Risky Ms.-ness? The Business of Women’s Liberation Periodicals in the 1970s

Melanie Waters*

*Corresponding author for this work

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When the first mainstream women’s liberation periodical Ms. landed on the racks in January 1972, responses from the feminist community were mixed: some activists perceived the magazine’s commercial co-optation of ideals drawn from the women’s liberation movement as an ‘exploitative and cynical’ exercise designed to advance the careers of Gloria Steinem and her so-called ‘fancy-schmancy’ colleagues, while other commentators such as Onka Dekkers recognized that ‘a strong women’s media’ would be at the vanguard of any future feminist revolution. From the outset, the mainstream marketability of the new women’s liberation periodical was a matter of great and urgent speculation. How would Ms. uphold its political principles while maintaining its economic viability? As one concerned correspondent from Harvard Business School advised in a letter to the editors, Ms. represented a substantial public relations risk, as well as a commercial one: ‘it is vitally important that Ms. should succeed as a business—first, because business success will justify and confirm the relevance of the ideas and convictions which brought it into being; second, because business success will mean an unmistakable crack in the stereotyped belief that women cannot organize and manage a business’. In this paper, I investigate how Ms. itself was ‘organize[d] and manage[d]’, asking how the political goals of women’s liberation disrupted and facilitated the business of running a magazine in the 1970s. Through specific reference to the ‘Women and Money’ issue of Ms. from June 1973, moreover, I examine the ways in which Ms. presented its feminist business practices—alongside other models of feminist working and entrepreneurialism—to a readership that was, according to a ‘subscription notice’ published in a 1971 issue, looking for ways of ‘humaniz[ing]’ business and politics ‘in the home, the community, and the nation’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 272-294
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2021


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