Women’s Magazines, Editors, and Judith Robinson

In academic literature, women’s magazines have been depicted as either a bearer of pleasure or a transmitter of oppressive ideologies of sex, class, and race.4 The latter was popularized by Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique. Friedan argues that the general discontent of women could be attributed to the widespread unhappiness in women in the 1950s and that women could find fulfilment through housework, marriage, child-rearing and sex alone.5 This assumption, coined the feminine mystique, was perpetrated through the depiction of women in women’s magazines as young, feminine, passive people solely concerned with the private sphere.6

However, more recent scholarship contends that mass culture products, such as popular women’s magazines, are rarely monolithic and have the capacity to be both subversive and repressive. After sampling from eight women’s magazines, Joanne Meyerowitz found although these magazines rarely presented direct challenges to the status quo and had content that glorified domesticity and the suburban life, non-fiction articles also expressed ambivalence about traditional women’s roles, encouraged nondomestic activities, and celebrated women’s public success.7

Chatelaine did conform to the conventions of the genre as depicted by Friedan. Advertised Images reflect the collective fantasies of consumers and the advertisements in Chatelaine depicted the ideal middle-class housewife and her activities.8 For example, in the March 1953 issue, a Playtex girdle is advertised promising to “make you feel free” while “sliming your easter figure”; highlighting insecurities about body appearance to sell shapewear.9 Also, articles like “How Do You Rate with your Husband’s Boss?” compare women to the assets and liabilities of the company, accrediting asset status to being kind, compliant, pretty, and a devoted mother.

The editorial vision is primarily responsible for the tone of the magazine. From 1952 to 1957, John Clare was the editor of Chatelaine. He was brought in to fill the vacancy created by the previous editor, Lotta Dempsey, with the promise he could return to Maclean once Chatelaine was in order. Clare was described as a good editor and administrator, who was not interested in making Chatelaine a great magazine and hated his time there.10

Unlike his predecessor’s, Clare rarely wrote editorials. His piece “It’s a Tough Time to Be in Love’, published in May 1954, dismissed real concerns like the Cold War and economic depression as incidentals to the fundamental goals of love, marriage, and family rearing.11 The editorial provides context to Clare’s vision for Chatelaine as limited to the activity of women in the private realm, divorced from the realities of society in the 1950s. The advertisements and articles discussed in the March 1953 issue reflect his hegemonic beliefs. It was under Anderson’s direction, in the late 1950s, where editorials and articles in the magazine had a more direct activist or feminist slant.12 The decision to include feminist articles and editorials, as well as the other general feature articles on topics such as birth control, abortion, lesbianism, menopause, and women’s sexuality was significant to the dissemination of second wave feminist ideas in Canada.13

Judith Robinson was a writer at Chatelaine between December 1952 and March 1953 under John Clare’s editorship. As a career political journalist, perhaps the mismatch between Robinson’s work portfolio and Clare’s vision for Chatelaine contributed to Robinson’s short tenure at the magazine. The discovery that Chatelaine’s status as a “covert feminist magazine” occurred after Judith Robinson’s left conflicted with our assumptions that this era was significant to Robinson's career because of its contribution to feminism in Canada.

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