City Journal Winter 2016

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Winter 2016
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Laura Vanderkam
Journey Through the Checkout Racks « Back to Story

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Oh my, the current winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Alice Munro, published stories way back when in women's magazines. I remember reading, for the first time, a story by her in McCall's magazine and being astounded by it!! Those were the days.
Yes, just like books, some of us still like to read the print.....
When I was a child I used to read my mother's McCalls and Good Housekeeping magazines and my father's National Geographic and Time magazines. I would be embarrassed to be caught reading any of today's "women's magazines". And Time magazine has been throughly dumbed down into a propaganda sheet for Obama. National Geographic is still worth subscribing too. Thank God for that.
This article made me harken back to my childhood. I was born in '44 and we received all those magazines plus "True" and "Argosy" 'real' men's magazines for my step-dad who was a cigar smoking, tobacco chewing 2nd generation German redneck. My mom was a bit unusual in that she worked full time for the second half of my childhood as a school secretary. She had been raised on a ranch in the Texas Panhandle and had some very rigorous ideas about work and responsibility. She could sew very competently, can vegetables and fruit, churn butter (which she didn't have to do), kill and dress chickens, and take care of the house. Good point about houses being smaller because when I think back about our place it was two small bedrooms and one bath until my step-dad added a bedroom and bath for me prior to my freshman year in high school. Her work as a school secretary was 'her' time and as far as I know she was devoted to it and did it well along with the homemaking and cultivating a large circle of close friends and was still able to read the various magazines. So much for time management!
Back then cleanliness in an infant's nursery was more a matter of stemming epidemic. They did not have the medical alternatives we have today, so cleanliness was a must. It bore on mental image of the loss of a child's life.

Now, with 59 million children torn from their mothers' wombs and flushed into the sewers for rat food, we can bask in the pleasure principle with no disturbance of conscience as our Culture of Death puts the Almighty Buck (now being decimated by our Commie in Chief) at the most important focal point of human concern. Fathers who are childless, indeed, because we men, for lack of a better term, were too irresponsible to belly up to the bar and feed, clothe, house, insure, educate, entertain, medicate and transport our issue. And, least of all, to discipline them in an authentic prayer life. Sex, drugs, rock 'n roll didn't pan out the way we always thought it would, now, did it? And didn't Disney's "Pinocchio" say it all? But who would have thought our society would become so full of asses as our media have led us to be? The Blessed Virgin demanded in Medjugorje that we turn off the TV. What She may have said since then about the internet and XBox may only be faintly guessed. They have lain a net for my soul. Funny the parallels, eh?
Would we really wish to cede the point that keeping an infant's nursery clean is a good idea? I'm ever amazed by the fact that, today, cleanliness at home is considered a luxury, but a 2,000-inch TV with 3 million cable channels, video game rigs, computers, smartphones, digital cameras, etc., are considered necessities. It takes a lot of hours of wage labor to pay for the latter.

Women in the past made other choices with their time, and, in my experience over half a century, my aunts' and mother's generation (WWII) valued home life in a way unheard of now). I think perhaps they valued cleanliness more as well because when someone got sick because of filthy habits, THEY had to cope with it. They didn't drag everyone to the ER every time someone got a splinter that got a bit infected.

On housework hours, that too reflects priorities. I was in the workforce from my teens till my early 50s. Now, retired at 53 and a homemaker, I spend more time doing housework but that's because my/our digs (2,400 square feet) are bigger than my apartments were (the largest was 650 s.f.), I now live in a rural area and spend a lot of time outside...and a lot of time inside trying to keep the outside outside. I spend much more time doing projects that generate untidiness (woodwork, crochet, electronics, gardening, archery, firearms, lacemaking).

But I consider housework time to be "me time," and family time as well, Nothing is quite so satisfying as when we all pitch in to get the weekly vacuuming and damp mopping of all the floors done, the kitchen made ship shape, the bathrooms done, the laundry washed and hung and sorted and folded and put away, the workshop and garage re-organized. Between four of us, we get it done in about 1/10th the time as it would take one person to do it alone. We also do nearly all our own home contracting and repair.

We have fun with it, so "housework" is also our family culture, not some imaginary vampire sucking us dry of time we might be spending online looking at porn or shopping sites. My kids have done this work since they were toddlers. I taught them to love the simple work of maintaining one's home, and the pleasures of a tidy nest.

Re: Laura's observation about the meaty literary reading of these earlier magazines. I had the good fortune in my teens and twenties to know a woman who had written extensively for "the women's magazines." As she lent me copies of issues she'd published in, I was amazed even in the '70s and '80s to compare them to the later ones. The literary reading was so much more substantive and thoughtful, openminded and grounded in genuine reflectiveness. I am of the view that what happened is that, previously, "me time" was how women grounded themselves mentally and spiritually. Today that has been commodified by the New Age movement into something women again leave the house to get--the yoga class, the Pilates, the pole dancing lessons, the (fill in the blank).

The ongoing message to women in my lifetime is that our real intimate personal home life, mediated by experience and private interaction, is not nearly so important as the random encounters in the external world mediated by money. This reflects a larger culture in which the individual is devalued, the collective is worshipped and given power, and money matters more than anything.
I was a precocious reader,turned 10 in 1963, and was reading Mom's copies of Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping by the time I was 11 or so. A number of their articles were thought important enough by Readers Digest to be published there, too. There was a lot of worthwhile information in them, but I didn't know of any neighbor woman who sat for hours reading them every day,I assumed that they,like me,took a week or two to read the parts they wanted to. Anyway,today's so called "women's magazines" are a pitiful contrast. Judging from the covers,the articles are mainly about improving your sex life,losing weight, and celebrities, nothing to overtax your brain or expose you to things that really MATTER.While maybe our mothers back then didn't spend lots of one on one time with us because they were busy with housework and also with neighbor friends and with various women's clubs and such,they WERE there at home with us when we needed them or had a question, which is more than you can say for most of today's mothers of young children.
I felt the need to comment on Laura Vanderkam's article. I found the article very interesting and intriguing. The subject matter of perspective was not only informative, but also very entertaining. I found the comparisons good fodder for thought long after the read and some of the info I'm sure I'll use in the future as I go through my daily life. What I found the most interesting and found immediate was the respect for this writer, there was not a single misspelled word, the punctuation was spotless as well allowing the reader the ability to follow the thought process without the usual mental bantering, such as "is that the right word", or "I don't think that is spelled correctly", that usually strays the reader from the point at hand. A true joy to read and consider! Kudos Laura. Someone does notice these things! I think your readers and You may find it interesting that (and possibly for some strange statistic somewhere) I am a 54 year old man from Arizona. Thank You.
Betty Friedan questioned, “Have American Housewives Traded Brains for Brooms?” Based on this article, the modern question would ask, Have American Women traded in brains for cosmetic enhancements and bedroom antics?
I grew up in a small city, Port Elizabeth. I was born in 1945 and well remember eagerly waiting for The Ladies Home Journal, McCalls, Good Housekeeping and Redbook. I remember enjoying the cut-out dolls in McCalls and reading Eleanor Roosevelt's page in the 50's when I was a little older, I think it was in LHJ. Who could forget "Which twin had the Toni?" We had no television in South Africa until 1974 so everyone read books, magazines and children did a lot of playing outside. We also read a lot of British periodicals and syndicated articles in our English language press and I think that this was one way for us to stay in touch with the wider world as our world here was increasingly shut-down by the previous government and its racial paranoia. Thanks for an interesting article.
This article misses an important point, which is that in decades (and even centuries) past, magazines/periodicals were a big source of entertainment for people. A lot of works of fiction (such as those by Charles Dickens) were first serialized in periodicals, and people would anticipate the next issue so they could continue with the story the way we now anticipate the next episode of our favorite TV show. A woman in the 1960s, no matter whether she worked or how she spent her day, didn't have hundreds of television channels, a DVD player, Angry Birds on her cell phone (or a cell phone at all), or the internet--so a magazine wasn't just a source of information or a way to kill time, like it is now, but was a source of entertainment. That's why all magazines (not just women's magazines) featured so much more content, fiction, and more "meaty" articles. People today read less overall.
Having been born in 1949, I can say that my Mom was a typical housewife of the period. The author is working solely from the women's mag perspective, which seems a bit idealized compared to reality.

My mom did have brief spells off during the day, but she did work literally sunup (or before) to bedtime, including holidays and weekends. 90+% of meals were prepared by her. Remember that fast food was still in its infancy. A family trip to the cafeteria was a big treat that happened a handful of times per year. There were no microwave ovens, which have revolutionized food production at home.

Dishes were washed and dried by hand. Dishwashers were just coming in and most people did not have one. Some people had clothes dryers, but many, including us, did not. Mom hung them one by one on a clothesline.

As far as time with the kids, she did not "play with us" often, because she was too busy, but she was there for us, particularly after school on during summers and holidays. If something went wrong at school, it was important for Mom to be available then rather than hours later. She read to us fairly often--mainly comics, but fostered a love of reading, nonetheless. She did talk with us often as she did her chores and sometimes drafted us to help. I think working side-by-side with a parent is as valuable as play time. I couldn't repair a car when I left home, but I could sew on a button, darn a sock, and make my bed.

One last item on quality time with the kids. Back then, we could roam our neighborhood with absolutely no fear of drug dealers, sex offenders, or other predators. As long as we were home by dusk, Mom and Dad were happy.

This explains why I've discontinued all the women's magazines I've tried in the past few years.
A sense of devotion in life is essential for achieving any sort of real happiness. IMO. Devotion to oneself does not count. Very, very few people genuinely get this from their work. A very few might get this from meditation or prayer. Most people achieve this through devotion to their families. However, young women nowadays have been taught that should anyone suggest she should be first and foremost devoted to making her kids and husband happy she should be horribly offended. Most in my generation have taken this to heart.
Women were also more feminine and attractive back then, and children weren't so distorted as they are today from being raised by strangers.
I have always found it odd that magazines intended for women nearly always had a piece on astrologogy but that was never the case with magazines for men
I don't read enough of them to state this definitively, but it strikes me that a lot of men's magazines have grown increasingly effeminate as well.
Ramesh Raghuvanshi June 18, 2013 at 8:52 PM
Changes are part and parcel of human life.Like proverbial river one never steps in to twice.So there is no wonder all magazines are changed.Those who are don't understand the flow of change and remain as it is they die their own mistake.Speed of recent changes are unimaginable fast that is why most magazines are fumbling how to face the horrible changes.Most printed newspapers and magazines are on deathbed some are begging donation from readers.Real fact is they don't understand how to challenge this new changes.
Judging from my own experience and what i see on television there are a lot of women who could stand to do more housework and less self absorbed activity. Given that millions of americans are overweight and given to buying fast food and prepared food, it might not be bad if some of them decided to use some of that 'me time' to clean their houses, cook their meals, and take care of their kids.
I know someone who canceled her "Redbook" subscription in the early 1970s--despite the wonderful fiction stories--to protest an article presenting vibrators as an aid to marital sex!
The self-obsession started earlier than many would suspect.
Remember, the post WWII era was for many people, the first time that middle class status was achieved. For the kids of immigrants who lived through the Depression and War, this was a step up - that the husband could support his family well on one salary. SAHMs were by and large highly educated, and did have some time on their hands after the 3-5 kids started school. Nowdays, the daughers typically go back to work and/or like me read magazines sans pictures. So the target market for these mags is different.
If the intellectual tone of the magazines was higher, remember that many of the readers had had a good education but after that were reduced to being the little woman at home.
"Spanking clean" was from the same linguistic basis as "spanking new" - that is a Scandanavian origin and meant in 17th century "extremely good" or "showy." In one of my journalism classes, our assignment was to look up our birth-month issue of a woman's magazine from 100 years and 50 years before our birth year. What particularly struck me about the magazines of the '30s were that instead of featurig interviews with "celebrities," there were guest essays by important women like the First Lady or a novelist.
You should consider doing the same comparisons with magazines published a hundred years ago (!). There are some volumes online at, Google books, and the Hathi Trust.
Loved this article, though it is a damning commentary on today's obsession with self. What I find so disturbing in reading the magazine banners in the checkout line is the preponderance of sex and the utter casualness of what should be a sacred, private act. We see the ramifications of accepting casual sex as done merely for our pleasure or for the pleasure of someone women are desperate to please or "hook," by the number of abortions and the fact that over 40% of children born today are the progeny of single women, fathers optional. America will be paying the emotional, spiritual and economic costs for generations to come.

Thanks for your insights!
So modern women are completely self-absorbed. Imagine that!

What a great article for "Men on Strike".
Especially on this Father's Day when
so many fathers are childless.
Maybe for Mother's Day Laura will
do an excerpt from "Men on Strike"?
Frances in Tokyo June 16, 2013 at 6:30 PM
Dear Author,

I am 65 & I enjoyed the article very much. It made me feel respect for the open minds and interests of my mother's generation. What interesting cultural differences in 50 years! Do you remember McCalls? I used to look forward to the paper doll, Betsy McCall on the last page.

By the way, I don't know if you are really young or steeped in a liberal environment, but "spanking clean" has nothing to do with paddling a child. Remember the clearner Spic- and-Span?

And, I have four adult children, warm-hearted, generous, and responsible and, yes, spanking had its place in our family.

Great article!