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March 26, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 13
The Ladies’ Invasion Of Man’s Home Journal
by Minda Bikman
“How do I know you’re serious?” More than 100 women were sitting-in at the offices of the Ladies Home Journal, and John Mack Carter, editor and publisher, wanted to know if we were serious.
Were we serious when we rejected the myth of “church, home, and kitchen”; were we serious when we accepted dead-end jobs as secretaries because work was the only way out, or so we thought; were we serious when we began to risk ourselves, fighting intimidation and the absence of alternatives for women by joining the feminist movement? Are women capable of serious thought and action, or are they inferior, emotional, irresponsible children, to be exploited and manipulated by the male editors of Ladies Home Journal?
Last Wednesday’s take-over of the Journal offices was the movement’s first major sit-in, with more than 100 women from about 10 women’s libation groups participating throughout a day which began at 9 a.m. and lasted until 8 that evening. Carefully planning for weeks, we had arranged to meet at St. Peter’s Church on Lexington Avenue, around the corner from the Journal’s 54th Street offices. When I arrived, only a handful of women were waiting on the sidewalk. I asked where the others were, and was told they were inside the church. Then, at 8.55, the four narrow church doors simultaneously opened and more than 30 women poured out into the street. It evoked memories of grammar school class pictures and Sunday church-going, but we were neither the school girls we once were nor the suburban matrons we might have been.
We marched across the street, entered the lobby, and filled the cavernous office elevator which took us to the fifth floor. From our inside sources we had received maps of the office lay-out, and within minutes we were marching down the aisle leading to Carter’s office. Along the route, employes stood up t their desks and gapes at us with open mouths.
We found Carter standing at his desk, flanked by Lenore Hershey, his yes-woman and the only female senior editor on his staff. A brief look of surprise flicked across his face before he resumed the blank expression which he held for most of the day. Hershey looked around at us as we quickly filled the large square room, and her smile came out as a tight little grin.
Several of our spokeswomen identified us and the purpose of our early morning visit — we were here to liberate a magazine, read by an estimated 14 million American women, from the content it purveys. We demanded an issue as reparation for all the money spent by American women paying these editors’ salaries. The spokeswomen also read a statement demanding Carter’s resignation and an end to the magazine as it now exists, both in the structure of the book and the structure of the staff. We were there to destroy a publication which feeds off women’s anger and frustration, a magazine which destroys women.
No moor articles like Poor Woman’s Almanac, no more Bettelheims and Rubins telling women they are guilty and must change, no more stories about Elizabeth Taylor’s pearls and Jackie Onassis’s diamonds, no more articles on how to get a face-lift and the fabulous life of Mrs. Henry Ford II.
As we crowded around Carter’s desk, stood on the broad window sills, and filled every available inch of his office, the network cameramen barged in. Although we were peaceful, a scuffle occurred as a cameraman began punching one of the demonstrators. As she cried out, “he hit me, he hit me!” a woman grabbed him by the neck of his jacket and he was quickly expelled from the room.
Around 11 the television crews left to get the rest of their stories in the narrow aisles of the offices, where our women were talking to secretaries, explaining why we were there, and asking the women how they felt. The female staff members were initially shocked and angry about the invasion, but as the day continued, many of them began to understand and tentatively agree with what we were saying.
Negotiations were starting in Carter’s office. Carter and Hershey worked like a team, with Carter dropping one-line hints and Hershey megaphoning them out, although we all knew, of course, what Carter was saying. We later found out they had learned of the demonstrations late the previous day.
Carter began by refusing to negotiate, a statement he repeated every time the word “negotiation” was mentioned. But despite his protestations, “I will not negotiate” soon turned into “I will only negotiate in the second floor conference room,” a divisive tactic which we rejected.
He had a small bag of delaying devices. He would say, “You come in here like this, how do I know you’re responsible?” and Hershey would add her extended chorus, telling us to “behave like ladies,” and why don’t we just give her our names and she’ll call us, and telling us how hungry and tired she was. At 11 a.m.? We just couldn’t sympathize.
We began pelting them with questions. “Why do you shellac ham before photographing it?” “Why has there been only one article about black women in the past year (Mrs. Medgar Evers telling about her Southern childhood) when one-sixth of your subscribers are black?” “Why don’t you show real women in your photographs?” “Why do you print ads which degrade women?”
At that point, Carter looked up and laughed. So a woman held up an ad showing a mother and her six-year-old daughter and a headline announcing that a mature woman can have six-year-old skin. “Now, that’s a cute ad,” Carter said. “Cute? What’s cute about putting a woman in competition with her daughter?” we wanted to know, but Carter didn’t answer.
We demanded a minimum wage of $125 a week for all employes. Hershey quickly informed us that there were people making more than $125, and, in a display of exquisite backward logic, wanted to know if those employes’ salaries should be cut.
At this point, they brought in Geraldine Carro, a woman in her mid-20s. Hershey introduced her with a grand wave of her arm, remarking that Carro wrote half the magazine. “Then why isn’t she an editor?” was the spontaneous response.
We told Carter that women were desperate for articles which dealt realistically with their lives, and pointed out that the women’s liberation movement was a mass movement. One woman mentioned that she had recently spoken about the movement to middle-aged, middle-class women in Terre Haute, Indiana. When she told them of the planned demonstration, the women cheered.
Another woman said that a women’s liberation issue would be an immediate sell-out on the stands. At the mention of profits, Carter’s eyes lit up in an otherwise dour and passive face. He found it necessary to question not only the legitimacy of such an issue, but our ability and responsibility as well. We had come prepared with 20 pages of article-ideas written by Media Women — “How Psychiatrists Hurt Women — and Why,” “A Prostitute Talks to Her Client’s Wife,” “How Women Are Kept Apart,” “How to Get an Abortion,” and an alternate cover showing a pregnant woman carrying a picket sign reading “Unpaid Labor.”
As the proceedings inched forward, Hershey noticed Carter’s increasing interest and offered us the page “The Power of a Woman,” which had recently featured Pat Nixon talking about the wonderful world of volunteer work.
The Southern gentleman never lost his temper — he had apparently buried it years ago, along with many other emotions, as he dedicated his career to women, building it off their backs at Better Homes and Gardens, McCall’s, and American Home.
As the talks bogged down in a hash of Carter-Hershey double-talk, it became a question of who would tire first — but there were only two of them and many of us, and we were prepared to stay overnight. Becoming disgusted with Carter-Hershey’s routine, one woman suggested that we should remain silent. “Look,” she said, “he hasn’t said one word all day. She does all the talking for him. How do you think it would look to the women of America when they find out that the Journal editor can’t even talk to women?”
I decided to see what was happening outside the office. I wandered into the other editorial offices, and in one I found a pile of magazines. What do the editors read for ideas? Movie-star magazines and European equivalents of Playboy. While Playboy caricatures female sexuality, turning women into bunnies and playmates, the Europeans play it straight. A German magazine cover had a nude woman in profile with a fully clothed man reaching up to measure her hips. I began to realize that the Ladies Home Journal does more than talk down to women. It titillates, fantasizes, and romanticizes women, twisting our real feelings into guilt, anxiety, and day dreams, destroying what vestiges of ego and self-respect we may have salvaged from all the other shit in our lives.
As Carter and Hershey continue their stalling tactics, many of the women began to express anger and frustration. Suddenly, the television lights glared and the camera began whirling away. The tension heightened, and in a spontaneous action several women began to rip apart an issue of the magazine. As the women symbolically played out the magazine’s destruction, the men freaked out. An adolescent messenger threw a temper tantrum, haranguing the women for not behaving “like ladies.” Another group of women attempted to liberate Carter’s desk, which he had perched on all day in a pose of masculine casualness, one leg planted on the ground and the other leg dangling over the side. When that failed, the women liberated his cigars by smoking them.
By now, Carter was ready to negotiate…We asked for a full issue; Carter rejected it. He offered us a general article on the movement; we rejected that. They finally offered us a section of the magazine. We asked for full editorial control; Carter refused. We decided to hold a caucus, at which point Carter left the room…
We all crowded into a small office and drew up our demands. We wanted a section of the magazine with a double veto — if Carter changed an article, we would withdraw it. The articles would not be by-lined, but signed by the women’s liberation media collective, with a statement explaining why. This was to forestall Carter’s attempts at co-option and to make a political presentation to the women of America. We wanted a monthly liberation page for the next 12 months. The writers would be paid for their time, but the bulk of the money would go to the movement. We also wanted a child-care center for all employes (Both male and female), black women employed on the magazine in the same ratio as the general population, and a career development program set up for women employees with training and advancement to higher positions instead of present dead-end secretarial jobs.
We returned for the final round of negotiations. They offered us eight pages, which many of us felt was not enough. They would not agree to a 12-month liberation page, but said they would consider it for six months. They stated that these concessions would have to be further negotiated. Carter agreed to make statements about the need for child-care centers, with the Ladies Home Journal taking the initiative, but hedge by saying that the mechanics would be difficult to set up. One of the women offered to help him. he said he was not responsible for the magazine’s employment policies, nor did he know how much the employes earned. But he was in favor of career development for women in publishing.
We finally agreed to continue negotiating the details. A meeting was set for early this week. Will Carter cop out and co-opt, will he shrink back from the few concessions he made? With every reason to doubt him, we’re playing a wait-and-push game.
How did women feel about the demonstration? The next day I spoke to a black woman in her late 30s. (The median age of Journal readers is 39.) When I told her I was at the demonstration, she smiled and said, “I have a subscription, but I never read the magazine. I keep renewing it because my kids like it.” I remembered reading the magazine when I was 12 and protesting my mother’s recurring plans to cancel her subscription — after all, she never read it. Could it be that all 6.9 million Journal subscribers are indulgent mothers?
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 13, 2010