Good Housekeeping

Could Good Housekeeping be the most feminist magazine around, asks Ailsa?

, 16 February 2003

Believe it or not there is a mainstream feminist leaning magazine hiding on our newsagents’ shelves!

I find it quite a shocking, but not necessarily surprising, revelation to discover that the housewives’ bastion, Good Housekeeping is possibly the most feminist women’s publication widely available.

I don’t like being stereotyped, pigeonholed, patronised and homogenized into the “modern woman”

I like magazines: I like looking at clothes and makeup, I enjoy new gadgets and a bit of celebrity gossip. I also like using my brain, home making, crafts, writing, travelling, computers, building furniture, knitting, and watching TV. I don’t like being told how to please “my man”. I don’t like being stereotyped, pigeonholed, patronised and homogenized into the “modern woman” as portrayed by countless magazines – which subsequently ask me to fill in questionnaires so I can find out how “normal” I am (see this months Glamour).

I’ve read many magazines, from Mandy to Wallpaper, over the years and they never fulfill my requirements. Possibly I’m asking too much in looking for a publication which: discusses both fashion and makeup as well as country style living, some home decor, a healthy dose of lesbian life-style (whatever the hell that is?), and maybe some cooking. Oh, and some computer bits ‘n’ bobs, new technology, and no gardening (personal preference). Naturally all this would ideally be from a female-positive perspective.

While desperately scouring the shelves of my local shop at 9pm, in a bid to buy chocolate and dog food, I saw the 80th Anniversary edition of Good Housekeeping (Oct. 2002 Edition). Half-heartedly I thought I might as well give it a go. The cover wasn’t too inspiring to anyone under the age of 35, but it at least had the word “BRAIN” on the front. (Article: “Train your Brain to remember more.”)

The unashamedly all female editorial board for this issue were heralded as inspiring and powerful women. It contained the usual mix of arts related celebrities and journalists as well as a judge (Cherie Booth); a scientist (Baroness Greenfield); a businesswoman (Nicola Horlick) and those working in politics (Tessa Jowell, and Ann Widdecombe) and women’s rights (Helena Kennedy).

In this edition women were celebrated without being patronised or pigeonholed

In this edition women were celebrated without being patronised or pigeonholed. The whole edition celebrated what I believe feminists are all about, CHOICE. The choice to be able to work in the same job as a man, for the same money; the choice to have a career and not be hampered by arcane maternity/paternity legislation if you choose to have a child; the choice to stay at home and raise a family because you enjoy it and are good at it; the choice to embrace education at whatever age.

Article topics included:

  • “Who needs lovers when you have great friends!” – A refreshing idea when faced with the Cosmo. alternative: “Who needs friends when you have a boyfriend.”
  • A discussion of Gender Stereotyping in the media – the magazines which claim to stand-up and support modern womanhood have a lot to learn from this kind of example.
  • Examining the most incredible science breakthroughs in the last 80 years – in a way that neither confounded the beginner nor condescended to the proficient.
  • Financial planning for women – how to make sure that our financial future is secured, no matter what may lie ahead.
  • How women gained the rights they have – discussing both the rights themselves, the women who made them, and the distance we still have to go.
  • There was also the usual home and domestic advice as well as a heavy dose of retrospective fashion and design. Alas, there was even some gardening.

Inspired by this issue I’ve continued to buy, partly to see if it’s all a one off. While other issues have lacked the force and inspirational zeal they have been of a higher standard than the other options available. November contained a huge exposition of women in science today, and how women’s achievements have been undermined and often robbed, by male colleagues over the decades.

December : standard Christmas issue, but included where to buy the best quality and best value for money items – GH is no longer all about cooking your own and being a good little wifelet.

GH also has the policy to only include items which are widely available; either on the high-street or by mail order. This helps to get away from the terrible tendency towards exclusivity and “simply darling little boutiques in the capital” which are over-priced and heavily promoted by major women’s magazines.

My only criticism is that they are ageist; firmly believing that no-one under the age of 30 reads their publication. This is borne out by a recent GH survey stating age groups as 30-40/40-50/50-60/60+. I obviously don’t fall into their expected catchment group. They are also slightly biased towards mothers who, after all, are not the only housekeepers.

However, GH’s views on women are generally less crass and more inspiring than any other women’s magazine. I love the articles on: easy to freeze recipes; which cookers/’phones/computers/cameras work best and why; and how you remove wax from the sleeve of your best party dress. They give practical advice on how not to be ripped off by either your local supermarket, dry cleaner, plumber or electrical store.

I’d rather know what was the best value salad and where to get it

It would be great to believe that as women we are now free and therefore don’t NEED to know about cooking and such “trivial womanly domestic issues”. Most women I know, whether in relationships or not, need to eat. I’d rather know what was the best value salad and where to get it than how to flatter my way to a free cappuccino! Most women I know buy electrical goods. I want to know what works and be able to ask questions when in store rather than worry about “the new black” or “how femininity can get you a discount”!

If we run away from the kitchen we’re being short sighted; we shouldn’t, as women, reject any area of the home because of the past associations with it. We can move forward – knowing the whats and whys of which items are good value can only be beneficial.

We’re constantly surrounded by magazines trying to shape and influence us. This publication seems to want to aid us in making the best choices for ourselves and for our homes.

So many magazines portray women as either the perfect working mother or fun singleton, both of whom seem to lead a life draped in perfection aided by copious amounts of half-fat-extra-foam-cappuccino, and of course, shopping for shoes. In GH there seems to be the attitude that readers know who they are and don’t have to be told. We can pick and choose articles to help us, a magazine is a magazine – not a life style manual!

Ailsa is 24 and living up a hill in Scotland with her woman and their dog. In desperation she reads Eve, Country Living, and of course, Good Housekeeping.

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