Magazines for the Millions: Gender and Commerce in the Ladies' Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, 1880-1910

By Helen Damon-Moore | Go to book overview

Epilogue

Examining the roots of mass-media development as exemplified by the early Journal and the Post has revealed a bond between gender and commerce that was complex and powerful. The gender-commerce bond was complex insofar as it took different forms vis-à-vis femininity and masculinity. As I have shown, the link between commerce and femininity was forged early, and it was strong from the start. In Louisa Knapp's Journal, which became a national powerhouse, both editorial material and advertisements conveyed the notion of consuming as a central activity for middle-class women. And this image of women as people who can and should consume evolved and became stronger in two distinct and significant ways under Bok's editorship: first, women not only could consume, but they were fundamentally defined as consumers; and second, by definition, consumers were women. 1

The bond between commerce and masculinity was negotiated later, and differently. Women were already established as the culture's primary consumers. Consequently, the bond forged between masculinity and commerce was relatively weak. In the main it took the form of urging men to earn enough money to supply not only necessities but also luxuries for their families; secondarily it targeted men directly for advertising messages that touted a relatively limited range of consumer goods. This complicated gender-commerce bond, with its different relationships to femininity and masculinity, is characterized by the same differential relationship today. Despite the fact that most women work outside the home for pay, women are still viewed as the culture's primary consumers, and they are viewed only secondarily as breadwinners. 2 Men continue to be viewed as the culture's primary breadwinners, although they consume a larger share of commercial goods now than they did at the turn of the last century.

The hegemony that resulted from producers, advertisers, and readers collaborating to connect gender and commerce has proven to be both extremely strong and very resilient over the course of the twentieth century. A significant legacy of the Ladies' Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post was their support for a gender-segmented consumer culture. The Curtis magazines contributed substantially to the parallel gender differentiation in the content of mass-circulation American magazines, a general development that has affected a major portion of the twentieth-century magazine market. Patterns noted in the Journal and the Post reappeared frequently in the top-selling mass-circulation

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