In Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies’ Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture, Jennifer Scanlon points out the layers of irony in the work of Resor and her contemporaries. A woman who asserted her own independence and helped others achieve it as well created a campaign that promised to make women the objects of male sexual desire. Feminists in recent decades who have turned their attention to the objectification of women in advertising may not realize that a woman created one of the prototypes of such campaigns. Nor are they likely aware that she did so in advancing the opportunities for women like her in the new consumer society. More generally, as Scanlon observes, “These advertising women, in writing ads that provided a narrow definition of women’s lives—a definition confining women to home and market—secured their own independence, financial and otherwise.” An intriguing recent study that stresses the gendered nature of consumer culture. Scanlon demonstrates that advertisements—as well as the fiction and advice in America’s first mass-circulation women’s magazine—portrayed a society where women would find meaning and satisfaction in their lives through consumption.
Lois Ardery of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency coined in 1924. Ardery and others hoped consumer goods would satisfy these dreams. Persistently emphasizing the contradictions revealed by the interaction between the Ladies' Home Journal and its readers, Scanlon focuses on how the magazine promoted the vision of women as consumers. The resulting domestic ideal, she shows, focused only on white, middle-class women but failed to meet the needs of its targeted audience. Scanlon argues convincingly that what the ads proffered would not satisfy "inarticulate longings for personal autonomy, economic independence, intimacy, sensuality, self-worth, and social recognition" (p. 10). Scanlon's larger task is to demonstrate how from 1910 to 1930 this influential mass circulation woman's magazine helped strengthen both capitalism and patriarchy at the same time that it unwittingly enabled its readers to work toward a more adversarial response to what the advice columns, fiction, and advertisements offered.
The heart of the book examines the advice columns, fiction, and advertising of Ladies' Home Journal. In the first of three chapters on advice, Scanlon concentrates on the magazine's insistence that housekeeping was the only work acceptable to women whom it encouraged to pursue both a simple life and a more professional approach to running a house. This happened even when the magazine itself increasingly linked consumer culture with housekeeping as it became captive of the advertisers that underwrote its publication. The second of these chapters focuses on the treatment of the issue of paid work for married and single women, showing the contradictions, uncertainty, and ambivalence that went along with its traditionalist position, something articulated more for married than for single women. The third concentrates on the periodical's prescriptions for women's political participation, with editor Edward Bok vehemently opposing suffrage, though sanctioning participation in reform movements that were within women's traditional realm. "Like other aspects of the Ladies' Home Journal," Scanlon writes in a note struck throughout, "the magazine's stance on women's political involvement overtly discouraged but also, perhaps, unwittingly enhanced women's individual and collective political struggles" (p. 111). In the chapter on the magazine's fiction, the most methodologically sophisticated of those in the book, Scanlon relies on feminist literary analysis and on Fredric Jameson's writings to explore the contradictory messages of the stories.
EDWARD BOK vs. JAMES WEBB YOUNG
* J Walter Thompson-- James Webb Young (creator Aunt Jemima) * Bok- editor of LHJ, J walter Thompson Ad agency...
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