walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Really Crappy Analysis

This is from Friedan, in the chapter about the Housewife Heroine. It's part of a long and involved discussion of the content of 4 women's magazines over a period of decades. The magazines are: McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and Women's Home Companion. The last of the magazines has gone out of business by the end of her period of analysis in 1959. These were women's magazines aimed at housewives, not aimed at career business or academic women. Over the period of Friedan's analysis, fiction had largely been replaced with non-fiction, but fiction was what she was looking at, because it was her angle on what are the hopes and dreams that the editor thinks will appeal to the reader. During the early decades of her analysis, women (or girls) want men/marriage (or boys), but they want other things, too. By the end of the period of her analysis, specifically the 3 magazines which survived to 1958-9, the two years that she was looking at closely, "I went through issue after issue...without finding a single heroine who had a career, a commitment to any work, art, profession, or mission in the world, other than "Occupation: housewife." Only one in a hundred heroines had a job; even the young unmarried heroines no longer worked except at snaring a husband."

This is a nice piece of pop culture analysis, exactly the kind of thing that Bitch magazine would happily devote several pages to a feature article on. It's worth noticing. It's worth thinking about. Friedan had ended a discussion of a trend in fiction in women's magazines with a detailed description of what the nadir looked like.

Here's what Stephanie Coontz thinks is a reasonable response to this detailed, careful analysis. "A 1953 Coronet article about the female mayor of Portland, Oregon, was titled "The Lady Who Licked Crime in Portland." The mayor was described as "an ethereally pale housewife" who tipped "the scales at 110 pounds." But she was also labeled a feminist, intensely concerned "with the status of women." And no one suggested that she needed to be institutionalized or medicated. So there were more mixed messages, exceptions, and contradictions in the media's depictions of the ideal feminine life than Friedan admitted in her book."

(1) Coronet never had anything like the circulation of the magazines that Friedan looked at.
(2) It wasn't a woman's magazine; it was a "general interest" digest magazine.
(3) The article in question was a non-fiction profile; Friedan's analysis was of fiction.
(4) The article in question was from 1953, not 1958-9.

It's kind of hard to know what to do with this. I guess the short form is, under no circumstances should you waste your time reading Stephanie Coontz' book. The good parts are just reiterating what Friedan says, and those are inextricably intertwined with statements that Friedan was wrong -- statements that are either not connected to supporting evidence, or are connected to evidence of the kind of quality noted above (or worse).

I'm about a third of the way through the book, and I'm at error 30. I doubt I'll be finishing the book, but I'll post more of a (not-a-)review either way. And the next time I read a book review like the one in Bitch magazine where I go, wow, that's _really_ fucked up, I'm going to just go, wow, that's really fucked up and skip the whole track down all the errors project. Because I am honestly not feeling like I'm learning much here that I didn't know already (viz. people of Coontz' generation can not seem to perceive the world the way either their parent's generation did or, for that matter, the way succeeding generations do. And saying that about boomers is so boring, it puts _me_ to sleep.)

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.