When I watched this powerful video by an independent-minded high school girl named Autumn, I longed to reach across our digital divide and give her a great big hug. She is 16. I am old enough to be her grandmother. Yet when it comes to women’s issues, she and I think alike.
In a well-reasoned, passionate appeal for justice, Autumn protests an offensive article recently published by Teen Vogue titled “What to Get a Friend Post-Abortion.” Among the gifts suggested to brighten a post-abortive friend’s day are an “F-U-terus pin,” a Ruth Bader Ginsburg coloring book and a “Girl Power” hat.
“Girl power hat!” Autumn snaps with obvious disdain. “Is this really the time for that? I just ended my baby’s life. Girl power! Are they insinuating that girls who celebrate their abortions understand girl power more than girls who regret them or refuse to have them…To me, abortion seems like the opposite of girl power. It is the most invasive and degrading thing that could happen to a girl. My version of girl power is knowing that I am valuable and precious.”
In short, Autumn implies that under the pretext of “empowering” girls, Teen Vogue is, in fact, doing the exact opposite and enslaving post-abortive girls to their pain and their sexually destructive lifestyles. Addressing the magazine, Autumn boldly declares, “Teen Vogue, you should be held accountable for this disgusting and disrespectful article. You trivialize an issue that leaves millions of women struggling every day. Such a blasé approach hurts women who regret their abortions. It minimizes their pain.”
Young Feminists, Just Like the Old Feminists
Autumn’s disgust with Teen Vogue’s slick editorial content and her passion to correct this injustice remind me very much of words spoken by “Feminist Mystique” author Betty Friedan nearly 50 years ago when she called for feminists of my generation to boycott Cosmopolitan magazine. In the Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970, Betty urged women across the nation to boycott magazines whose advertising and editorial content were degrading to women and named Cosmopolitan as one of the worst offenders.
Although Cosmo’s editor in chief then, Helen Gurley Brown, would have loved for her sex-revolution magazine to be seen as part of the feminist movement, Betty called Cosmo “quite obscene and quite horrible.” As the widely proclaimed “mother of the modern women’s movement,” Betty hoped to broaden and deepen women’s lives. Cosmopolitan’s shallow sex-revolution philosophy narrowed women’s lives to what Betty called “an immature teenage-level sexual fantasy,” promoting “the idea that woman is nothing but a sex object…and there is nothing in life but bed, bed, bed.”
Decrying any view of sexual “freedom” that turns a woman into a sex object as a false freedom that denies a woman’s full personhood, Betty said Cosmopolitan’s editorial content demonstrated “nothing but contempt for women.”
Women’s Mags in Cahoots to Push Abortion
When they’re purveyors of lifestyles that degrade women, women’s magazines were barriers to women’s true freedom in 1970, and they’re still barriers to women’s freedom today. Unfortunately, the pro-abortion bias Autumn detests in Teen Vogue extends far beyond that particular magazine. Many women’s magazines are in cahoots to promote abortion to women, and they have been for decades.
In 1986, when legal abortion was under heavy attack and I was still freelancing for Cosmo, Gurley Brown sent out a slew of invitations to women’s magazine editors inviting them to have lunch with her and Kate Michelman, then the executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America). According to Helen’s biographer Jennifer Scanlon, editors came to the meeting from Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Harper’s, Elle, Savvy, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Glamour, Self, Parents, and the now-defunct New Woman (where I was a contributing editor). Ms. and Mademoiselle also sent representatives.
Helen spoke at the meeting, and the editors agreed to run pro-abortion articles in their March 1987 issues. Among the articles that appeared in Cosmopolitan that month were: “Abortion: Your Right Under Attack,” “Choice: Separating Myth from Fact,” “My Illegal Abortion,” and an article on why eight famous women were pro-choice.
So let’s plainly state exactly what happened here. Editors from at least a dozen powerful women’s magazines—a virtual army of opinion makers—got together for lunch one day in New York City and colluded to solicit and publish articles designed to hard-sell abortion to American women.
Was this a form of free speech in action, an example of independent journalists honestly trying to serve women’s best interests and the public’s right to know? No. It was a deliberate attempt by a handful of elite women to shape political policy in our democracy—not through a free, open exchange of ideas, but through what amounted to a carefully crafted pro-abortion propaganda campaign.
The Spin Sisters Haven’t Stopped
That was in 1987. In the 1990s, while I was a contributing editor at New Woman magazine, I wrote a number of pro-abortion articles (but, of course, no anti-abortion stories). One was a scathing attack on the appointment of conservative, pro-life U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Another was an excerpt from a book I worked on, warning women that their “right to choose” was in serious jeopardy. A third was a heart-wrenching but favorable story about a Michigan woman who, after infertility treatment, found herself pregnant with six babies and aborted three.
In 2003, Myrna Blyth, who was editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1981 to 2002, wrote a book exposing those women she called the “Spin Sisters,” whom she described as “members of the female elite media, a Girls’ Club of editors, producers, print and television journalists with similar attitudes and opinions who influence the way millions of American women think and feel about their lives, their world, and themselves.”
Blyth described abortion as “the binding pledge of their sorority,” the one issue “on which there can never be any equivocation or discussion. Listening to them chatter at an editorial meeting or over cocktails, one learns that, according to these experienced politicians, abortion is unquestionably the most important issue for all women in America…To keep the support of the Spin Sisters, politicians may not stray even a hair from the Planned Parenthood position, and probably neither can the writer in the cubicle next door…” As one of those writers (not in a cubicle but freelancing from home), I know she was right.
If anything, since the presidential election women’s magazine editors are even more determined to sell abortion to women and girls. After Students for Life of America posted Autumn’s video testimony online, NewsBusters checked out Teen Vogue to see how many other times the magazine had promoted abortion. The results were astonishing. NewsBusters found that Teen Vogue has promoted abortion to teens a whopping 63 times in 2017 alone. Yes, you read that right: 63 times in less than two months.
Follow the Big Money
But who’s behind all this? One the one hand, a kind of blind “group think” is responsible. I know because I was once one of the blind. But, on the other hand, let’s be frank: it’s the advertisers. If you think powerful, multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies have no control over magazines’ editorial content, think again.
In 1969 (the year after I graduated from journalism school), feminist Barbara Seaman published “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill,” in which she documented more than 50 potential side effects of the birth-control pill, from blood clots and breast cancer to irritability and depression. Seaman’s revelations sparked a U.S. Senate hearing, in which angry, disruptive young women repeatedly demanded to know why female patients weren’t testifying and why there was no pill for men.
As a result of the hearings, drug companies were forced to place a health warning on oral contraceptives, the first information insert on any prescription drug. Seaman, a freelance writer, was subsequently blacklisted from women’s magazines by powerful pharmaceutical companies, which refused to advertise in publications that carried her articles. Magazines that would reportedly no longer publish Seaman’s work included Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Omni, and Hadassah. Such is the power of advertising dollars.
Why are marketers of magazines that target young women so pro-abortion and so anti-motherhood? Think about it for a while, and you’ll figure it out. If a woman has a baby and begins to find her happiness in love for another—in other words, if she becomes less anxiously self-absorbed—she’ll be less likely to buy all those cosmetics, hair products, beautiful clothes, exotic vacations, contraceptives, abortion pills, and other products that keep women’s magazines in business. A lonely, insecure, unhappy woman who’s restlessly searching for love can be a voracious, impulsive consumer, eager to buy many products in a frantic-but-futile attempt to fill the emptiness she feels inside. You can’t sell the joyful bond of love between a mother and her baby the way you can sell deodorant.
So what should feminists of goodwill do who want stop all this? We need to take a lesson from the history books and hit exploitive magazines like Teen Vogue where it will hurt them the most: in their pocketbooks. Tell friends to cancel their subscriptions. Spread the word about their editorial practices through Facebook and Twitter. Send this article and Autumn’s video to every woman you know.
Damage their bottom line. That’s the only way we’ll be able to stop women’s magazines like Teen Vogue from trying to deceive other 16-year-old girls who aren’t as free and clear-sighted as Autumn.