"Don't Let Your Girlfriends Ruin Your Marriage": Lesbian Imagery in Chatelaine Magazine, 1950-1969

By Korinek, Valerie | Journal of Canadian Studies, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

"Don't Let Your Girlfriends Ruin Your Marriage": Lesbian Imagery in Chatelaine Magazine, 1950-1969


Korinek, Valerie, Journal of Canadian Studies


Maclean's has been valorised for its decision to publish articles on homosexuality in the 1960s, but Chatelaine's foray into lesbian material has been neglected. The historiography of lesbian history for those decades points to bar culture, friendship networks and, less frequently, pulp novels as ways in which lesbians discovered themselves and each other. This work challenges that presumption and proves that this mainstream women's magazine contained not only traditional images of heterosexual wives and mothers but also of lesbians. "Girlfriends" examines the micropractice of reading a massmarket women's magazine from a queer perspective.

Alors que Maclean 's a 6t6 mis en vedette pour avoir accepte de publier des articles traitant de ['homosexualite au cours des annees 1960, l'interet porte par Chatelaine au materiel lesbien a ete neglig6. L'historiographie de l'histoire lesbienne pendant ces d6c6nnies porte principalement sur la culture de bar, les reseaux d'amiti6 et, moins souvent, les romans a sensation comme moyens pour les lesbiennes d'apprendre a se connaitre. L'article refute cette perception et montre que les revues pour femmes h grand public propageaient des images traditionnelles non seulement des femmes et des me res heterosexuelles mais aussi des lesbiennes. "Girlfriends" propose une pratique de lecture serr6e d'un magazine de femmes a grand tirage A partir d'une perspective lesbienne.

Middle-class women's magazines, as Chatelaine was and is, are supposed to entice their readers with affordable recipes, light-fiction, articles on Hollywood entertainers and heavy doses of fashion, beauty and interior decorating features. Yet this Canadian women's magazine was, by American standards, very unconventional.' Throughout its history, the magazine's editors, associate editors and most of its editorial staff were women and from 1958 to 1977 the magazine was edited by an avowed and committed feminist named Doris Anderson. The magazine regularly published feminist editorial essays and articles along with romance fiction, departmental features and a hefty dose of brand-name advertising from North American corporations. Any given copy of the magazine required readers to negotiate a variety of messages - from the liberal and often feminist messages of editorials, through the frequently unconventional article topics, to the more standard women's magazine fare of romance fiction and departmental features and, finally, at the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative component - the advertising - that glorified the comfortable world of suburban consumption.

During this era, Chatelaine had four different editors. The first, Byrne Hope Sanders, completed her 24-year tenure as editor in January 1952. Her successor, newspaper columnist Lotta Dempsey, edited the magazine for less than a year before she abandoned the periodical to return to writing. On short notice, Maclean Hunter installed Maclean's stalwart John Clare, the only male editor. Clare continued until a more willing and suitable candidate was located. Doris Anderson, a staff writer at Chatelaine, became editor with the September 1957 issue. Editorial turbulence and neglect was generally reflected in the product, a slim, old-fashioned and dowdy periodical. In 1958, partly as a business initiative and partly on Anderson's direction, the magazine was re-modelled to make it more au courant and relevant for Canadian women. In the 1960s, editorial continuity and the remodelling served Chatelaine well as it attempted to reposition itself as a more trendy magazine, which would appeal to a younger audience. Circulation and advertising figures shot upwards, and Maclean Hunter knew that they had a hit on their hands regardless of what many of their corporate executives might personally think of the changes to the editorial content. Anderson's revamped Chatelaine was the premier Canadian women's magazine of the era and the only Canadian women's magazine to be published between 1957 and 1969. …

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