Containment Culture: The Cold War in the Ladies’ Home Journal, 1946–1959
These were the words of Arkansas Senator William J. Fulbright in a 1951 Ladies’ Home Journal article urging female readers to do their part in containing the communist forces that threatened Cold War America. By nature, he argued, women had an instinctive concern for the preservation of the race, and as such, faced a responsibility they could not escape.2 This call to action may seem unusual during a period long remembered for its zealous commitment to the family, the home, and domesticity. Public memory views the complacent “happy housewife heroine” as an image that permeated Cold War discourse. In this nostalgic portrayal, women were relegated to the home, where they created a loving and stable family life that could provide the safety that was needed in a world characterized by an aggressive Soviet expansionism. Purveyors of American culture, it was argued, promoted a discourse that left little option for women but to conform to this white, middle-class ideal of domesticity. One of these purveyors was the mass-circulation monthly magazine specifically geared towards women. The messages of these magazines were especially important because they were easily accessible and were read by millions of women each month. As a result, they became easy targets of criticism from journalists such as Betty Friedan, who in her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique, condemned them for their abandonment of the independent, career-driven heroines that characterized the Great Depression and World War II. However, the above quotation reveals that while a discourse of
domesticity existed within the content of postwar women’s magazines, it was not the only discourse that existed. Rather, postwar women’s magazines were largely shaped by the experiences of the Cold War and the threat of Soviet communism, and as such, contained multiple and often contradictory messages.