Within the Pages: A Closer Look at the Portrayal of Women in Student Publications - Kathryn Mogol, Douglass College '03
Men and women have always had conflicting views on how to portray the other sex. While they usually represent their own sex in a positive way, they often depict the other in just the opposite manner--- with utmost negativity. Perhaps these conflicting views were brought about by the fact that men and women are sexually dimorphic.1 In short, we are simply different from each other: in appearance, behavior, and otherwise. Men view women differently and women view men just as critically.
In the 1920's and 30's, the conflicting depiction of gender was very much apparent in the various student publications that circulated within Rutgers University. The creation of a gendered system was clearly evident in the Chanticleer, the humor magazine of Rutgers College, the men's college. Women were definitely portrayed in a particular way. The Horn Book, New Jersey College for Women's own literary magazine, depicted women in a specific way as well. In general, these two publications viewed women both positively and negatively---although the women who wrote and published the Horn Book depicted their sex in a much more positive and agreeable way, in contrast to the way the men viewed and portrayed women in the Chanticleer.
Perhaps it was the time period that brought about this phenomenon. After all, "the 1920's marked a new vogue for college girls who entered the school in the age of the flapper."2 They had a new sense of freedom, a renewed sense of self. It was the time period when men started to pay attention to them, when men started to notice them more, and when men started to realize that they were indeed different from them. It was the time when men saw what women were really made of, and pages after pages of the Chanticleer exist in testimony of this realization.
The Chanticleer clearly portrayed women as non-traditional. No longer were they depicted as the positive, caring and nurturing beings society expected them to be. Instead, the Chanticleer editors attached negative connotations to their portrayal of women. Their numerous sketches, without a doubt, characterized women differently. In the Chanticleer, women were highly concerned with their appearance, and they seemed to have lost their sense of romance. All they wanted from men was their money, the pleasure men gave them, or both. The magazine is full of illustrations of women pointlessly putting on lipstick, carelessly dancing with partners, hopelessly fighting among themselves over men, or constantly engaging in conversations that made no sense. To the male students who wrote for the Chanticleer, women were no more than vain, man-chasing sex objects without any wits. An excerpt from a poem entitled "Not So Bad!" summarized the "new woman" from a man's point of view:
I'm a wild, wild woman.
I pet, I drink, I smoke.
I'm a wild, wild damn-sel
And I always make men broke.
I'm a wild, wild maid-gin.
I'm bad, an' I wanna man.
I'm a wicked, wicked bimbo,
I'm mad and don't give a d-n.
They say I'm on my way to H-l,
Badness me, I'm on the brink.
My throat is dry from all this blah,
Ye Gods--- (Who's got a drink?)3
Here, new trends of "womanhood" became apparent. She excessively "petted, smoked and drank," and she was not ashamed of it. She was also proud of her perceived wildness and wickedness, and she could care less if "she made men broke." The depiction of women in this manner was prevalent in the Chanticleer.
"Would you marry a man who lied to you?" Chanticleer (February 1929).
Women's image also slowly changed as the ideal body portrayed in the Chanticleer shifted to a hipless, bosomless figure with bobbed hair, long legs, and short skirt(s).4 This typical figure was not only evident in the students' artworks, it was seen in advertising as well. Occasionally, the magazine jokingly referred to a corpulent woman as a "fatted calf." This gesture further exemplified men's changing views on women and suggested a possible ideal which men expected from women. The following excerpt---the continuation of the poem above---suggested this ideal:
Oh, I'm a goody, goody girl,
I don't drink, and I don't swear.
I'm a goody, goody damsel.
I haven't even bobbed my hair.>
I'm as pure an' clean as driven snow
And never have I stayed out late.
Because mamma said I mus[t]n't;
Men who pet, I simply hate.
I know not what a hot date means,
Goodness, I know not what to think.
My talking makes me so very dry,
Oh, Fudge! ---Who's got a drink5
Perhaps to some men's eyes, a frivolous woman at that time was not so attractive after all.
Perhaps they even preferred one who didn't smoke and who didn't drink---one who was tamed.
Perhaps they even asked themselves this "Mystery:"
Although pure and chased a maiden may be,
It still will remain an enigma to me---
How the world can devolve a thought to debased---
That the less she is pure, the more she is "chased?"6
In the 1920's and 30's, some men actually still looked for the more refined qualities in women: purity and chastity---two words that hardly described the women illustrated in the Chanticleer.
In contrast to the portrayal of women in the men's publication, the Horn Book reflected traditional women. In their short stories and poetry, New Jersey College for Women students depicted themselves embracing their roles as wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, or friends. They didn't perceive themselves to be self-serving or materialistic. Instead, they portrayed themselves as unselfish, caring women who were ready to give affection to men when needed. Neither were they immoral nor self- indulgent as the Chanticleer had portrayed them. Instead, they reflected what women were supposed to be: responsible, nurturing, and innocent.
The "ideal" woman in the Horn Book was embodied in the short story, "Freedom," through the character of Stephanie. She was a young wife who presumably married right after college. She graciously performed the regular duties of a housewife. In the story, she "moved to and fro in the little kitchen. She scrubbed three potatoes beneath the running faucet, then slipped them in the oven."7 She cooked and cleaned while her husband was at work, and she performed all these duties without complaint. As expected, she and her husband encountered difficulties in the early stages of their marriage. Her husband lost his job four times, yet she supported him through every ordeal. When at one point her husband, Don, seemed to be especially discouraged, these were the words Stephanie uttered:
(With conviction in her voice she said), 'Don, listen to me. You know I don't think you're a failure. I believe in you as much as ever Don't you know how much I love you and believe in you?'8
This portrayal of a woman was obviously absent from the Chanticleer. It was only in the Horn Book that women were regarded highly and positively.
As in the Chanticleer, the Horn Book also portrayed an "ideal" woman. Contrary to what the Chanticleer depicted, the "ideal" woman---from the women's point of view---was not the goody, goody girl who didn't drink and smoke. Instead, she was the well-bred young lady who was proper in her ways and who did what was expected of her. She was embodied in the character of Louise, from the short story, "Dolls." Louise was a high school girl who had two aunts---both of whom had high expectations of her, though one was more lenient than the other. Louise had been told not to swing her arms, but to walk slowly, with her head up and shoulders back.9 Although she tried to live up to her aunts' expectations, she also tried to keep up with what her peers perceived to be "desirable," which was obviously distinct from what her aunts believed. She complained how she wanted to have a "fellow," because most of the other girls had one, but her aunts wouldn't allow it. In short, Louise tried to live up to a double standard---the same one every other woman in the non-fictional world strove to live up to.10
One exception to the general view of women as traditional was expressed by a New Jersey College for Women student whose work got printed in the Chanticleer. Dorothy Morris wrote:
"Frivolity" Chanticleer (April 1929).
I am the wraith - "Frivolity."
I am laughter and youth and thin champagne.
I live on the wine of light jollity.
My kiss is a thrill of wan, white flame.
I swirl in confetti, and dip and dance
In the silver maze of a thousand toes;
I shine in the flare of a half-meant glance,
Am star-dust, and jazz and the scent of a rose.11
In this poem, a woman described herself as "Frivolity"---the very epitome of the young woman of her time. Unlike such portrayals by the Chanticleer's male writers, however, this particular depiction was done with class. It did not minimize "woman;" instead, it elevated her and made her almost a goddess. Thus, it was possible to depict women as non-traditional and positive at the same time. In order to achieve this, however, a woman must be the one doing the portraying, not the man.
Douglass College '03
1 Bobbi S. Low, Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 113.
2 Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 157.
3 "Not So Bad," Chanticleer, 1926-1927, Vol. V, No. 3, p. 24. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.
4 Solomon, p. 158.
5 "Not So Bad," Chanticleer, p. 24.
6 "Mystery," Chanticleer, 1926-1927, Vol. V, No. 3, p. 22.
7 Hilda Whitman, "Freedom," Horn Book, 1930-1931, Vol. 4, p. 15. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.
8 Ibid., p. 17.
9 Sally Taylor, "Dolls," Horn Book, 1931-1932, Vol. 5,p. 9. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.
10 Ibid., 10.
11 Dorothy Morris '26, "Frivolity," Chanticleer, 1926, Vol. 4, p. 18..
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