Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Where Morality and Consumerism Collide

Marion, a drawing by a Buzzell. 1910 era

I'm composing the next scene in my head, when I recall that I have a copy of the Ladies' Home Journal under the coffee table, the May 1906 issue. I had opened it to a Page for Girls, titled The Popular Girl. I thought I might use a passage from it in my book.

I scanned that article (the articles are long, the fonts tiny)and highlighted a few passages, then started flipping through the other pages.

An editorial caught my eye: Are girls overdoing athletics? The article claimed that, although exercise is good for both sexes, "muscular efforts emulating a male athlete's can injure a woman beyond repair. " Both physically and mentally, as women have a different mental make-up from men. Silken Laumann, would you care to comment?

This might be useful for Flo in the City, my story based on the Tighsolas www.tighsolas.ca letters.

Then I read the next editorial and it intrigued me even more: apparently the Ladies' Home Journal had been running a literary series by an anonymous author called My Brother's Letters, that frankly discussed the issue of men and their needs...and had scenes where a young man visited a prostitute.

They received an avalanche of angry letters from readers.

In this editorial, the editors were not apologizing for including this feature in their magazine. It is their duty to push the envelope, they wrote. (My words.)In some matters they were more informed than their readers, who seldom leave the house. BURN!

They are so unapologetic,in the editorial, they include a letter from the author in this issue, which directly addresses the double-standard around sex.

The double standard is hypocritical, a correspondent suggests. (my words). Men should be as pure at marriage as women :)

In 1910, young men are expected to have had some sex (using prostitutes) before marriage while women are expected to remain virtuous, except for the poor prostitute who helps the young man 'become a man' for she is a lost woman anyway. Something like that.

They called prostitution in those days "the social evil" and much of the hypocrisy surrounding the so called world's oldest profession (how I hate that phrase) still lingers and is the subject of an occasional newspaper article when people suggest prostitution should be legalized.

My problem for Flo In the City. How do I stick all this into the next scene, or do I? It's an old magazine, 1906. Do I pretend it is the latest magazine and have Marion carrying it when she arrives in Richmond.

Do I keep it the May 1906 issue and have Marion carrying it because it contains an article on Making School Yards Fun? Or do I introduce it later in the scene, or later in the book.. as the last issue of the Ladies' Home Journal that the Nicholsons got in the mail - as they ran out of money.

This high and mighty attitude toward the gender and sex question in the editorial is all very ironic, as the Ladies' Home Journal was extremely conservative.

(It was also the first women's fashion magazine to be sustained by advertising (the other ones sold patterns) and many of the products advertised in its pages (produced largely by the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency) at that time became household names during the century.

"Old Dutch: We're all for women's rights. The right to a clean home." Tsk.

Borden's Milk:their logo, a cow with a woman's hourglass figure. (I could write an entire novel about the era around the issue of 'milk'.

In February 1909, they ran three editorials that are against women's suffrage, which I will use for Flo in the City.