A Place to Resist Reevaluating Magazines

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Conceptual Framework, The concept of excess grows out of poststructuralist thought which ex. plains that thought and language are constructed not natural and open. to interpretation Rather than reflecting social reality language is a con. struction site on which reality and therefore meaning are built This. construction of language or the privilege of representing the world to it. self comes about through a struggle for domination among different. meanings Because language emerges from this on going conflict it has. no fixed or intrinsic meaning Weedon 1987 Joan Wallach Scott has. pointed out that even though one meaning triumphs the victory may not be. total Power represents not a seamless dominant ideology but more. Michel Foucault s concept of dquo dispersed constellations of unequal rela. tionships dquo Scott 1988 42 Because social power is neither unified nor. coherent other interpretations of life and experience are possible Human. agency and conceptual language provide the possibility to negotiate resis. tance and to reinterpret life Scott 1988, Jacques Derrida s work on literary deconstruction a branch of post. structuralism advances the idea that texts lack an overarching cohesive. structure no matter what ideology is presented in a text it is not without. flaw The aim of deconstructive criticism is to find places at which a text. might contradict its own logical system There are points in every text that. offer inherent contradictions to the main theme As Terry Eagleton 1983. 134 summarized dquo All language for Derrida displays this surplus over. exact meaning is always threatening to outrun and escape the sense which. tries to contain it dquo, Because language cannot represent a flawless ideology the contradic. tions or surplus of meaning in a dominant message can allow people to. resist that message Excess is a way to point out how a text might offer. contradictions to its own main theme, Several researchers have used this concept to examine different forms. of mass media Kristen Thompson 1986 130 used excess in her film. criticism to identify dquo aspects of the work not contained by its unifying. forces dquo John Fiske 1986 called this concept dquo semiotic excess dquo and used. it in his discussion of how television programs appeal to wide audiences. The theory of semiotic excess proposes that once the ideological hegemonic. work has been performed there is still excess meaning that escapes the control of. the dominant and is thus available for the culturally subordinate to use for their. own cultural political interests Fiske 1986 403, In the search for excess Fiske suggests looking for contradictions or.
openness in the text rather than for unity or closure Two such dquo fissures. and excesses dquo are irony and metaphor irony because it opposes meanings. and metaphor because the relationship between meanings is open to nego. tiation Fiske 1986 392 57, Excess though is especially powerful when applied to women s media. because it adds another dimension to products that are already places of. strength and resistance for women within a patriarchal society Women s. advice columns mother and toddler groups magazine fiction and soap. operas help women negotiate the conflicting demands of their existence. vent their frustrations and share a dquo commonsense dquo wisdom Gledhill. 1984 Thus the concept of excess applied to women s magazines can. show how a woman might find these outlets or spaces and negotiate the. differences between her life as it is with what she wishes it to be For in. stance Tania Modelski 1982 suggests that soap operas have special. appeal to women because their format mirrors the rhythm of a woman s. day with its on going problems and interruptions 22. Janice Radway 1986 although she did not use the concept of excess. directly studied women renegotiating a dominant patriarchal ideology. through the reading of romance novels 3She found that a group of women. in the Midwest took time out to read the novels thus escaping the expecta. tions that as wives and mothers they should be available to fulfill the. demands of their husbands and families The women used the book in an. unintended way they liberated themselves from the values of male cen. tered romantic love that were endorsed by the books This unintended use. is another aspect of alternative meaning available in a text. Radway 1986 109 10 compared ideology to a patchwork quilt a. metaphor that captures the essence of excess A quilt is pieced together by. various seamstresses none of whom have a vision of the overall pattern. In society as in a quilt there are dquo conflicts slippages and imperfect. joinings dquo that can allow a reader to identify the seams and the artificiality. of the construction, Women s magazines also exhibit this pieced construction In the 1950s. rather than calling upon a universal dquo natural dquo definition of woman Good. Housekeeping created a 1950s version out of bits and pieces of available. ideology which differed greatly from a version of the 1980s or the Victo. rian age This 1950s definition of woman did not leap full blown from the. minds of the leaders of society to the pages of the magazine The produc. tion of the magazine involved negotiation among its contributors the. editorial staff writers advertisers and readers The end product was a. magazine that defined women through the melding of all these different. All of the researchers mentioned above with the exception of Radway. have dealt with excess in visual media But looking to the roots of excess. in literary theory a written text can contain excess as well Magazines. present an interesting case as they are really a combination of written and. visual media Along with fiction and articles come photographs and. 58 graphic illustrations Also present are several distinct types of content. advertising fiction non fiction reader letters and material written by the. editorial staff Magazines because they have so many contributors. present a potentially less cohesive product than a film or novel All these. factors add up to opportunities for something to slip through the cracks. As in Radway s metaphor of the quilt the more seams there are the. greater the chance that there will be one that doesn t line up with the oth. In Good Housekeeping the concept of excess also relies on the relation. ship between the magazine and its readers Some researchers such as. Radway have worked directly with audiences to find the gaps between the. text and how it is read Other authors such as Fiske have used an analysis. of the text itself to yield locations of excess or places of resistance Al. though a holistic approach is ideal including both the text and the. audience the limitations of working with the 1950s is obvious A re. searcher can easily consult the magazines of the 1950s but not the. audience that read them True there are women living today who sub. scribed to Good Housekeeping but time and circumstance have. intervened to cloud the perceptions they had 40 years ago. However setting excess in a background of history helps to overcome. the lack of audience input Context helps to balance the 1990s vantage. point of the researcher To explain each example of excess I related the. example to both the historical context of the 1950s and to an opposing im. age in the same issue In some cases I was not able to find a corresponding. example within the magazine but I included an example from another is. sue Most readers of Good Housekeeping had seen more than one issue in. their lifetime and thus had experienced dquo normal dquo content for the maga. zine In the search for excess I used the historian s method of dquo reading. sifting weighing comparing and analyzing the evidence dquo performing. content assessment rather than the more quantitative technique of content. analysis Marzolf 1978 15, In Good Housekeeping excess for women might have been challenges. to traditional roles and expectations of women women s unhappiness or. dissatisfaction discussion of working outside the home acknowledge. ment of women s sexual needs or questioning of the sexual double. standard for men and women French 1978 Good Housekeeping could. have presented excess through Fiske s 1986 devices contradiction ei. ther in the structure or the content of the magazines irony metaphor or. humor expression of alternative viewpoints even if they were disparaged. or discarded in the end, Good Housekeeping is a good choice for a case study in women ss. magazines because by 1950 it had been arriving in women s homes for 65. years First published in 1885 with the motto dquo A Family Journal Con. ducted in the Interest of the Higher Life of the Household dquo the magazine. also spawned the Good Housekeeping Institute in 1902 which operated a. laboratory that tested products advertised by Good Housekeeping These. products carried the Good Housekeeping dquo seal of approval dquo which guaran 59. teed satisfaction or dquo money back dquo Mott 1965 In 1950 Good. Housekeeping had a circulation of more than three million copies and. ranked as one of the top three U S women s magazines N W Ayer and. Sons 1950 1960, This study includes seven issues of Good Housekeeping during the de.
cade 1950 to 1959 March 1950 April 1951 May 1953 January 1954. August 1955 September 1956 and November 1958 The choice of months. began randomly with March 1950 Although not an exhaustive sample. these issues provided a start in establishing the phenomenon of. Historical Context, By 1950 the home had been the special province of women for more than. 100 years The idea of the home as women s sphere appeared in the 1820s. as men left home for the jobs created by industrialization Strasser 1982. 181 After World War II Frederick Crawford head of the National Asso. ciation of Manufacturers reinforced this outlook by declaring dquo too many. women should not stay in the labor force The home is the basic American. institution dquo Chafe 1972 176 Public opinion in Fortune polls after the. war agreed with Crawford Both men and women favored a wife working. only if her husband could not support her Fortune August 1946 Albert. Ellis 1962 232 wrote dquo There seems to be no principle of the American. folklore of sex more firmly entrenched and more widely accepted than the. principle that women s place is in the home dquo, An influential work from the late 1940s helped to popularize the equa. tion between women and home setting boundaries for women Modern. Woman The Lost Sex 1947 by Marynia Farnham a psychiatrist and. Frederick Lundberg a journalist attacked feminism and set rigid limits to. female and male behavior based on the Freudian idea of anatomy as des. A pair of articles from American Mercury in 1949 drew the battle lines. of the debate in the mass media about women s place dquo Women are. Household Slaves dquo Stern 1949 squared off against dquo Women Have Noth. ing to Kick About dquo Root 1949 Meanwhile during the late 1940s and. early 1950s the location of homes and of women s place changed as well. American life at least white middle class life began to relocate to the. suburbs During the 1950s 83 percent of the population growth occurred. in the suburbs so that by 1960 almost a third of the total population lived. in suburban areas Oakley 1986 The years between 1945 and 1965 repre. sented an era of dquo unprecedented growth and prosperity dquo Rubin 1982. More than 11million new homes appeared in the urban fringes and 4 000. families a day were leaving the cities for the new ranch and split level sub. divisions Rubin 1982, Consumer spending after World War II centered on goods for the. 60 home From 1945 to 1950 consumer spending increased 60 percent but. spending on household furnishings and appliances rose 240 percent Al. most the entire increase in the gross national product in the 1950s came. from spending on consumer durables and residential construction May. Several factors contributed to the suburban explosion One was the. general growth in population The baby boom that began in the late 1940s. and continued into the 1950s meant that families needed more living. space The federal government helped to make home buying possible with. loans available through the Veterans Administration and the Federal. Housing Authority Both federal and state governments constructed roads. and highways that made commuting from workplace to the suburbs pos. sible The automobile industry offered affordable transportation by. turning out millions of cars William J Levitt perfected inexpensive. mass produced houses that alleviated the post war housing shortage and. allowed millions of people to buy homes for the first time Oakley 1986. The number of home owners increased by nine million in the 1950s to a. total of 32 8 million in 1960 Kaledian 1984, The suburbs provided a different environment than the urban or rural. areas of previous decades The population was generally homogeneous. consisting of couples between the ages of 25 and 35 with one or two small. children Very few minorities elderly single or childless people inhabited. the major housing developments Oakley 1986 The nuclear family be. came a discrete unit separated from family or old neighborhood ties. which often led to the isolation of women who did not work outside the. home Rupp and Taylor 1987, This lack of traditional ties led suburban dwellers to take action Ac.
56 A Place to Resist Reevaluating Women s Magazines Jacqueline Blix Because traditional history has centered around the lives of great men or exploits on the battlefield or boardroom women absent from those arenas have been excluded from much of history including history of mass me dia and journalism Mass media historians today need to widen history s

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