, autoconditioning is

no mere theory, but a proven, demonstrable technique. Try it and see how
quickly you can learn to face your problems with joy and courage. From
"Autoconditioning Can Make You a Happy Person." Cosmopolitan January,




"purposeful" to "joyful." To help housewives determine how they felt

about their lives, the arficle included a special mood-reader scale (Fig. 4).
Women's magazines, in fact, promoted a whole new genre of articles
that involved housewives in interprefing their own states of mind. Every
month the magazines administered mini-tests to help women evaluate
how they felt about their lives. All that was needed was a pencil (Figs. 5-7).

Figure 3. If, like most people, you are searching for a way to live your daily life
free from worry and depression, this exclusive report on autoconditioning is
the most important article you will ever read. From "Autoconditioning Can
Make You a Happy Person." Cosmopolitan January, 1956.




In "Ask Yourself: Is Your Life Satisfying?," for example, women could rate
their level of satisfaction by answering a few simple questions such as,
"Are you usually happy and contented?," "Does the future have real
purpose (meaning) for you?," and "Do you look forward to each new








- 1

- 3



- 6



- 9



I Coin" liotli up ai>l !l""
ero space on ilie M-ocl-.Meicr. i>iU a
cl,k mark opp.>M.e rad, ^^orc^ ^s uc .
dc'cril)e= llic *^ay y
all tlicliappv ivordi aiiii all ihe unliappy
onirs wliich are corrfcl for vour prcient
mood. Alv.cvi be sincere when you clieck
llie lisl: ollier^siic. lliii initrument will
be ot no value to you.
2 . Now noie the number which appears at llic lcfi of the higli<.-[ word
above 0 which you lia^e checked. Enier
thai number in the space opposite ihc
words "Top Plus Number" at ihe bottom
of the .Miiod-.Meter. II rhr highefl word
which you checked has a minus number,
enter 0 here.
I- Do the same for tlie number of the
word farthest behiw 0 vhicii you have
cliecked. entering this numher oppoiiie
the words "Loivest Minu- Number." If
\ou ciiecked no word bilow 0, enter 0
I. iNow find the sum of these t o numbers. If both the wordi have positive
numbers, the total will be positive. If
both have negative numbers, the total
will be negative. If one number is positive and the other negati\e. the smaller
number must be subtracted from the
larger one. and the difference mui take
the sign of the larger. The answer is your
mood-score. Put a circle | 0 ) at the level
of that score.




Figure 4. From " Au toconditioning Can Make You a Happy Person." Cosmopolitan January, 1956.




Ask Your-sflf; I.s Your Life Satisfying?

Hfiiltli and temperament, job, friends and marriage
all play a part in a full life. These questions will help
you assess your achievement this past year. Omit the
last five quctifis if you are single.
1. Are you iisuall)- happy and coatentH?
2. [)o-s [he fmure h.tve real purpose (meaning)
for you?
3. I your life free from any serious frustration?
\. Do you looL forxard to each acw da> ?
5. Are you in goo<i phjaical health?
1. Do you plan ahead for greater work eff^ cirncy?
- . .Vxe you more aLilled at your Job than la^t
1. Do you find increaoiiig pleasure in your wort?
\. .Are you proud of )our job?
5. Does its income co^<rr your essential needs?
1. Are your social activities 6atisf>~ing and rewarding?
1. Do you have more friends today than a year
3. na>e you iniprtjve<l at leaat one social skill?
4. Do you have omeone in vthom to confide?
.. Is your program of recreation balanced and

Do you and your husband love each other?

.Vre you tvto free from financial strains?
Hoa your hushand been a good compaoion?
Do you and he talk things over freely?
Is your marriage free from any serious disappoint ntent?

Ideally all questions should be answered "Yes." A

score of less than iVi any group suggests a real handicap
in that area. Your "A'o ' ansuers can show you inhere to
seek improvement in 9S0.

Figure 5. Psychological Mini Test: "Is Your Life Satisfying?" Ladies Home
Journal June, 1954.




Aro You a lU'tk-ss W ilV?

After the Hrst few years of marriage, some
wives feel frustrated by restrictions and a lack
of challenge. Is this your attitude? Be absoluieiy honest in answering these questions yes
or no.

1 OM ;


I t e s l l e s s , a n d li = Siiti->liO(l u i t l i life?
I t u r c d !>>' >t)iir I U X I ^ C I I D I I I n x i l i i i t - . '
IM\io(i:i o f t h e ri"ee4li>ni m e n h a v e ?
\ t . ' r y foiul (if li\el> e v c i t i i i g p a r t i e s ?
L iicei t:iiii o f ^ u u r l i n e I n r ) <mr l i i i s b a t u i ?
Tliiiiking i n n r e aixjut tomorrov* t h a n
to<la> '
7. K c l i i u t a i i t o r he^^itaiit a b o u t niLtkiiiL:

Do you ojtet} feel


8. \!i are luncl> and ni

9. \ o u r iiuhaad is too settled?
10. \ on ha\c mure men tlian ^
11. Most marriafies are not -very happy?
12. \ on mas ha\e niarrit'tl too soon?
I.. Life is passirii: \on 1)> ?
14. \ on ina> Iia\e married the w rung man?

With four or fewer "yes"" answers, you seem

no more restless than the a\eraae wife. The
hiiiher your "yes" score, the more serious your
maladjustment. If your score is ^e or more,
you are neither very happy in your marriage
nor in most of your close relationships. Though
your husband may be partly responsible, your
trouble is probably within yourself. Unless \ou
can take a greater interest in your marriage
and in your husband, you should seek prcl'essional help. To delay action is to court disaster.

Figure 6. Psychological Mini Test: "Are You a Restless Housewife?" Ladies

Home lournal August, 1954.




Do You Enjoy Life?

C n t e n t m e n l comes from the pirit and atu
tutie with which ive face our environment raihe.
than from circumstances alone. Your happine^
depend far more on yourself than on utlier:^
An\\'er the;e ijueilion ves or no in term; of w lia
you think i true most of the time.
/)() You:
1. S o m e t i m e s f e a r t h a t p e < ) p i c i i o i r t liko

> oil?
2. (Dl'tcn feel downcast and uni* anl t-il.'

Tliiiik t h a t you are unattractive?

Feel uneas> ^ i t h new acquaintiicrs?
Dread goin;; to lied and gettini: ii|i?
Uilike >oiir present living arrunficnie n t s ?
V orr>' e\cessively over small m a t t e r s ?
I s i i a l l y v^onder if >oiir clnllies hecorne you?
Find >i>ur work dull and uninteresii II g ?
Let o t h e r s t a k e a d v a n t a g e of > on?
Ha^ e periods of feeling lonel> and
Doubt t h a t t h e f u t u r e ^*ill be
Cet upset and easil> diseouraaed?
^t t i m e s , t h i n k t h a t nolwidy I IM CM
> ou ?

If vour "No"" answers total ten or more, MHI

happineri rating is as good as or beitL'f tlu
that ol the a\era2e woman between 20 and It
If seven or feuer quesions are aniwerfd "Ni>
you are not getting the mo=t out of hie. M-i
riage \vill not olve vour problem until }ou IK\
changed vour attitude if you are ingle, nur ^^ i
divorce if vou are married.

Figure 7. Psychological Mini Test: "Do You Enjoy Life?" Ladies Home Journal
April, 1953.




^^ Women having more than a specified number of "no" answ^ers on

these "happiness tests" were urged to seek professional help. Such tests
assumed that whatever discontent was found could be contained, with the
help of experts, within the confines of domesficity.
The tension in women's magazines between their encouragenient of
readers to consider and express their unhappiness and their subscripfion
to the ideals of domesticity is best illustrated in "It's Good to Blow Your
Top" published in McCali's in January, 1950. The article compared the
situation of the American housewife to pressure-cooking: "When things
are going smoothly, the steam is under controland the meat gets done to
a turn. But when problems begin to pick up, the pressure rises to a
dangerous level. Unless it is released in some unusual marmer, the cooker
may explode." The article called upon women not to "suffer in silence." It
advised readers to deal with such pressures by expressing their tension,
frustration, and anger. As with the mini-tests, this article urged women to
acknowledge and express their discontent, but assumed it could be contained. The article explained that there were a variety of ways for women
to discharge their discontent Throwing old plates against the wall was
one possibility: "When you are on the verge of a blow up, let fly" (Fig. 8).
For the woman who found herself brooding about her husband and
having such thoughts about him as what a "beast, ogre, bum he is," the
arficle recommended that she "write it downall of iL Go into detail. Use
unmaidenly language. Say every horrible thing you've ever wanted to
say." Sports or cleaning could also help release tension and anger. "You
can even beat the daylights out of your rugs or superpoKsh every table in
your house," explained the article.^*
These images of the American housewife as unhappy, frustrated, and
angry presented in this and other articles reveal that women's magazines
did not avoid the quesfion of how women felt about their lives; rather they
devoted considerable attention to the subject by focusing on the psychological tensions experienced by the housewife and her difficulties conforming to the domestic ideal. Applying the new standard of
psychological happiness, the magazines found evidence of women's dissasfaction. Of course, their purpose was to persuade women to overcome
it. They assumed that women needed to be educated about the value of
domesticity and helped with adjusfing to its gendered effects. Women's
magazines informed readers that their feelings of frustration, anger, and
sadness were normal.^ They also promoted a variety of therapeutic techniques to help women achieve moods of joy and purposefulness. As
feminists, however, have been quick to point out, the magazines did not
promote feminist solutions to the problem of discontent. Indeed, some
have argued that the magazines' solufions were antifeminist. Women's




Figure 8. From "It's Good To Blow Your Top." McCall's January, 1950.
magazines of the postwar era have been read in most accounts as having
functioned to depoHticize discontent; they have been condemned for
suggesting that women deal with their dissatisfaction by autoconditioning or crying instead of protesting.^^
There is, however, another way to understand this chapter in
women's cultural history. By focusing public attention on the plight of the
American housewife, turning her into a national social problem, these
magazines contributed to a discourse of discontent. They documented on
an unprecedented scale the difficulty women had in finding satisfaction in
their homes and personal lives. In an admittedly oblique way, they
pointed to a problem that Betty Friedan would later name, "the problem
that has no name." More radical feminists, a few years later, would name
this problem sexism and develop a comprehensive set of strategies to
combat it.




Marriage, Discontent, and Self-Fulfillment in Women's

Women's magazines articulated a discourse of discontent most
directly through their discussion of marriage. Botii feature articles and
marriage counseling columns focused on the tension women experienced
in their personal lives. In such columns as "Can This Marriage Be Saved?,"
"Why Marriages Fail?," and "Making Marriage Work" readers learned
about women's narrow escapes from marital dissolution.-^ They described
in devastating detail the psychological effects of bad marriages. They also
promoted a new set of expectations about marriage. Preaching the ideals
of self-fulfillment and self-realization, they instructed readers to measure
their marriages against psychological standards. While the magazines
insisted that women had a right to be happy, they also insisted that women
could adjust to the gendered effects of marriage. Women's magazines did
not simply glorify marriage but instead created a complex and contradictory discourse that focused on discontent and self-fulfillment, celebrating
the possibilities of adjustment to the domestic ideal.
One important context in which the topic emerged were articles that
sought to de-romantidze marriage by emphasizing that happiness within
marriage was neither easily nor effortlessly attained. As one article
warned, "we've all been sadly misled by fairy tales that ended 'and so they
were married and lived happily ever after.' It simply is not true."^" The
magazines often took the position that their readers glorified marriage and
had to be told the truth about it. As this article explained, readers had to
accept that "reality is the only basis for love" and that reality included "the
anxieties, weaknesses, and miseries of life."^** Another bluntly proclaimed,
"marriage does not guarantee security, being cared for, or being loved.
Marriage guarantees nothing except experience."^" Indeed, the magazines
presumed that women needed to possess a realistic understanding of the
difficulties of achieving marital success.
Warning against falling prey to superlatives, they sought to disabuse
readers of their overly optimistic conceptions of marriage. Readers' expectations were deflated in a variety of ways. Sometimes statistics were
invoked. One article reported, for example, that after extensive research
scientists found that the chances of a happy marriage were "roughly one
in twenty."^^ At other times the magazines simply repeated their mantra
about marriage; "there is just no such thing" as perfection in marriage; the
best women could hope for was "a perfect state of give and take."-^^ It
seems that even this state of "give and take" was achieved with difficulty.
For many women, it appeared, the "give and take" of marriage became a
situation in which men did all the taking.




Figure 9. From "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Ladies Home loumal October,



Dr. Patil Popenoc


"When a couple want lo co-nperate in working for ihe success

of their marriage, the American Institute of Fanuly Relations is able to show ihem how
to do this satisfactorily in more
than 80 per cent of the cases;
and, indeed, is often able to
straighten out the difTiculties
of the marriage by seeing only
one partner. Over the past 23
years, since the founiiing of
this institute, we have been
^^^^ ,^ ,,^,p 20,000 peuple to

happily adjusted marriage. We strongly advocate premarital counseling as the basis for insuring; happy
marriage witbout crises later on. The instittile slaff
now includes 37 counselors; the one responsible for
this case was Dr. Fenna B. Simms."

Figure 10. Paul Popenoe, Director of the Institute of Family Relations and
Author of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?".
The marriage counseling sections of women's magazines provided
the most detailed glin:ipse of women's dissatisfactions with marriage.
Through such columns as "Can this Marriage Be Saved?," "Making Marriage Work/' and "Why Marriages Fail?," women's magazines investigated the friction of domestic life. Indeed, they represented, sometimes in
gruesome detail, the explosive strife men and women experienced in their
daily interactions. Far from obscuring women's tortuous relationship to
domesticity and denying their right to achieve satisfaction, women's magazines and the experts who wrote for them brought the issue of women's
marital unhappiness into sharp focus.
Marriage counseling columns of the postwar period normalized marital conflict by writing about it as an almost universal social problem.
Marriage counselor Clifford R. Adams in his column, "Making Marriage
Work," for example, explained that "Alice Rand is an unhappy woman




and she and her husband have a thoroughly unhappy marriage." But he
assured readers, "Alice is not unique."^^ Marriage counselor David Mace
went further: after recounting an example of what he called "a spiralingdown marriage interaction pattern," he informed his readers that "similar
conversafions go on day after day in thousands of homes."-^ Others
explained that marital difficulfies were the "daily dilemma of millions of
married couples in the modem world."'^
These difficulties were generally related to domesficity and its concomitant strict division of sex roles. In "Is My Marriage a Mistake?," for
example. Mace told the story of Thelma who was very unhappy and
harbored strong feelings of resentment against her husband Joe. But she
felt that anyone looking at her situafion would not understand; "As the
world sees him, he's a steady, hard-working, up-and-coming young executive in a safe job with good prospects. . . . Ibut to me] he's just a big
disappointment. I feel thwarted. I get mad at Joe. Not a fighting madjust
a dull, growing anger. Yet its hard to justify this. As I said, he doesn't beat
me up or run around or come home drunk." Even her friends could not
understand Thelma's feelings of desperafion: "My girl friends say 1 should
feel fortunate to have such a husbandso steady and dependable, so
hard-working. When they say that, 1 get even madder still. I say to myself,
'If only you could know how I feel inside!' " Thelma went on to explain
that " 'it's a shut-in kind of feeling. . . . I feel trapped, and somehow Joe is
to blame.' " Thelma described herself as plagued by vague feelings of
dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger. She remained unable to name feelings that Betty Friedan would call "the problem that has no name" about
5 years later.'^^
Though the marriage counselor sought to solve Thelma's and Joe's
problem by promoting communication and understanding, most of which
must be done by Thelma, he did not avoid the quesfion of the source of
Thelma's trouble. His exploration of her feelings led to the discovery that
her marriage entailed sacrifice. Apparently, her resentment and unhappiness stemmed from her having to give up activifies that gave her an
independent sense of identity and accomplishment. As Thelma explained,
"I had a lot of dreams before I got married.... I was in college. I was keen
on literature. I wanted to write. I even started a novel. And, of course, there
was my music.... Getfing married squelched all that. I didn't even graduate. I quit college to marry Joe."^^ Although Mace documented Thelma's
dissatisfaction with an impressive attention to detail, drawing out the
myriad manifestations of her unhappiness, he cursorily summed up the
solufion to the problem: "understanding." Once Thelma recognized that
all Joe did was actually for her, the counselor had solved the problem.


EVA MosKowrrz


Figure 11. From "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Ladies Home jourtial January,




Marriage problems analyzed by women's magazines frequently

stemmed from women's dissatisfaction with the gendered effects of the
domestic ideal. In "Is Your Husband a Partner to Be Encouraged and
Applauded? Or is He a Rival to Be Beaten?," for example, the case
involved the marriage of a woman named Marcia who was always competing with her husband Phil. Although the counselor granted that there
was nothing wrong with Marcia's desire to excel, the problem occurred
when Marda tried to excel in those areas that Phil and the marriage
counselor considered Phil's own area of achievement:
Granted, there's nothing unwholesome in Marcia's seeking to excel
at some things, for recognized skills help to win the social approval
which every human being needs. . . . But Marcia tries to beat her
husband at his own game, while neglecting to develop skills of her
own... ?^
Marda's behavior, the counselor informed his readers, stemmed from her
unhappiness. She felt a "deep sense of inferiority." He went on to explain
that "secretly, she feels inadequate; in trying to outdo Phil, she is unconsdously seeking proof of her own worth." While Marcia's unhappiness
leads her to challenge one of the central tenets of domestic ideology, the
strict division of sex roles, and brings her marriage to the brink of disaster,
the counselor recommended that Marcia "cultivate self-respect, not by
competing with Phil but by pursuing her own talents and skills independently. Perfecting her needlework, becoming an expert gardenerthese
are just a few of her opportunities to demor\strate her worth."^^
Thus, while marriage counseling columns publicized the psychological tensions experienced by women living under the domestic ideal, they
did so with the aim of persuading women to conform to its standards.
Successfully imposing domestic ideology on their female clients was
clearly one of their main goals. But it would be incorrect to see this as the
only goal of the marriage counseling columns. In addition to promoting
domesticity, marriage counselors also promoted self-fulfillment as a
woman's right.* As counselor Reuben Hill explained, "Any woman has a
right to feel unsatisfied if she isn't getting what she really needs from her
marriage." Clifford Adams insisted that the "first step toward a welladjusted personality [and, therefore, marriage] is to face their needs, then
make an honest effort to satisfy them.'"^^ Marriage counselors claimed that
"an essential ingredient of every truly satisfying human relationship" is
"the development and realization of the individual's potentialities for
growth, achievement, and well-being."^^ Indeed, marriage counselors
explained some of the basic tenets of human potential psychology to their
female readers. Adams, for example, listed the five essential needs for




mental health and contentment: social approval, belongingness, mastery,

need for love and affection, and sexual satisfaction. He even recommended exercises for readers, who were instructed to list the needs "of
importance to you," and "then list the ways you are satisfying them." "If
something is lacking," he explained, "see what you can do to correct the
Marriage counselors also advised women constantly "to take stock of
your marriage." Counselors advised readers not only to look for the flaws
in their domestic relations but also to evaluate whether their marriage
"had stopped growing."^ Mature women, they warned, did not shirk
from such a responsibility. They confronted the marital relation head on,
recognizing it for exactly what it was. With the help of marriage counselors
and "constant attention to the quality of your marriage," readers were
assured that happiness and success in marriage could be achieved.'*^
Thus, marriage counselors writing for women's magazines during
the postwar period created a peculiar version of domestic discourse out of
two, sometimes competing, goals: the promotion of conformity to domesticity and the ideal of self-fulfillment. The resulting discourse contained
contradictions: it emphasized both the necessity and virtue of domesticity
but revealed women's unhappiness under this regime; and it encouraged
women to submit to the requirements of domesticity and yet to scrutinize
their domestic relations and expect happiness and self-fulfillment.
That the profession might not be able to contain these contradictions
does not appear to have been recognized by the marriage counselors. They
maintained a strong faith that the expression of women's discontent and
better communication between couples would lead to submission by all
women to the domestic ideal. They also believed that as marriage counselors they would receive the credit for being the architects of a new social
order, free from the conflict between the sexes. Of course, they were wrong
on both counts. Drawing upon the rhetoric of discontent, Betty Friedan
and later, more radical feminists exhorted women to recognize that the
cult of domesticity itself led to psychological unhappiness, denied women
a separate identity, and categorized as pathological women who sought to
escape the private realm. In doing so, feminists blamed the experts for
being the architects of an oppressive social order.
Naming the Problem
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is considered the first shot
across the bow^ of domestic discourse of the Cold War period. As one
scholar put it, she was the first to proclaim that "housework was intrinsically boring," that the home had become "a comfortable concentration




Figure 12. From "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Ladies Home journal December,




camp." Another explains that she "articulated heretofore unarticulated

grievances." A third views the publication of Friedan's book as a sign that
"someone was finally willing to say that the emperor had no clothes."
These views mirror Friedan's own sense of the place of her work in the
culture of her times. According to Friedan, although women were consumed by "a strange stirring, a sense of dissafisfacfion, a yearning" that
would not go away, "in the millions of words written about women, for
women, in all the columns, books, articles by experts, there was no word
of this yearning.'"*^
Friedan's invesfigation of women's lives and her conclusions about
domesticity were clearly innovative. Injecting an unprecedented drama
into the public discussion of women's roles, Friedan turned womanhood
and domesticity into matters of intense public controversy. She identified
a pathological tendency in American culture to deny women a sense of
idenfity, offering a profound indictment of domestic ideology. Friedan
urged women to reject "the feminine mystique" which she believed prevented women from gratifying "their basic need to grow and fulfill their
potentialities as human beings." She also insisted that only an enfirely new
understanding of themselves and their roles as women would enable
women to develop "a new sense of identity" and to live with "the enjoyment, the sense of purpose that is characteristic of true human health."
Thus, Friedan put her critique of domesticity directly in the service of
women, ulfimately leading to important changes in the political, cultural,
intellectual, and economic landscape of America."*"
But while Friedan's view of domesficity was innovafive, her discussion of women's psychological condition was not as unprecedented as she
or subsequent historians believed. Her view that "in the millions of
words" written about women there was "no word" of the yearning and
dissatisfaction women experienced was incorrect.''^ In fact, like Friedan,
the women's magazines used personal testimony from women across the
country to document unhappiness. Similarly, her discovery of "a strange
discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to
which we are trying to conform" was one women's magazines had been
making for years. They, too, found that despite domesticity's promise of
fulfillment, "the group of workers least likely to enjoy their jobs was
housewives."^^ Though Friedan claimed that this problem of dissafisfaction "lay buried, unspoken of" and that each woman "struggled with it
alone," month after month millions of readers learned from their trusted
women's magazines about such problems as "spiraling-down marriage
interaction patterns" and depression. Indeed, there exists more discursive
confinuity between the women's magazines and Betty Friedan than has
been acknowledged.




One other indication of discursive continuity comes, surprisingly,

from contemporary readers of women's magazines, who reacted strongly
to a Betty Friedan article published in 1963 by McCall's magazine. "Fraud
of Femininity" summarizes the arguments against domesticity found in
her book published that same year. Feminist scholars today see it as one of
the earliest departures from the "peach nectar heaven" editorial standard,
in which attention is called to the false promises of domesticity in light of
the reality of women's lives. McCalVs received hundreds of letters in
response. It is interesting to note that many respondents reacted negatively.^ But far more important, and unexpected, given our concern with
the sources for recent feminists' ideological commitments, is that they
claim to be already familiar with Friedan's message, indeed of being tired
of hearing her message.^'
Women readers accused Friedan and women's magazines of promoting a "negativistic attitude" toward domesticity in general and women's
roles as housewives in particular.^^ As one housewife and devoted
women's magazine reader explained, I am "a proud and fulfilled wife,
mother, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, and friend; trying to live up to
my purpose of being here on this earth; no small nor ignominious task, I
can assure you. And I am sick, sick, sick of reading just this type of article,
as I am sure many other happily married women are."^^ Respondents
objected to the portrait of women as "empty, wasted, or filled with frustration."^'*
They saw the publication of Friedan's article as confirmation of a
tendency of women's magazines to put down the housewife and domesticity. In the face of an emerging consensus, one housewife from Pennsylvania, expressed her intention to maintain an independent view: "I will
not be a sheep following the rest of the herd because I have certain ideals
and ideas. And although I was married at 19 and left college after 1 and a
1/2 years, no statistic can convince me that my life is empty and that my
work is not 'serious' and important to sodety."^'' Women wrote of being
"sick and tired" or "so mad they could scream at" all the articles suggesting that women find their lives depressing or meaningless.^'' They complained that they "have been reading articles similar to Mrs. Friedan's for
years and boil with rage" every time another appears.^^ Another complained that Friedan's article is "only one of many similar articles that are
making me more and more disgusted."^^ "Tired of hearing about the poor
little housewife who is trapped, frustrated, guilty, wasting her life, unappreciated, dependent, passive and whatever else she is called," readers
insisted that they did not want experts to define their lives as a national
problem.^^ "The public barrage of vapid articles" that many saw as
"designed to trigger a few insecurities in neurotic women and cause the




rest of us to doubt our own eyes" eru-aged many of them.*'" They were "fed
up with being studied and analyzed, praised and damned"^^ and wished
"educated people would quit analyzing and studying us as though we
were microbes in a test tube."^^
Ironically, while Friedan saw herself in opposition to the experts who
promoted the "feminine mystique," many housewives perceived her as
yet another expert analyzing and complaining about the state of women's
lives.^3 j^y wanted Friedan and the magazines to "stop knocking the
homemaker."^"^ Signing their letters with closures such as "from a veiy
happy, contented, but obviously without knowing it, trapped housewife,"
some even insisted that they would cancel their subscriptions, if the
magazines did not stop pubUshing "Friedan-type articles."^^ Readers did
not appear to make a distinction between Friedan's critique of domesticity
and that of the magazines; instead, they found continuity.
While readers overlooked some very real and substantial differences,
they were not completely off the mark. Betty Friedan, like many of the
anfifeminist and afeminist writers for women's magazines that came
before her, viewed women as unhappy, frustrated, and stifled. Both
focused on the psychological effects of domesticity and emphasized the
importance of self-fulfillment. But whereas women's magazines and the
experts who wrote for them sought to help women be happy within the
confines of domesticity Friedan categorically rejected both. She did so, I
suggest, not by uncovering "what lay buried and unspoken of," but by
speaking in new ways about what had already been identified as a problem and taking what was a constant concern of women's magazines and
putting it to new political uses. Friedan described domestidty and the
effects of experts in pathological terms. She insisted that the psychological
effects of domesticity were so damaging that only a wholesale rejection of
it would save women from obliterating their sense of self. While Friedan
firmly rejected the adjustment strategies promoted by women's magazines, her critique of domesticity and political demands relied heavily
upon a psychological discourse that itself emphasized unhappiness and
That psychological discourse was an essential aspect of Friedan's
politics should not be surprising, given her educational background and
the general enthusiasm for psychological and therapeutic thinking during
the post-World War II period. Friedan majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Smith College, spent summers studying with Kurt Lewin at
the University of Iowa, studied as a graduate student with Erik Erikson at
the University of California at Berkeley, underwent psychoanalysis in
New York City where she explains "she began to focus on her rage," and
worked for a while at the Westchester mental health facility. Friedan also




came of age at a time when American society placed special emphasis on

personal problems and the psychological goal of fulfillment. During the
postwar era, large-scale national orgarzations including the federal government, corporations, and institutions of mass culture gave unprecedented attention to the problems of psychological adjustment and
discontent. This new focus on personal problems and psychological happiness, I suggest, profoundly affected both the domestic rhetoric promoted by women's magazines and the feminist rhetoric of the women's
Friedan defined "the problem that has no name" in largely psychological terms. She identified the injustice done to women as the myth of
the fulfilled woman and blamed popular culture and experts for these
distortions.""^ Friedan was outraged that while women "suffer from a
feeling of desperation," "a strange stirring sense of dissatisfaction," a
feeling that "there's nothing to look forward to," the image of women that
pervaded American popular culture and the social scientific literature was
that of the "happy housewife." Friedan argued that these misrepresentations denied women the capacity to address their unhappiness and seek
fulfillment outside the domestic realm. It also denied women a "firm core
of self." In response to this injustice, Friedan advocated that women shun
those definitions of themselves that "do not demand or permit realization
of women's full abilities." She urged women to "unequivocally say no" to
constructions of womanhood "that do not provide adequate self-esteem,
much less pave the way to a higher level of self-realization."''^
For Friedan, the injustice facing American women consisted not of the
denial of economic and political sources of power, but rather, the obstruction of women's achievement of personhood. She asked "Why, with the
removal of all the legal, political, economic, and educational barriers that
once kept woman from being man's equal, a person in her own right, an
individual free to develop her own potential, should she accept this new
image which insists she is not a person . . . ?"^^ American culture's denial
to women of an appropriate self-image formed the centerpiece of
Friedan's political commentary.
Friedan found no conceptual tradition that women could draw upon
to challenge this denial. In fact, she urged women to acknowledge that the
problen:\ facing won:ien "cai"uiot be understood in the generally accepted
terms by which scientists have studied women, doctors have treated them,
counselors have advised them, and writers have written about them." She
rejected expertise in favor of personal experience. By ignoring expert
advice and listening to "that voice inside herself," Friedan believed
wonien could eliminate the obstacles to their self-development. Friedan




made women's own understanding of their lives her political starting

Beginning with Friedan and continuing with more radical feminists,
feminism sought to construct a new kind of politics in which personal
experience provided the basis for political interpretation and social
change. Feminists also assigned the so-called "woman's world" a radically new meaning. In their domestic discourse the home became neither
a separate nor a sacred world but a "comfortable concentration camp," an
institution that denied women their full humanity. Feminists saw themselves as once and for all ending the era and ideology of the "home as
haven" and creating a politics in which the personal and the political
could no longer be separated.
However, while feminists often imagined themselves as beginning
completely anew, rejecting the categories of thought foisted upon them by
experts and the mass media, and creating a politics purely out of their
immediate experiences and personal feelings, their political discourse was
connected to the popular culture and expertise of their era. A survey of
women's magazines during the postwar period suggests that there was,
indeed, a popular context and a history to the ideological work they
performed. Recent feminism took as its starting point the cult of domesticity and its psychological effects upon women. Women's magazines and
the experts who wrote for them, however, had already focused mass
attention on the psychological difficulties women had in adjusting to
domesticity. They publicized the problems women experienced in conforming to domesdcity and their difficulty securing happiness. They also
simultaneously emphasized the virtues of domesticity and the value of
psychological happiness. While they clearly did not advocate feminist
solutions or have feminist intentions, they contributed to a discourse of
discontent and a new standard of psychological happiness. In addition, it
can be argued that this legacy of revealed discontent and unresolved
contradictions was a source of a new polirtcal discourse fashioned by Betty
Friedan and subsequent feminists.


The author thanks the Mary Lizzie Saunders Clapp Fund Fellowship of The Arthur
and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on The History of Women in America, Radciiffe
College for its financial support, Thanks to Ron Walters and Louis Galambos for
their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Spedal thanks are also
extended to Walter Michaels whose critical insights enormously improved the
essay. Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their comments and




1 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell Publishing Co.,
1963), 30.
2 Incident described in Marcia Cohen, The Sisterhood: The Inside Story ofthe
Women's Movement and the Leaders Wlw Made It Happen (New York: Fawcett Columbine: 1989), 185.
3 The one scholar who has recently sought to reevaluate women's magazines is Joanne Meyerowitz. In her study entitled "Beyond the Feminine Mystique:
A Reassessment of Postwar Mass Culture, 1946-1958," Meyerowitz examines
issues of eight popular magazines (several of which were geared specifically
toward a black audience), including three women's magazines, for the purpose of
"test[ingl generalizations about postwar mass culture." Meyerowitz takes issue
primarily with the view that Cold War popular magazines were uniformly critical
of women's rotes outside of the home and never presented positive images of
politically active women. She thus rebuts the claim that popular magazines portrayed women's activities outside the home seldom and negatively. In this article
I do not reevaluate this aspect of the women's magazines. Rather, I take up an even
more prominent aspect of the traditional view of Cold War popular ailture, and
one that has yet to be critically reexaminedthe claim that women's magazines
always portrayed women as blissfully happy.
^ Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil
Rights Move^nent and the New left (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 213; Clenna
Matthews, "Just A Housewife": The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1987), 212; William L. O'Neil, Feminism In America: A
Histori/ (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2nd ed.,1989), 308;
Cohen, The Sisterhood, 196. See also, Elaine May, Homeward Bound: American Families
in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988); Winifi-ed Wandersee, On the
Move: American Women in the 1970s (Boston: Twayne, 1988); Leila J. Rupp and Verta
Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Woman's Rights Movement, 1945 to the
1960s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Cynthia Harrison, OH Account of
Sex: The Potitics of Women's Issues, 1945-1968 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1988); Peter G. Filene, Him/Her Self Sex Roles in Modern America (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975); Susan M. Hartmann, The Homefront and
Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston: Twayne, 1982); Annegret Ogden, The
Creat American Houseiuife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner, 1776-1986 (Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986); and Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter:
Class, Gender and Propaganda During World War ll (Arnherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).
5 May, Homeward Bound, 209.
^ Evans, Personal Politics, 212.
^ My effort to reevaluate women's magazines is part of a more general effort
by scholars working in a variety of disciplines to reevaluate the Cold War era.
Rejecting a reductionist portrait of the 1950s, they have portrayed the period as
more complex and contradictory than previously thought, often finding within the
Cold War era the seeds of its own destruction. Political scientist Michael Rogin, for
example, in his provocative article, "Kiss Me Deadly: Communism, Motherhood,
and Cold War Movies" in Ronald Reagan, the Movie and Other Episodes in Political
Demonology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), finds that postwar




popular culture simultaneously glorified and vilified motherhood. Sociologist

Wini Breines, in her recent book Young, Wlte, and Miserable: Growing Up Female in
the 1950s (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), argues that women's revolt "surreptitiously
began in the quiet fifties." Far from being monolithic and merely constraining for
women, postwar popular culture, with all its tensions and contradictions, actually
provided the basis for women's construction of new identities and new means of
empowerment. Historian Susan Ware in a study of League of Women Voters's local
chapters entitled "American Women in the 1950s: Nonpartisan Politics and
Women's Politicization" in Women, Politics, and Change, eds. Louise Tilly and
Patricia Gurin (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1990), suggests that League
women defied the stereotype of the unfulfilled, politically reticent Cold War
woman. Challenging Friedan's characterization of women in postwar America,
Ware argues that League women were "not suffering from a crisis in women's
identity." I examined all of the nonfiction articles dealing with women and their
state of mind during the years under consideration. I did a less systematic review
of other women's magazines, including Woinan's Home Companion, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens, Redbook, Colliers, and Coronet. See endnotes 18 and 30
for the prevalence of the theme of women's dissatisfaction.
^ My argument that women's magazines of the postwar era promoted a
discourse of discontent is difficult to express in quantitative terms. It is certainly
not the case that most of the pages in the magazines were devoted to this subject.
The bulk of the magazines consists of advertisements, which portray women
happily consuming products or women who are unhappy because iey have
neglected to consume products. The remainder was devoted to fiction, articles on
cooking, cleaning, child rearing, beauty, fashion, women's psychological condition, and, as Joarme Meyerowitz has recently shown, women's roles outside the
home. Articles on women's psychological condition, therefore, represent a relatively small portion of the total. However, when evaluating the significance of my
evidence two things should be kept in mind. First, I found no articles on women's
state of mind that reported on women's contentment in the home. The articles were
always framed negatively, as the problem of women's unhappiness or poor psychological state of mind. Second, the articles dealing with women's unhappiness
were given a prominent position both within the magazine aiid on the cover.
Women's magazines sold their issues in part by claiming to deal with this problem.
The marriage counseling columns, in parficular, were a key part of marketing
strategy. They appeared each month, were accompanied by large black and white
photographs, and were featured as the lead arficie on the covers of these magazines.
^ Marynia Farnham, "Women and Wives," McCall's, October 1945, 60.
10 Ibid., 60.
" Dorothy Thompson, "Occupation: Housewife," Ladies Home Journal,
March 1949, 11.
12 Ibid.
13 Wid., 26.
" Dr. James F Bender, Director of the National Institute for Human Relations, "What Sends People to Reno?," Ladies Home journal, April 1948, 296.




^5 Barbara Benson, "Would You Marry Your Husband Again?," Ladies Home
Journal, February 1947, 26.
16 "What Makes Wives Unliappy," Ladies Home Journal, lanuary 1949, 26.
'^ Before presenting the results of surveys and in-depth interviews, the
magazines often instrticted women to measure their own responses against those
of the nation's. One article, for example, recommended that "before reading the
replies of other husbands and wives, you might jot down your answer to these
questions. Express your honest opinions, frankly and in detail." Benson, "Would
You Marry Your Husband Again?," 31.
'" For some further examples see, "How Do You Beat the Blues?," Women's
Home Companion, March 1948, 153-155; "What Do You Do When Worries Get You
Down?," Women's Home Companion, December 1952, 9; "How to Live With Yourself," McCatl's, March 1960, 116-117; "I Can't Stand It Anymore," Good Housekeeping, March 1961,86-87; "Why Do Women Cry?," Ladies Home journal, October 1948,
44; "How to Recognize Suicidal Depression," Ladies Home journal, September 1964,
26; "Blues and How to Chase Them," McCaWs, August 1960,98; "How to Cet Over
Feeling Low," Better Homes and Carden, October 1950, 66-67; "When Don't You
Need a Psychiatrist?," Coronet, March 1956, 93-97; "Lonely Wife," Women's Home
Companion, June 1956, 16-18; "You Can Be Happier Than You Are," Better Homes
and Gardens, February 1956, 31; "Are You Afraid You're Going Crazy?," Good
Housekeeping, August 1957, 118-121; "Do You Need a Psychiatrist?," Coronet,
December 1954, 31-34; "Emotional Upsets Are Good For You," Colliers, September
1953, 88-93.
15 Karl Huber, "Crying as Catharsis," McCaU's, November 1960, 46,48.
20 "How Emotions Cause Unnecessary Surgery," Cosmopolitan, November
1955, 20, 24.
21 Cosmopolitan, January 1956,18. Though there was more of an emphasis on
glamour than homemaking in Cosmopolitan than in other women's magazines, the
shift toward sex and the single girl did not occur until the end of the Cold War
period, after 1962 when Helen Curley Brown published a book with that title.
Throughout the period from 1945 to 1965 the magazine had a readership interested
in marital discontent and psychological unhappiness. See, for example, "Survey of
American Marriage," Cosmopolitan, June 1954, 8-14; "Are Marriage Counselors
Any Good?," Cosmopolitan, January 1953,104-107; "Tests That Tell You All About
You," Cosmopolitan, September 1957, 40-44; "When a Wife is Second Best" Cosmopolitan, January 1958, 62-65; "Where to Take Your Troubles," CosmofJolitan, April
1958, 54-61; "Psychological First-Aid Kit For You," Cosmopolitan, December 1958,
70-73; "What You Should Know About Psychiatry," Cosmopolitan, March 1955,
64-69; "Why They Fight About Money," Cosmopolitan, December 1955,70-73; "Live
With Your Nerves and Like It," Cosmopolitan, February 1957,40-45; "What It Means
to find Yourself," Cosmopolitan, January 1959, 24-29; "American Wife: Symposium," Cosmopofli, January 1958, 20-73.
-- "Autoconditioning," Cosmopolitan, 20.
" Clifford R. Adams, "Making Marriage Work," Ladies Home journal, June
1954, 26.




^-t Kate Holliday, "It's Good To Blow Your Top," McCall's, January 1950, 59,
^^ This normalization of discontent contrasts with the claims made by many
scholars that women's magazines defined unhappy women as abnormal. Historian Clenna Matthews, for example, explains the logic she found at work in
women's magazines and other forms of popular culture: "The 'normal', feminine
woman would be happy staying at home. One who was unhappy was, in fact, by
definition not normal." Matthews, "lust a Housewife," 2\\.
^'^ As Elaine May explains, for example, this rhetoric and its therapeutic
corollary "undermined the potential for the political activism and reinforced the
chilling effects of anticommunism and the cold war consensus," May, Homeward
Bound, 14. For examples of works not already cited that treat women's magazines
as obstacles to feminist protest, see Maureen Honey, Creating Rosic the Riveter;
Cynthia White, Women's Magazines, 1693-1968 (London: Joseph, 1970); Janice Winship, Inside Women's Magazines (New York: Pandora, 1987); Ester R. Sineman,
"What the Ladies Were Reading," (Ph.D. dissertation. University of Chicago,'
1976); Marjorie Ferguson, "Imagery and Ideology: The Cover Photographs of
Traditional Women's Magazines," in Hciirth aiul Home, ed. Gaye Tudiman, Arlene
Kaplan Daniels, and James Bonet (New York: Oxford university Press, 1978); Joy
Leman, "The Advice of a Real Friend: Codes of Intimacy and Oppression in
Women's Magazines, 1937-1955," Women's Studies J)itcrnational Quarterly 3 (Fall
1980); Susan M. Hartmann, "Prescriptions for Penelope: Literature on Women's
Obligations to Returning World War 11 Veterans," Women's Studies 5 (1978): 223239; Maureen Honey, "Images of Women in the Saturday Evening Post, 1931-1936,"
/oin;7/o/P(7;;i/)-C//rc 10 (1976): 352-358.
-" In addition to these columns. Women's Home Compa)iion had a column
entitled "Help for Love and Marriage: Case Histories." But all women's magazines
addressed the marital problems. See, for example, "How to Stay Married Though
Unhappy," Good Housekeeping, Eebruary 1953, 59; "Does a Blow-up Ever Help a
Marriage?," Better Homes ami Gardens, August 1962, 44-45; "Where to Get a Marriage Counselor When You Need One," Good Housekeeping, July 1959, 113-114; "Ten
Commandments for a Happy Marriage," Coro)ict August, 1949, 93-96; "What
Breaks it Up? Analysis of a Thousand Letters," CotKf HfiLSL'/ctr/i//i_^% May 1949,40-41;
"How to Get Marriage Counseling?," Women's Home Companion, August 1949, 36;
"How to Hold on to a Happy Marriage," Better Homes and Garden, August 1950,
12-13; "Happy Marriage Week," Good Housekeeping, July 1950, 49; "Happier Marriages," Rcdbook, March 1961, 42-43; "Before Love Goes Wrong," Ladies Home
Journal, June 1959, 31-32; "Where to Take Your Troubles," Women's Home Companion, October 1948, 36-37; "Check Up For a Happy Marriage" Women's Home Gwi/'7ii;o, September 1952,9-10; "Unselfisliness Could Spoil Your Marriage," Wwf/i-n'^
Home Companion, ju]y 1952, 4; "They Learned to Love Again," Ladies Home journal,
October 1952, 171-174; "What Do You Want From Your Marriage Today?," Women's
Home Companion, April 1956, 70-73; "Are You Afraid to Quarrel?," Women's Home
Companion, May 1953, 4.
2 Jacques W. Bacal and E. B. Foskett, "Divorcethe Lonesome Road,"
McCall's, December 1945,103.
2" bid., 60.




^f" M a r y Fisher L a n g m u i r , " L e t ' s Be Realistic A b o u t D i v o r c e , " Ladies Home

journal. M a r c h 1947, 240.
31 J o h n E. G i b s o n , "Science L o o k s at L o v e , " Ladies Home Journal, J u n e 1948,
32 Bacal and Foskett, "Divorce," 102.
33 Clifford R. Adams, "Making Marriage Work: Is it You or Your Marriage
That Is Getting Out of Hand?," Ladies Home Journal, January 1948,26.
3* Mace, "Marriage is a Private Affair," McCall's, October 1960, 34.
35 Adams, "Making Marriage Work," Ladies Home journal, September 1949,
3^* Mace, "Marriage is a Private Affair," McCall's, October 1957, 97. In TJw
Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan describes women as suffering from a "strange
stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction . . . " Friedan, 11. She calls this the "problem that
has no name," Friedan, 28.
3^ Mace, "Marriage is a Private Affair," McCall's, October 1957,97.
38 A d a m s , " M a k i n g Marriage Work," Ladies Home journal, January 1952,14.
39 Ibid,
^ The domestic discourse promoted by marriage counselors was shaped by
the particular exigencies of the profession. For a history of marriage counseling,
see Eva S. Moskowitz, "Naming the Problem: How Experts and Popular Culture
Paved the Way for 'Personal Politics' " (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University,
*' Adams, "Making Marriage Work" Ladies Home journal, January 1948, 26.
"^ Mace, "Marriage is a Private Affair," McCall's, April 1959, 36.
*3 Adams, "Making Marriage Work," Ladies Home journal, January 1950, 26.
M Ibid.
45 Ibid.
^^ Evans, Personal Politics, 18; Kerber and de Hart Mathews, Women's America,
408; May, Homeward Bound, 209; Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 11.
'*'' Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 69, 281. Most accounts of recent feminism
emphasize its distinctiveness. This was particularly true of those accounts that
came directly out of the movement. See, for example, Robin Morgan, Going Too Far:
The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (New York: Vintage Books, 1978); and Ellen
WiUis, Beginning to See the Light (New York: Knopf, 1981 ). There were also contemporary accounts of the movement, including Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women's
Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and its Relation to the Policy
Process (New York: Longman, 1975); and Edith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of
Feminism (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1971).
^ Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 11.
^^ Barbara Benson, "Would You Marry Your Husband Again?," Ladies Home
journal, February 1947, 26.




S" The Schlesinger Library houses two important collections of letters written
to Betty Friedan. One group was written in response to her book. The Feminine
Mystique; the other to McCali's magazine in response to "The Fraud of Femininity"
published in its September 1963 issue. It is frequently assumed that Friedan
received an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response from women. One
scholar who examined the letters claims, for example, that "a perusal of a small
sample of them confirms that Friedan touched a responsive chord in the minds of
many women." While it is true that responses to The Fetninine Mystique were by
and large positive, the same cannot be said of the responses to "The Fraud of
Femininity." My rough estimate indicates that about 80 percent of respondents
were displeased with Friedan's argument.
51 Class appears to be a determining factor in their respor^es. Many respondents talk about their struggle to achieve the status of housewife. Before they
became housewives they worked outside the home. Many appear completely
baffled by Friedan's assumption that work outside the home is creative or psychologically uplifting. They found their clerical jobs not only boring but oppressive.
Submitting to every whim of a boss did not compare to the independence and joy
of working for their families in the home. While many were confused, others were
downright angry. They found Friedan's outlook snobbish and humiliating. They
resented the interpretation given to their lives by experts. They strongly resisted
the idea that being a housewife and enjoying it meant that they were living a
pathological existence. Indeed some, in tum, considered experts like Friedan sick
and perverse.
52 Betty Friedan papers, Schlesinger Library, Raddiffe College (hereafter BF),
Box 744.
" BF, Box 743.
54 BF, B o x 744.
55 BF, Box 744.
56 BF, Box 742.
5? BF, Box 742.
5SBF, B o x 7 4 1 .
5s BF, Box 745.
i'O BF, Box 744.
61 BF, Box 741.
2BF, B o x 7 4 1 .

^3 It is important to note that Friedan's relationship to expertise even in her

book is contradictory. Rhetorically, she emphasizes experts' neglect of the "problem that has no name" and the silence of professionals on the question of women's
unhappiness. But in her preface she thanks a long list of experts. She does,
however, qualify her acknowledgements by adding that although "experts in a
great many fields have been holding pieces of the truth under their microscopes
for a long time" they have often not realized it. Friedan, The Feminist Mystique,




^BF, Box 741.

5 BF, Box 742.
66 Cohen, The Sisterhood, 63.1 am currently working on a detailed history of
this phenomenon entitled "The Therapeutic Gospel: Personal Problems and Public
Debate In America, 1860-1990." For a preliminary account of the psychologization
of American society see Moskowitz, "Naming the Problem."
^^ The psychological nature of Friedan's political discourse can also be illustrated by contrasting it with the discourse of her contemporary, Martin Luther
King. King invoked traditional notions of political justice, calling the plight of
Blacks the "American dream unfulfilled." He demanded the birthright of freedom
and equality, and located these rights in the Constitution. Though Friedan and later
more radical feminists would also find the language of rights a useful one, the
rights they identified were of a newer variety, rights to satisfaction and self-esteem.
Similarly, it was not the injustice of the American dream unfulfilled, but the myth
of the fulfilled woman that compelled Friedan to demand social change. See A
Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, ed. James Melvin
Washington (New York: Harper and Row, 1986).
i'S Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 11-24, 293, 304.
f-'^ Ibid., 61.
Ibid., 22, 26.

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