Girls, Uninterrupted

The Debut of ‘Rosie’ and ‘mary-kateandashley’

If you are eight years old and you have nothing to do, you might consider hanging out at the 7-Eleven. If you're all grown up and looking to kill time, you could make a wreathed votive cup out of clay flowers and floral tape. These are just two of the suggestions proposed by a pair of celebrity-driven magazines debuting this month: mary-kateandashley, a bimonthly from the Olsen Twins, 14 year-old actresses who got their start playing the baby on Full House, and Rosie, Rosie O'Donnell's attempt to resuscitate the faltering McCall's magazine.

The torpor of suburban life, the steep challenge of finding one's way in an unlovely world, the brutal necessity of taking care of oneself, the ennobling satisfaction of selflessness, the glittering allure of celebrity—all are addressed by both magazines, often in similar ways, though one is targeted at adult women and the other is meant for eight-to-14-year-old girls.

"We all worked hard and here it is: a funny, well-written magazine for women, one that celebrates humanity with humor and heart," claims the "From Rosie" letter in Rosie; 16 pages later, someone called Cathy—no surname, but presumably the Catherine Cavender listed on the masthead as editor-in-chief—is less modest: "We've done it! This is a women's magazine that's completely different from any other."

Like Rosie, mary-kateandashley, though its very name treats two people as one, trumpets its individuality. The inside cover shows the twins dressed in fringed ponchos and kneeling in water, with an accompanying text that lists "The Top 10 Reasons We Created a Magazine." Along with the usual palaver ("Because we want a real magazine for real girls") is reason number 10, the haughty "Because we can."

The reason the twins can, and Rosie can too, is because their paths have been greased by two successful foremothers: Oprah Winfrey's O, and Martha Stewart's Living. If Martha specializes in neo-Victorian craft projects and Oprah is relentlessly uplifting, O'Donnell and the Olsens indulge their own passions: The former has a penchant for articles about neglected children, the latter a desire to guide readers through the anguish of early adolescence.

Despite their insistence that they have nothing in common with the other mags on the stands, mary-kateandashleyand Rosieare stuck in the strange country that all general-interest women's magazines inhabit these days, a gray land between pre- and post-feminism. At Rosie, the reader is expected to feel at home in both the 19th and the 21st centuries: If page 65 offers a feature entitled "Make Me Over! We Turn a Bride-To-Be Into a Wedding Belle," page 51 recounts in unsparing detail a woman lawyer's struggle with a gambling addiction. mary-kateandashleyinsists that girls can be anything (presidents! astronauts!), but feels no shame in tagging a piece called "Kicking the Odds," about a female high school football player, with the subtitle "What If a Girl Wanted to Play Football and Be Homecoming Queen?"

By an odd coincidence, Betty Friedan's 1963 The Feminine Mystique took as a template an issue of McCall's, the very book O'Donnell is now charged with reviving. Forty-one years ago, McCall's July 1960 issue offered, in addition to recipes, sewing patterns, and a fashion spread of maternity clothes, the following four short stories: a tale of a non-college-bound teenager who steals a man away from a bright college girl, a story about a baby throwing a bottle out of a crib, a story entitled "Wedding Day," and a yarn about a 19-year-old who learns to bat her eyelashes and lose at tennis.

By that standard, Rosieand mary-kateandashley, with their pieces on gun control and investment strategies, cannot be considered half bad. So it's especially jarring that the celebrities spearheading these magazines feel compelled to assume, within their pages, the kittenish poses of pre-feminism, rather than unleashing the brawn and toughness that surely got them to the top in the first place. Why can't O'Donnell tell us how she negotiates her contracts, instead of offering "Rosie's Craft Corner"? Might the Olsens consider for a moment describing to jealous readers their exhausting days on the set, their struggles with sibling rivalry and tutors, and being robbed of a normal childhood?

Not only do the magazines' namesakes share their favorite candy, makeup, music, etc., but other stars are pressed into service as well. In Rosie, Madonna tells readers about the "Get-Gorgeous Goodies the New Mrs. Ritchie Just Has to Have Now." These include Johnson & Johnson Baby Wipes ("doubles as a makeup remover"), though it would strain the credulity of a mary-kateandashleyreader to believe that she swabs down her own baby. Further on, Jane Seymour, Marilu Henner, and Tracey Ullman team up to form a "Mom Squad," dispensing advice on bedtime fussing and picky eaters.

Nickelodeon's Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson are the celebrity advice-givers at mary-kateandashley, and they are in a position to do more harm, since their audience hasn't been reading this stuff for 40 years and may not know enough to discard the information immediately. In any case, Thompson seems capable of doing the most damage. To the heartrending "There's this group of girls at school who are known for being the prettiest and coolest. . . . How can I get them to notice me and be my friend?" he suggests the suicidal "Introduce yourself," rather than disclosing the real answer: Forget them. Life is long. Make friends with someone else. When another innocent asks if she should tell her friend's older brother that she has a crush on him, he gives the worst possible advice: yes.

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