"Women Don't Like Themselves": Magazine Lady-Trolling in 1939

The North American Review began publication in 1815, long before The Atlantic, which was founded in 1857. It is not our oldest continuously operating publication because it ceased publication in 1940, after having fallen on some very hard times. But it almost did not fall on hard times! A savior had swooped in to save the magazine in 1938. That savior, Joseph Hilton Smyth, was in the business of snapping up a number of small struggling publications, including the Saturday Review of Literature and Living Age, and he bought a piece of Current History as well. Unfortunately he didn’t have any money of his own and was apparently spending money given to him by the Japanese? They intended him to purchase organs for the distribution of propaganda? As Time crudely put it, he “got $125,000 from the Japs in four years, paid by Manhattan’s Japanese Vice Consul Shintaro Fukushima.”

But while North American Review was trying to save itself from death, and while it wasn’t disseminating propaganda, if that ever happened at all, it certainly went all out for some attention. AS YOU DO, even in the time before pageviews.

“Women Don’t Like Themselves” was a coverline on the summer 1939 issue. The author was “Grace Adams.” Her (hmm! No, I’m pretty sure she’s really a woman) point: “The truth is that, so far as its original intent and purpose is concerned, the movement for woman’s suffrage has been a dismal and a colossal flop.” You can read the whole thing here.

Or don’t! It’s pretty brutal.

Her point is: that women simply decline to exercise their financial and voting power to put women in positions of power, and that they easily could have, except for the fact that on the whole, women hate other women. “However much the average woman may disparage the average man, she secretly believes that the male sex is more generously and more generally blessed with these high virtues than is the female.”

That is some A+ trolling. (Although, Ms. Adams is, it has to be said, decades ahead of her time in many regards.)

In the same issue, the directly following article, by Arthur Stringer, who is presumably the Arthur Stringer, who wrote for, of course, The Atlantic, and worked on the script for The Perils Of Pauline, was headlined… “Why Women Make No Sense.” (Not joking.) Obviously it’s far more ironic in tone. “The New Woman — who has been described as never quite new and never quite a lady — was acclaimed as different from her sister of yesterday. She had been emancipated,” he wrote, after some allegory of a saucy woman in a nice dress who’s unafraid of being cold.

Perhaps this is not the way you think of human beings:

She was, originally, the most unadorned of all the animals, surviving solely through service. But man, as he emerged from the ooze and climbed from the cave, gave more and more thought to the morrow, laid up for a rainy day, became a person of property. Yet in doing so he sadly complicated the sex issue. He accumulated shells and skins and became desirable because of his accumulations. So when marriage by capture gave way to marriage by purchase, which eventually meant marriage by choice, unadorned woman saw the need of catching the eye and attention of man, of translating a distressingly inconspicuous body into temporary prominence by the ornaments which she hung about it.

He lets his imaginary woman get “the upper hand” in the end but by that point, my word.

Grace Adams is also the author of “When Ladies Write,” from American Spectator in 1934. OH BOY!

It’s at least reassuring to know that the trope of “cat-loving spinsters” has been with us for generations.