History

Ms. Magazine

This is the 1976 cover of Ms. Magazine. It is an American liberal feminist magazine co- founded by activist and feminist Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.This magazine caught immediate attention from its premier cover in 1971. Known for writing taboo and controversial articles, Ms. magazine made history when they released the first issue on women that admitted to having abortions, when the procedure was still illegal in most of the U.S.

A few years later, they did this again in 1976, when a cover story on battered women made Ms. Magazine the 1st national magazine to address the issue of domestic violence and explicitly showed this by featuring a woman with a bruised face on the cover.

Today, in the 21st century, this would be a striking image to put on the cover of a magazine. Imagine the impact this had in 1976. A white woman with bruises on her face triggered conversations on domestic violence and sexual inequality all throughout households.  

In the article, “One of These Days- POW Right in The Kisser!”, written by Judith Gingold, she writes how easily men would lose their temper on their wives. “For many women, even arguments over such minor items as misplaced cigarettes, unmade beds, or delayed dinners may end in blood and bruises.” It was never the husbands fault that he was unhappy and unsatisfied, that job was the woman’s responsibility. It became the norm in traditional households for women to be forced into making their husbands happy; leading women to feel responsible for their beatings.

Moreover, to make matters even worse, the criminal justice system always seemed to favor the husband’s word over his wife. If she called the police, she risks losing her life when they leave without arresting him. If she went to a lawyer, she wouldn’t be taken seriously and would be advised to return home before her husband knew what she was doing. At every turn, the battered wife had to confront a legal system that was hostile and indifferent about her need for protection. This is because the tolerance and de-sensitivity of domestic violence became deeply embedded into the roots of tradition and the law.

Something I found particularly intriguing about this cover is the symbolism of violence against white skin. It is noticeable and visible to society. Which led me to do more research on battered women of color and the invisibility they faced in households. On this cover, is a woman with blonde hair, blue eyes, and the face of all women who experienced domestic violence. She was the archetype and model for battered women. By doing this, the audience for the articles in this magazine became exclusive to one class and race of women. What about poor white women who couldn’t afford to leave their husbands? What about Black women who are oppressed three times as much as a white woman? What about Latinas? Undocumented women? Not all women experienced the same things in households and this was especially true for Black women and Latinas during the mid 20th century.      

Bibliography

  • Ms. Magazine, Alternatives for Battered Women, 1976 1:D.237. Rare Books Special Collections & Preservation Department, University of Rochester