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January 31, 2018

Hello! Did everyone watch the State of the Union? Or follow along on Twitter? Or just count on WaPo’s Alexandra Petri for a single-tweet summation?

Less than two weeks ago, over one million people participated in women’s marches around the world, roughly one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

So this week, we at Clipped, like the rest of the media, are talking about politics. And we want to hear from you! Read below for our inquiry.

And last, a preview: we’re interviewing Alana Levinson, founder of STEVIE ZINE and deputy editor at MEL Magazine, for issue #8. Anything you want to ask Alana? Email us at clippedmags@gmail.com

Cheers,
Natalie & Danielle

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5 rebukes to "women's magazines haven't always been political" 

There exists a certain type of person who loves to yak about how politics in women’s magazines started with Teen Vogue and maybe one or two things of note in Cosmopolitan before that.

They are wrong, they are believing a false narrative that suits their bias, and if they could do just one Google search about the subject, I’d have one less reason to still be smoking cigarettes in 2018.  

I (Danielle) could list a million examples and reasons about why women’s magazines have always been political; it’s practically the mission statement of this newsletter.

For the sake of your time and mine, here are five talking points to shut idiots up:

1. Vogue’s WWII Coverage

Vogue covered how the war impacted fashion (rations, restrictions, and tips on how to repair and revamp old clothes into new visions), but the magazine also had reporters overseas covering the conflict.

Vogue had correspondents in Europe covering WWII and sketching refugees, and commissioned personal essays on the horrors from both prisoner of wars and fashion greats, such as Irving Penn. Above is a glamorous video all about it, narrated by none other than Ms. Sarah Jessica Parker.

Mary Jane Kempner reported for Vogue from Asia, and she was one of multiple female war correspondents working for women’s magazines during WWII. To name just a few: Elizabeth S. Finan reported for Harper’s Bazaar, Doris Fleeson reported for Woman’s Home Companion, and  Beatrice Blackmar Gould reported for Ladies’ Home Journal.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Column in Ladies' Home Journal & McCall's

McCall’s is a magazine which used to include the epithet “The Queen Of Fashion” in its full title. It was also where American politician, diplomat and activist (and First Lady) Eleanor Roosevelt answered reader questions in a monthly column, titled "If You Ask Me,” from June 1949 until her death in November 1962. These were not just fluffy inquiries about Lady Roosevelt’s preference on blouses and china patterns, but largely inquires about war, politics, morality, and such.

Eleanor started the column in 1941 at Ladies Home Journal, which had previously published her 1923 article on a national competition for the best plan to preserve world peace after WWI. She moved the column to McCall’s after a disagreement with LHJ about the publication of her second memoir.

From the October 1960 issue, here is a question that is relevant as hell to today’s politics:

"Do you think Congressmen are as guilty of padding expense accounts and of nepotism as it may seem? Were you aware of these practices when you were in Washington?

Some nepotism, of course, is always practiced, and in many cases it is permissible. For instance, Mrs. Garner was always her husband's secretary—and a very good one. In her case, it was entirely acceptable, and similar cases are sometimes completely justifiable. Naturally, it should not be carried to the point where people belonging to a government official's family are employed without doing the work they are supposed to. As to padding expenses, I think the rules should be tightened. There should be no opportunity for spending extravagantly as a government servant."  

3. The feminist roots of early African American magazines

To say early women’s magazines weren’t political is to erase the existence of African-American magazines, such as Woman’s Voice, a magazine published by African-American hairdressers in Philadelphia between 1912 and 1927.

It was funded by Madam C.J. Walker, who became the nation’s first African-American millionaire by inventing hair products for black women. “Woman’s Voice was very revolutionary for its time,” author and director of American studies at Cornell University Noliwe Rooks said. “I found narratives about marriage being similar to prostitution. I found that fascinating because that was the argument that you heard in the 1970s feminist movement. But this was being said in the 1920s by black women."

4. Coverage of the women’s suffrage movement

In addition to publications solely focused on women’s suffrage, more widely-circulated women’s magazines also weighed in, championed, and  fought against the movement.

Ladies' Home Journal opposed suffrage, but also published a column entitled “Why Women Should Vote” by Jane Addams, who became a regular contributor. The second most popular women’s magazine (LHJ was the first), Pictorial Review was an early champion of suffrage and women's clubs.

5. The English Woman’s Journal

This one takes it even further back. From March 1858 until August 1864, the English Woman’s Journal championed the attempted reforms of legislation that prevented married women from holding property as well as female suffrage in London.

It was founded by women, edited by women, and primarily written by women — all obvious rarities in the 1800’s. It was a communal space, record, and advocate for equality and female employment, and stands today as a incredibly historic part of feminist history.

women's magazines on women in power
Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State,Vogue

Politics aside, I (Natalie) wish that a photo of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wearing a strapless black gown could emanate power equal to former VP Joe Fucking Biden wearing aviators. It’s the fault of our culture, not women’s magazines, that it doesn’t.

I wish we lived in a culture where outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, if she wanted to, could be photographed in a couture dress then school us all on fiscal policy. The Fed AND Prada, bitch. And that a photo of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power with her kid wouldn't undermine her perceived competency, while the Presidential Dad is beloved. How does he do it all? But *whispers* we don’t live in that culture. 

I’ve been thinking about “The Princess Effect,” which critiqued profiles of powerful women, since it ran in POLITICO in 2014. The piece’s dek is a bit misleading: it says “How women's magazines demean powerful women—even when they're trying to celebrate them,” while then referencing mostly examples in mostly Vogue and Marie Claire, along with Newsweek, New York Magazine and the New York Times. “Women in politics are profiled like Disney princesses: vaguely appointed, lavishly decked out in gowns, smiling, packaged and sold,” Sarah Kendzior wrote.

“The Princess Effect” resonated with me so deeply, I think, because I was 20 when I read it and only beginning to process how intensely grown ass women would be scrutinized. Even women’s magazines, apparently, couldn’t reflect a feminist point of view when featuring politicians. These women were smart! And awe-inspiring! And damn, Huma looks good in a gown! So what?
Huma Abedin, Democratic strategist & former vice chair of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Vogue, 2007

Maybe I was most struck because the discourse around women’s magazines (body image and airbrushing aside), for once, wasn’t centered on whether they were political or not, but how they portrayed female politicians. As a baby college feminist, I later wrote a response, of course defending women’s magazines: “By stigmatizing depictions of high-achieving women in women’s magazines as anti-woman, we simultaneously demand that women in power should instead be duplicates of men.”

Around the 2014 midterm elections, Cosmopolitan also got the POLITICO treatment: “The new Cosmo: sex, love, politics?” The magazine’s website and social media platforms were fired up, endorsing candidates who supported “liberal camp” criteria: equal pay, pro-choice, pro-birth control coverage, anti-restrictive voter-ID laws. Of the issues, then-editor of Cosmopolitan.com Amy Odell said, “People say that’s a liberal thing, but in our minds it’s not about liberal or conservative, it’s about women having rights, and particularly with health care because that is so important.”

By 2016, the topic — this time, the age-old “can women’s mags do politics?!” — surfaced again.

In an interview with Ivanka Trump, then-Cosmopolitan reporter Prachi Gupta asked a question I’d still love an answer to: “Why does this [your dad’s health care] policy not include any paternity leave?” Gupta pressed Ivanka, who uncomfortably ended the call. Twitter exploded when the story dropped. Soon came the think pieces on women’s magazines. Fashion AND politics? WHAT IS THIS NOISE?

Yeah, women’s magazines can do both. They have done both, and it will be interesting to see how they handle both in a GOP-led government during a hotly awaited midterm election year.

In the past, the “women’s glossies” have profiled mostly Democratic women, potentially because the Republican party is largely white and male. Now, these magazines have the Trump administration’s camp of women — of which, I could only find a 2012 Vogue profile of Nikki Haley — to maybe document, or not. (Anna Wintour told the Wall Street Journal that Vogue would feature First Lady Melania Trump on the cover. Former FLOTUS Michelle Obama appeared three times during Obama’s presidency). Will Hope Hicks, former Vogue model, get the Vogue treatment? 

Ivanka Trump, businesswoman & First Daughter, SHAPE, 2014

Early last year, another POLITICO piece explored how women’s magazines might cover Ivanka, once their starlet, now that her father is running the country. The writer Marin Cogan smartly observed:

“High-minded political journalism and fashion coverage have existed side by side in glossy women’s magazines—titles from Cosmopolitan to Glamour to Vogue—for at least a half-century, but Ivanka Trump’s political ascendance has forced the usually parallel tracks of fashion and politics together like never before... Is the gauzy, soft-hitting profile… still ethical in the era of Trump? And is it possible even to cover the fashion of the first family without getting political?”

So, what do you think? How do you want women’s magazines to cover women in office during Trump’s administration? How do you want them to cover issues you care about? Should their coverage reflect a certain political leaning, or simply “women having rights?" Email us at clippedmags@gmail.com, including your name & age, and we’ll quote your responses in a future issue.

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Written by
Natalie Daher and Danielle Fox. Designed by Martina Ibanez-Baldor.
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