Some magazines frighten and insult women

Family Matters

March 21, 2004|By Susan Reimer

WHEN MYRNA BLYTH LEFT the business of editing women's magazines, she didn't just burn her bridges.

She blew them up.

The former editor of Ladies Home Journal and More magazines is now the author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America. (St. Martin's Press, $24.95)

And she isn't just telling secrets out of school, such as how advertisers have co-opted the editorial content to such a degree that it's hard to tell the ads from the news items.

She is saying that women's magazines, with their screaming headlines, frighten women with alarmist stories about purported threats to our health and safety.

That women's magazines, with their preoccupation with stress, maintain a drumbeat of hyperbole, telling women they cannot handle the demands of their own lives.

That women's magazines, in catering to the public appetite for celebrities, give those celebrities a soapbox from which to spout what are almost always liberal Democratic agendas.

That women's magazines do not address their readership. Rather, the liberal, elite women who run them are simply talking to each other.

Right now, those liberal elite women editors are not talking to Myrna Blyth.

"The fact that she is looking back at her career and is so disappointed is sad," Cosmopolitan editor Kate White said in The New York Times. "And the fact that she is dragging other people down with her self-loathing is odd."

Myrna Blyth fairly sputters with disbelief at the response. "I mean, the remark from Cosmo was quite nasty. I think they are attacking me because I am over 60. Well, I am sorry I lived so long."

She finds it disappointing that the book has caused her former colleagues to comment on her and her motives rather than discuss what their business can do better.

"I hate to think that women can't respectfully disagree," Blyth said from New York.

"These are women whose job it is to comment and criticize, and yet they don't like it when someone criticizes them.

"They don't want to talk about the issues. They want to talk about me."

The claws came out as soon as Blyth's book did earlier this month.

Cindi Leive of Glamour told The Times that she wasn't trying to shine a light on the dark corners of women's journalism, "she was trying to burn down the whole category of magazines."

Ellen Levin, editor of Good Housekeeping, said she thought Blyth "has serious Ann Coulter envy and this is her attempt to create some kind of second act for herself as a conservative commentator."

Blyth is trying to keep the conversation on her message, not her motives.

"Women's media, and by this I mean magazines and television, endlessly accentuate the negative, telling women over and over that they are frazzled, frumpy and fearful. They tell women that they are still victims, but now they are victims of their own success. Their lives have simply become too complicated to handle."

She says the magazines, the morning talk shows, the TV news magazines and the cable channels that are aimed at women continually frighten women -- about threats to their health, to their husband's health, to the safety and well-being of their children.

And magazines like Cosmopolitan give the impression that every young woman "is joyfully sexually active and never leaves home without a condom in her purse.

"Well, the truth is, many young women are less sexually active and consider sex to be part of a serious relationship. You'd never know that from reading Cosmo."

Worse, she said, these magazines, and their television counterparts, convince women that they have to think and vote the way the popular girls (she names Katie Couric, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer) think and vote or they'll be thrown out of the club.

"I pride myself in the fact that when I was editor of Ladies Home Journal, it was considered among the most fair and balanced magazines on politics and social issues," she said.

Blyth says that the newsstand sales of women's magazines are slumping, and it may be because women are tired of reading about how dangerous, stressful and generally unsatisfying their lives are.

"Women have been warned about everything from Teflon to toilet paper," Blyth said. "And the funny thing is, we are all living longer than we ever did.

"I wrote this book to let women know, 'Come on, you can do it.' I hope they will be relieved."

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