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Sex, Money and Power: The Cosmopolitan Philosophy

A materialist perspective is useful in understanding why Hearst would promote both women’s liberation and women’s continued oppression in its magazine’s text and images.

The Cosmopolitan philosophy was created in the context of the American Industrial Revolution and its legacies. At the end of the 19th century through the First World War, an American Victorian morality prescriptively limited sexual expression to the private, or domestic sphere, and deemed procreation the only moral purpose of intercourse. Rapid industrialization and the presence of women in the public sphere as both consumers and workers accelerated a shift of Euro-American middle-class values from a normative Victorian discourse. Historians John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Friedman write,

As growing numbers of working class women left the home to work in factories, offices and retail establishments, and as middle-class women entered college and pursued professional careers, the separate spheres that underlay nineteenth century sexual codes disintegrated. Simultaneously, the economy moved beyond the stage of early industrialization, in which habits of thrift, sobriety, and personal asceticism had won plaudits. Instead, the emphasis in American life was shifting towards consumption, gratification and pleasure.

Tensions between old and new continued to complicate American’s views on sex and women in the workplace throughout the early twentieth century, but by the 1960s “the nation had traveled a long way from the sexual values and practices of its nineteenth-century ancestors.” Trends towards sexual liberalism had been evident in the 1920s, but by the mid 1960s they had become conventional values of mainstream, white, middle-class culture.

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Sexual liberalism framed the lives of most Americans during the mid-twentieth century. D’Emilio and Freedman describe sexual liberalism as “an overlapping set of beliefs that detached sexual activity from the instrumental goal of procreation.” This “new” sexual system was defined by the increasing acceptance of discourses that spoke of sexual fulfillment as an important factor of a happy middle-class marriage and therefore, fair game for public discussion by advertisers. 

During the 1950s and 60s entrepreneurs began to openly use sex to sell their products. D’Emilio and Freedman argue,“the first major challenge to the marriage-oriented ethic of sexual liberalism came from entrepreneurs who extended the logic of consumer capitalism to the realm of sex.” 

Publishing executives and advertisers drew upon the erotic impulses of unmarried working Americans who were not spoken for in mainstream ideologies of early sexual liberalism. For men, Playboy became the voice of sex without marriage or monogamy, for women, it was Cosmo. However, Cosmopolitan and Playboy shared more than just a message of sexual exploration outside of relationships. Both magazines were “premised on an ethic of success, prosperity and consumption.”

Women and Advertising in Post-WWII America

Advertising companies fueled the discursive power of consumerist ideologies espoused in lifestyle magazines, and created tensions in print and in the lived experiences of young, working class and middle-class women in the post-war era. In her study of Ladies Home Journal (the best-selling women’s magazine in the United States during the 1950s) Jennifer Scanlon writes, “advertisers relied on magazines to tap into a growing national audience. Advertisements competed with and, in fact, often surpassed the editorial matter in making a connection with the reading audience.” 

For advertisers, the years following the Second World War were a period of ideal market conditions in the United States. In his study of print advertising in the United States, Richard W. Pollay writes, “the economic prosperity of the postwar years, when the war-honed productive capacity of consumer demand deferred by both depression and war, was additionally propelled by the rapidly rising numbers of births and the associated nesting consumption by citizens.” 

The appearance of consumer magazines provided a space to practice newly developed advertising strategies and encourage mass consumption among consumers. While the propagandistic styles popular among American advertisers during World War Two were still present in the 50s and 60s, “the focus of the vast majority of the 1950s’ ads (77%) was on the positive benefits to be realized from consumption.” Pollay’s study also found that the ads of the 1960s tended to shift towards “rhetorical styles that are seductive in tone or testimonial.” Often these messages defined a woman as sexual, liberated, but imperfect.

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As a result of the link between advertisements and content, feminist discourses of self-confidence and independence found in women’s magazines were limited, and often undermined by the fears and insecurities promoted in advertisements aimed at women readers. “Advertisers projected a sexual definition of the female, informing her that ‘blondes have more fun’…advising her to ‘wear a Playtex bra if you have an average figure but don’t want to look average.’” 

D’Emilio and Freedman continue, “Bombarded by such messages, one feminist essay of the period proclaimed, ‘ninety percent of the women in this country have an inferiority complex because they do not have turned-up noses…have good legs or flat stomachs, and fall within a certain age bracket.’ The reduction of women’s bodies to erotic objects had debilitating effects.” Cosmopolitan “celebrated an exaggerated femininity” that was “dependent on the ongoing purchase of consumer products advertised.”

Helen Gurley Brown 

The original Cosmo Girl, Helen Gurley Brown, was a major player in the advertising strategy shifts that occurred during the 1950s and 60s not only in her support of the advertising industry during her time as editor of Cosmo, but also as an advertising executive herself. Before reinventing Cosmopolitan and taking on the role of editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley (not yet married to David Brown) was employed at Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency. First, as a secretary to Don Belding, and then as a advertising copywriter. “At Foote, Cone & Belding,” Jennifer Scalon writes, “as in the advertising industry generally, women were most often considered too emotional to write advertising copy.” 

However, Brown proved her lived experience as a working-class woman to be an asset to her company and was known for her ability to write copy for advertisements aimed at women, especially beauty products. In an advertisement for Pan-Cake cosmetic brand Brown wrote,

Tonight you must be more beautiful than you really are…you must be beautiful, period, when your mirror has been telling you for years that the most extravagant adjective that you can ever apply to yourself is…attractive. Poof to that! Tonight you will be beautiful.

In her copy writing, Brown developed a method of commercializing sex and helped make female sexuality, most often conveyed as the desire to arouse men, a part of American print culture in the 1950s.

Brown was a strong supporter of “Stauffer System” advertising in magazines, named after the Stauffer Home Reducing weight-loss plan. The Stauffer System is a method of subversive advertising in which advertisements are disguised as general news or important information to the consumer. 

Bill Tyler, writing in Advertising Agency Magazine in 1958 noted, “We continue full admiration for the job that Helen Gurley of Foote Cone & Beliding (LA) is doing for the Stauffer System with its magazine-editorial approach.” Today, Stauffer System advertisements are required to have the word “advertisement” or “promotion” marked somewhere on the ad to inform the consumer of the unreliability of the information presented. The Stauffer System is successful, especially in women’s magazines, because although an advertisement, the information presented is portrayed as dependable and identifies consumption as a solution to some problem. 

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In the same letter, Tyler commends Brown for her advertisement headline for the same Stauffer home reducing weight-loss plan. The copy read “Live in a Beautiful Body.” Of this headline, Tyler writes, “This is probably as agreeable a promise as a reducing plan can make to a diet-weary woman. It was Helen Gurley’s.” Brown’s ads were recognized for successfully convincing women that they needed the products she described. Scanlon writes, “in a short time, Helen Gurley Brown became the most highly paid female copywriter on the West Coast.” Brown, who often spoke of her own insecurities with her looks as a young woman, used her knowledge of women’s increasing preoccupation with looks, weight and attracting husbands to create a successful advertising and publishing career.

Brown founded the Cosmo Girl philosophy on her lived experiences as a working-class woman, and saw herself as a feminine exemplar of the American Dream. In 1962, encouraged by her husband, successful movie executive David Brown, Helen Gurley Brown decided to write a book that reflected her journey from a poor, struggling childhood in Little Rock Arkansas, to a life as a high-powered advertising executive and columnist married to a wealthy man. 

She titled her book, Sex and the Single Girl. The book reached the number six spot on the New York Times best-seller list in 1962. Brown’s book, “advocated working the system rather than changing it, manipulating the rules men wrote rather than attempting to rewrite them.” 

Brown’s advice suggested that “all relationships, including sexual ones, come down to exchanges of one sort or another.” The book also invited readers (italics for emphasis) “without apology, to indulge in some of the narcissism that capitalism allows.” Because the reinvention of Cosmopolitan magazine was based on Brown’s lived experiences and her best-selling 1962 biography/self-help book Sex and The Single Girl, it is appropriate to engage Brown’s views alongside the philosophy of Cosmopolitan that she helped create.

Up Next: Helen Gurley Brown and The Reinvention of Cosmopolitan Magazine


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On one hand, the shifting to a new home makes you excited. On the other hand, moving to an unknown location sends butterflies in your stomach. Packing during your move is not restrained to your clothes. You have to take a step-by-step procedure in your packing when you are shifting your base. All the household items placed in every room need to pack and load in the moving truck. You make sure not a single thing is left out at your present residence. Although packing the entire house seems to be troublesome for everyone, there are certain steps you can follow when packing your rooms.

Are you thinking from which room you should start your packing? Here is the way out. Start from the decorative room, that is, the living room or sitting room. Talking about the living room, this is the place where most of your pricey objects are being placed for years together. Majority of your electronic items and delicate showpieces can be seen in the living room. Getting your living room packed is not a child's play. You need to have proper planning and careful consideration on each thing you are about to pack. From a cigarette ashtray to a TV set and stereos, all the items in the living room have to be packed in an effective manner. By use of the right approach, you can make the packing of your living room interesting. Do remember to fill your change of address request, the process is time taking but you can do it online also here is a step by step guide to filing us postal service change address online free, it is detailed with the image of each step. Have an overview of the article to know eight steps to pack the entire living room.

1) Dump Unwanted Stuffs:

Make a list of items which are of no use. Having observed carefully, you will come across several items which will be unworthy to you. Collect the unwanted stuffs and pike them up at one place. Sorting out the unwanted items of your living room will give you an idea about the necessary items you have to pack in the boxes.

2) Organize:

Do not rush into packing all the items at once. Keep all the glass wares and fragile items at once. Then, look for the items which are smaller in size and do not take much space. Keep a pile of books, small photo frames, files and small decorative art pieces in separate boxes. Organizing the items will make your packing work easy. Hence, it is recommended not to pack the household objects in the living room without any proper planning. Make your unpacking easier by labeling the boxes after you pack. Ensure to bubble wrap your breakable objects.

3) Pack The Large And Small Picture Frames:

The valuable paintings which you once bought from a store cannot be allowed to mishandle by strangers and outsiders. The beautiful painting gifted to you by your near ones on a special occasion holds precious memories and cannot be thrown in a trash bin. Any art work has a sentimental touch and it requires a lot of attention during the time of packing. The fine artistic work and the intricate designs on the frame have its own unique importance. Hence, you should be very careful when you remove the picture frames and mirrors from the walls. Always place the picture frame and mirrors on a large sheet or newspaper by facing it downwards and bubble wrap the object to prevent any cracks. Each frame, small or large, should be wrapped and kept separately. If needed, seek professional help from packers to get the most delicate glass-based items rightly packed.

4) Lamps And Chandeliers:

After you remove the chandeliers or lamps from the affixed point, you should be very careful while placing on to the floor. Make use of large, plain white paper to place the objects. Get a large size packing box and slowly unhook all the minute screws that are attached with the box and wrap the item with the help of the packing tape. Do not stack any other items above the box. Always, label it with colorful and bold alphabets.

5) Basic Furniture Objects:

Remove all the drawers and wrap them with papers. Keep aside the cushions, pillows and other accessories you use to deck up the look of your furniture items. Take large plastic covers, which are easily available from any movers, and wrap the chairs, sofas, coffee table, dining table and other furniture objects at your place. For additional protection, you can use moving blankets to safeguard the objects from any potential damage and scratches. Make sure, you remove glass doors, drawers and cabinets before wrapping up the furniture.

6) Decorative Pieces:

If you have large decorative pieces such as flower vase, antique clock, wall art pieces, a classy pen set, candle stand, brass statues, clay-based statues, sculptures and so on in your sitting room, you should get the boxes of appropriate size for the safety of your priceless goods. Keep in mind to choose the boxes which are a bit larger in size, so that your decorative pieces do not get tightly fitted in the box. Cover all the corners of the boxes with newspapers or clothes and place your items flat inside the box.

7) Curtains And Drapes:

Who does not use curtains and drapes in the living room? The curtains enhance the appearance of the room. Unhook the screws of the curtain rods and place the rods one by one inside the box. During the transportation process, chances are the drapes and curtains can get crumpled. Hence, pack curtains and drapes in the wardrobe box which is accessible from any moving store. The wardrobe box will shield the curtains and drapes from getting wrinkled. Put the minute screws and rails either in a plastic or in a Ziploc bag. Alongside, put the large window pieces at the bottom of the wardrobe box. In case you fail to get a wardrobe box, you can fold the curtains in a careful manner and put them in a bureau drawer.

8) Electronic Items:

Any electronic items consist of delicate parts which need to be taken care of, especially at the time of handling the products. As you know that mishandling electronic goods can ruin the pricey electronics in no time. Therefore, you need to be very cautious when you pack the electronics. Before you start placing the electronic objects in the packing boxes, you should keep the manual book along with you. A manual book will provide you with necessary instructions you should follow while removing the parts of your electronic device. It is best to place your desired electronic product in the original packing box which was provided at the time of purchasing the device. If not, then you can use the packing boxes supplied to you by your packer and mover. As for large electronic items, it is advised to seek an expert help from a proficient mover. For other basic packing in regards to other electronic objects, have a quick glance over the points mentioned below.

a) Television and Music System:

Ask for assistance, if required during the packing the vital electronic items such as television and music system. Unplug the wires and place it in the individual box. Get hold of boxes which are tailor-made for large and heavy sized-items from your mover to pack the heavy television set. You can also use padding for extra protection. Depending on the type of music system, pack the electronic device part by part to stave off from any damage. Bear in mind to roll and pack the remotes and the reader’s manual book of both devices into the box.

b) Speakers:

Make use of padding to wrap the speakers of any electronic device. Take small speakers at first and wrap each speaker by using the method of anti-static bubble wrap. Place each of the wrapped material in the dish pack. Now, take large speakers and wrap each speaker once again by way of anti-static bubble wrap. Apply padding on the top of the wrapped material for safety purpose.

c) CDs and DVDs:

Pack CDs and DVDs with cardboard. Put them at the edge of a cushion box.

You do not have to worry about packing your living room any more. As the living room contains a maximum number of items compared with the items in other rooms, the packing task may seem to be lengthy and daunting. But, the right process of packing can save your time and energy. The aforementioned right steps will help you pack the stuffs of your living room with ease.

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