Jane Herzeca ’05 cannot stop anyone from picking up an issue of Star magazine next time he/she goes grocery shopping, but she can firmly express her own distaste and say exactly why she will not be doing anything of the sort in the near future. Last Tuesday, the Brace Center Student Fellow presented her project, the result of a summer’s work in research and writing. Titled “Women Magazine Editors and Contradictions of Domesticity,” Herzeca explored a paradox in today’s world. Why do female editors, women with such ability and influence, choose to publish works focused on domesticating women rather than empowering them? “Women with media power have the ability to broaden women’s horizons but often do not,” said Herzeca. Is it because women truly think only about fashion, weight loss, celebrities, beauty, cosmetic care, and men as they have been projected in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, People Magazine, Marie Claire, Elle, and YM? This skewed superficial image of women, as Herzeca explained, is a consequence of several factors, including society’s views of women, male dominance in media, and most importantly, the influence advertising companies hold over revenue and circulation. Herzeca cited several examples of female figures in past and recent history who were contradictions of the domestic messages they promoted in their work. Since the late 19th century, content in women’s magazines has been directly influenced by a single major factor: what sells. During that time period, women were confined by Victorian society’s strict sense of male dominance and the importance of women’s role in the home, causing issues to be mostly concerned with domestic topics such as house care and clothing. In fact, as Herzeca noted with a smile, the editor of Ladies Magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale – a woman who had to support her family after the death of her husband and led a successful and unconventional career as an editor – included in one editor’s letter a reassurance to men that her magazine would not ecourage women to challenge their subservient roles. Despite the changes that have occurred in society’s view of women within the last century, Herzeca pointed out that powerhouses such as Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart still live the same contradiction as Hale. Herzeca’s evidence and research proved her point when she introduced the connection between magazines and advertising. Congressional reforms in the latter half of the 20th century made magazines a cheaper channel for advertising than newspapers. The survival of a magazine today depends on its ability to make profit – a large bulk of this money comes from the numerous ads that often clash with themes in articles. In this part of the presentation, Herzeca showed the audience an image of an open magazine, the left side a promotion for Dove chocolate, the right an article titled about weight loss. “Magazine editors are continually dependent on advertising companies and thus succumb to their demands,” this being especially apparent in women’s magazines, Herzeca said. She named Proctor and Gamble Co. as the top ad spender of the last year. “Do you see a trend in their products and magazine content?” she asked the audience, displaying a list of Proctor and Gamble’s main product categories, including Personal and Beauty, House and Home, and Health and Wellness. Herzeca conceded that not all women’s magazines demean and trivialize females. Ms. Magazine is an example of one progressively themed women’s magazine. However, despite good intentions, Ms. Magazine is “in fiscal peril because of advertisers’ resistance,” supporting Herzeca’s conclusion of the power of ad companies. Herzeca’s faculty advisor for the project was Instructor in History and Social Science Kathleen Dalton. Dr. Dalton and Instructor in History Edward Rotundo are Co-Directors of the Brace Center for Gender Studies.
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