Why did feminism finally get picked up by the women’s magazines?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

When I was younger, my friends and I used to wonder why all of the women’s magazines were misogynist. The advice they gave was always anti-woman and pro-convention. This made no sense to us. It was as if the magazines were at war with their own customers. As near as I can tell, this misogyny was editorial policy for the entirety of the 20th Century.

Things have changed dramatically over the last 15 years, and especially the last 8 years. Nowadays, we read advice like this:

It’s your body—and nobody but you has any right to decide what you do with it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also be able to talk those decisions and the anxieties they raise out with your partner. Just because you’re the one who can get pregnant, it doesn’t mean that your boyfriend can just skip over this whole part of your relationship. You shouldn’t shoulder all the anxiety yourself. You should talk to him.

That is exactly the kind of advice you would have read in Mz magazine in the 1970s, back when Mz magazine was viewed as a radical threat to the established order. But now such advice is showing up in Cosmopolitan! It’s incredible!

After decades of struggle, feminism suddenly went mainstream after the financial crisis of 2008. Nowadays female pop singers such as Beyonce and Taylor Swift are willing to call themselves feminist. This is a radical change.

I am curious why this suddenly happened, but clearly, things have shifted dramatically. The change has, of course, mirrored the related struggle over gay marriage. Lesbians can now get married. After thousands of years where the government seemed to think it had an obligation to use the force of law to defend heterosexuality, the government has abandoned most official support for heterosexuality.

I wonder why all this happened now?

Also, how about this:

Women’s Health editor-in-chief Amy Keller Laird announced this week that the magazine is replacing words like “shrink” and “diet” with words like “toned,” “strong” and “sexy” on their covers. They’re also entirely getting rid of the infamous women’s magazine coverlines “Bikini Body” and “Drop Two Sizes.”

Keller Laird wrote in a letter from the editor that this historic move was inspired by a reader survey that asked what the magazine could do to improve. “Seriously: Don’t hold back—we can take it,” the survey prompted, before asking readers to choose words they liked and did not like seeing on covers. Other questions revolved around whether the cover models should wear more or less clothing and whether certain coverlines were more or less believable, factually speaking (examples for the latter include “Easy Orgasms” or “10 lbs Gone Without Even Trying”).

So the women’s magazines are finally going to be pro-woman. That is great. But why wasn’t that true during the last century?

The article notes:

Alternatively, they’ll suggest to you exactly how slowly print women’s publications react to a changing social landscape and media economy, considering women have been demanding less prescriptive content from magazines for decades.

But what was it that allowed the magazines to resist their customers demands, for decades? That’s rare, in business.

Keller Laird, the editor of the magazine, wrote this:

Three words that topped your favorites list? Toned. Strong. Sexy. This thrills me, because these epitomize all that Women’s Health is, and what we strive to do: help you become the best version of yourself.

It’s interesting to realize that women’s magazines are only now committing themselves to “help you become the best version of yourself”. That was never the role for women’s magazines in the past. Rather, for the last century or more, the women’s magazines felt they existed to teach women what their role was in a system that was never focused on allowing women to “become the best version of yourself”.

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