Glamour Magazine, a monthly glossy probably best known for it's back-of-book, woman-on-the-street fashion do's and don't page, announced some major news this week. Sort of.
The magazine will, for the next 15 months, cover politics in the form of special section -- or in Web parlance, a "vertical" -- on its Web site. News about Glamour's new politics section was rolled out like a significant change in direction or a groundbreaking moment in women's magazine history. Indeed, it even has its own name, "The 51," a reference to the 51 million women under the age of 45 who will be eligible to vote in 2016.
Critiques of women's magazines as vapid wastelands that traffic in the business of making women feel badly about themselves but just empowered enough to buy their advertisers' products are valid. Very valid. But to reach that conclusion and stop, one must also ignore the long and blended content history of women's magazines. The truth about women's magazines, past and present, is much more complicated. In fact, women's magazines have played a significant role in American politics.
And that was true even long before women could vote.
Before we dig into the past, there's a landscape to survey today. Glamour joins other well-known women's mags, including Cosmopolitan (Cosmo), Essence, Self, Elle, and Vogue, in adding overtly political stories and Web features to the the mix of makeup and make-out tips and, of course, how to please a man. That's been happening since at least 2007, when Hillary Rodham Clinton came close to becoming the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.
It turns out that the nation's first "women's magazine" was actually founded in Philadelphia in 1792, just after the United States became a bona fide country with a ratified Constitution, according to Amy Aronson, a Fordham University media historian who studies gender and women's magazines.
This magazine went hard, no doubt, on recipes and child care and household management ideas. There were always articles and ads that detailed the rituals and behavior of a proper and attractive lady.
But that magazine and the many others since have also, from the very beginning, included stories on democracy, child labor, women's pay, women's legal rights and divorce. Some have also done their bit to challenge others to defend women in the workplace, abolish slavery and push for civil rights for black Americans. Others have defended and supported just the opposite. And when Congress passed one of the nation's earliest food-safety laws, several members spoke publicly about how the Ladies Home Journal had organized women in such a way that their concerns could not be ignored, said Aronson, who also wrote the 2002 book, "Taking Liberties: Early American Women's Magazines and Their Readers."
That blend of the serious and non-serious, the personal and the political, has always been what women's magazines have done. (For example, Mademoiselle, which ceased publication in 2001, printed the first excerpt of a little book called "The Feminine Mistique," written by one of its employees, Betty Friedan.) Women's magazines published stories about women's suffrage, the sexual revolution and the pill in more detail and in ways that most publications did not, Aronson told me.
And those profiles about powerful women -- women in business, women in elected office, women doing something non-traditional by day -- that focus on the way they manage their husbands, children, kitchens, hair, clothing and all the stuff in the traditional "ladies domain," have always been there too. Heck, they are in there right now.
But, there is more than one way to understand that too.
To some, those stories and that dichotomy make powerful women and the exercise of power more relatable. Through that lens, leading a company or leading a country can seem like a realistic possibility for other women and girls. Others will argue that a story about how Hillary Clinton roasts chicken just the way Bill Clinton likes and those that feature female Capitol Hill staffers in shoes that would render them nearly immobile diminishes powerful women. It reduces them to pretty ladies, who cook, clean, lead and satisfy men.
A look at Glamour's "The 51" pretty much reflects all of those things. It offers fodder for those who want to praise women's magazines and those who want to set them ablaze.
There are photo-heavy spreads on the women working behind the scenes in politics and shaping some of the 2016 campaigns. Most of them also happen to be dressed in killer sheath dresses, full makeup and stiletto heels. There's an actress/political activist quite prominently featured in there too. There's a story on the facial fillers preferred by politicians, a fun piece on the Jeb Bush campaign's merchandise (that, um, guacamole bowl) and another on a plan announced by Hillary Clinton to address college costs. And there's a guide to all 22 presidential candidate's positions of a few major issues.
And of course, other portions of the site include all the stuff that most people expect in a women's magazine.
There are the corporate and fairy-princess-by-day stories and "how to become part of a killer couple" fare. There's plenty of copy dedicated to how to be or become the goddess woman with the best home, sex life, abs and facial contouring by night.
Plus, in a nod to the modern, totally empowered or perhaps not self-actualized woman, there's a post about pregnancy-body confidence, featuring a selfie posted by none other than Kim Kardashian -- nude.