This 1941 Women's Magazine's Actual Lead Article: "Women Talk Too Much"
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The Woman magazine
Date: December, 1941 Publisher: Farrell Publishing, Chicago Discovered at: A junkshop in Kokomo, Indiana
The Cover Promises: That the editors guessed that the two biggest problems this nation would face in the month of Pearl Harbor were handling quarrels and scoring diamonds on a budget. Also, in a weird bit of prescience, this issue launched a new series on "defense jobs" for women -- in this case, as photographers.
"I wish I had a new hat for all the times my friends' husbands have made what are known as 'passes' at me." (From "If I Were a Wife," by Anonymous)
Besides timeless advice about how to argue with your spouse and why maybe (if you're a lady American) you should cut out your yapping once in a while, the December, 1941, issue of The Woman magazine offers us an invaluable glimpse into the everyday sorts of stuff that the World War II generation worried about before they became the World War II generation -- before they saved the world, went to college, built the suburbs, and then had a billion kids who watched a lot of TV and eventually taught their parents that segregation is for assholes.
Turns out, their women's magazines worried about how to have a happy marriage, how to look attractive, and how to make people think you can afford consumer goods you really can't. The Woman is pretty much like today's women's magazines, but with lots more words and many fewer sexperts.
Even without glossy photos, The Woman peddled an impossible ideal few readers could live up to. Here's the opening of a piece about the giddy thrill of a job selling tickets on airplanes:
"With my perfect make-up and hairdo from Max Factor; my glamorized uniform of brown suit with sky-blue blouse, I cross my legs comfortably to begin my day in a new feminine profession -- counselairing."
Of course, no mid-century American magazine would be complete without at least one article soundly dressing down American women. Here, that service fell to a fellow named R.H. Reed, who had this observation to share:
Before you jump to conclusions about Reed being sexist or something, please note that there's only three types of women whom he accuses of talking too much: single women, married women, and single women who are just about to be married. Of this last group, he writes:
"The minute a girl says yes [to a proposal], she wants to shout the news from the housetops. She has put one over on her sisters, and she wants to be sure they know it."
Reed recounts an almost certainly made-up tale about an executive who dumped a fiancee who dished too soon about the engagement. The man "had built himself up to his employees as a superior individual, on a plane above the weaknesses and foibles of ordinary mankind." Of that man's decision to break off with the wife-to-be Reed notes, "I don't say Mr. R was right. All I say is if the girl had let him do the telling, she would not have lost her man."
Married women, Reed insists, carp classlessly about their men; overhearing friends of his wife playing bridge, Reed writes, he suddenly understood "why George was taking his secretary to dinner." With single women, finally, the problem is rampant kissing and telling -- and an impossible inversion of everything we have ever known to be true about the unfairness of the slut/stud dichotomy:
"What gets me is that if a man told is cronies about spooning with Susan in the moonlight, he would be branded a heel .. Yet Susan has not the slightest compunction about repeating his most cherished phrases to her friends. Word for word. Comma for comma."
Women recounting exactly the seductions of suave fellows like Reed -- their careful and accurate taking of dictation, if you will -- was, to Reed's mind, not just unfair in theory. There was also a practical concern:
"If nothing else, a guy doesn't like to have his approach spoiled. He may want to use it again!"
Seriously, women, the lies that men tell you are like the plots of movies your friends haven't seen yet! Never, ever spoil them! Also, in Reed's honor, if you see your great grandmother around anytime soon, be sure to tell her to shut her piehole.
Elsewhere in The Woman:
Here's the skin cream that promises to make you legs "as hair-free as alabaster."
This article anticipates the one point of genetic distinction that will, once the war is over, forever string a velvet rope between America's regular people, whether talented or not, and the famous:
Note: Being telegenic means being as hairless as gypsum, at the very least.
"If I Were a Wife" advises married women not to panic if their husbands grow bored and begin larking around with single young things like this article's un-identified author. She writes, "Take it on the chin for a while until time or something proves which of you he wants more."
Shocking Detail: Here's the sexiest books Americans could then legally buy:
Oh, how our flyboys in the Pacific would soon long for idle time alone in the sack with battered copies of Germinal.
Jean Allen's rules for squabbling couples include one bit of terrifically dated and sexist advice that also just happens to have been just a teensy bit true in almost every romantic relationship I've ever gotten embroiled in: "With most women, physical conditions influence their state of mind noticeably. They find themselves more irritable and more easily upset at certain times than others,"
By this, of course, she means that there is one time when husbands should know better than to pick a fight: when women are trying to watch Downton Abbey.
Hey, you could do worse than following @studiesincrap on the Twitter thing.
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