Living Vicariously

I’m gonna carry on squeezing all the feminist juice out of the (nearly) feminist documentary “Women” so as to make the most out of this once in a lifetime chance of watching feminism on the Beeb.

In the first part of the series, called “Libbers”, we get an account of the 1970 sit in at the Ladies Home Journal, organized by Susan Brown Miller. At about 24 minutes in, we are shown real footage of the event, with some of the women taking part in the sit in explaining their objections to the magazine’s editorial content. I was so amazed the first time I heard their arguments that I actually had to pause the video. And since I couldn’t get it out of my mind, I went back and wrote a transcript. Here it is.

Susan Brown Miller: “They were feeding women propaganda that was against women’s interests.”
Woman 1: “And in the next month you write an article on Jacqueline Kennedy’s New York apartment. Now we feel that these articles are wish fulfilment articles for your readers who don’t live the way Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Tenney live, who don’t have those jewels, they will never get them, and we think it’s a cruel delusion to put these women up as models for them to try to emulate”.
Woman 2: “They create a gap of frustration”.
Woman 1: “It’s a very inhuman thing to do, to try to make them live vicariously in people like Jacqueline Kennedy”.
Woman 3: “Also to make them think that that’s something to work towards, finding a man who will give them those jewels…”

What amazed me was, one the depth of the insight these women had and two, the fact that most of us feminists today couldn’t come up with something as thorough if we spent years trying. And the reason why is obvious: while these “propaganda” techniques designed for inciting consumption were probably being used for the first time in the 70s, they have long since become de rigour in most of what is aimed at women in today’s media. We don’t notice it because it’s ever present, and it’s all we know. Which is why no one would even dream of using that word “propaganda”. Does anyone even know what it means anymore?

Also, note the emphasis that they put on the fact that the lives of the readers of Ladies Home Journal were nothing like Jacqueline Kennedy’s, so really, what was the point on portraying her extravagant lifestyle in the magazine? What purpose could it possibly serve, except make the women reading that feel inferior and anxious? Nowadays, of course, no one thinks twice about opening the current issue of *insert some fashion magazine’s name* and finding this or that celebrity going on about how wonderful her life is. Today that’s the status quo. Even though the lives of celebrities continue to be nothing like most women’s… Go figure.

The women taking part in the sit in were right then, and they are still right today. Pretty much everything in the media is there to create a “gap of frustration”. Whenever a woman appears on the cover of a magazine is for the sole purpose of putting her up as a model for us to try to emulate. And entertainment might as well be codeword for “wish fulfilment” and “living vicariously in the lives of”. What is “Sex and the City” if not that?

“Living vicariously in the life of” resonates deeply with me. And yes, it is a very inhuman thing to do.

ETA: OMG!!! POST N 100!!! *does happy dance*

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    sami Alam said,

    wow… such a wonderful post…
    outstanding balance of lines and words….
    Learnt a lot from you….

    visit mine… & plz plz plz post your comments….

    Thank you…

    I’ll be in touch…

  2. 2

    marytracy9 said,

    “And we’re happy to share our ending vicariously with all of you
    He couldn’t be handsomer
    I couldn’t be humbler
    We couldn’t be happier”

  3. 3

    berryblade said,

    Fuck, I knew this kind of media behaviour was common, and probably not a new thing, but I did not realise it went that far back, or rather, what seems like that far back because I’m a young’un :P

  4. 4

    marytracy9 said,

    I know! I was shocked as well. And to think that things have changed so little…

  5. 5

    marytracy9 said,

    Oh and CONGRATULATIONS TO ME FOR WRITING MY 100th POST!!!

  6. 6

    This is great!

    And the reason why is obvious: while these “propaganda” techniques designed for inciting consumption were probably being used for the first time in the 70s, they have long since become de rigour in most of what is aimed at women in today’s media. We don’t notice it because it’s ever present, and it’s all we know.

    Yes, yes, yesssss!!! Vicarious living in the form of celebrity worship is a very common past-time for women these days. It’s both distracting and a MAJOR source of emotional frustration. These women’s insights are truly profound. Thank you for sharing them. :)

  7. 7

    Jeannie said,

    I enjoy reading about the lifestyles of people different from me, whether they be Amazon tribespeople, Chinese Govt officials, Sami villagers, or even the occasional celebrity. I don’t feel jealous or aspirational, and I am certainly not looking to buy an occasional tchochke just because someone else has one. I want to learn about different people and lifestyles, and reading is one way. I’m not going to be wealthy and famous, and I am also not going away to live in the jungle, or the Arctic, or in a corrupt bureaucracy. Kindly allow me to gather information as I choose, let the market decide who will succeed.

    If you haven’t noticed, there are far more magazines, tv shows, and aticles devoted to celebrities than ever. The idea that you have some right or duty to…whom? The “masses?” Hoi Polloi? –seems awfully…paternalistic. How condescending of you all.

  8. 8

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    In this blog there will be no “letting the market decide” anything.


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