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Men and romantic love: pinpointing a 20th-century change.

Esquire magazine was established in 1933, the first durable magazine ever aimed explicitly at middle-class men as men, rather than professionals, Christians or another ancillary focus. The magazine's founder and long-time editor, Arnold Gingrich, combined the innovative and masculine claims directly, in explaining Esquire's purpose: It is our belief, in offering Esquire to the American male, that we are only getting around at last to a job that should have been done a long time ago--that of giving the masculine reader a break. The general magazines, in the mad scramble to increase the woman readership that seems to be highly prized by national advertisers, have bent over backwards in catering to the special interests and tastes of the feminine audience.(1) Esquire's efforts to court its male audience--many of whom had previously purchased far more eclectic fare, including the Ladies's Home Journal(2)--had several facets. One key claim, articulated simultaneously with the magazine's inception, involved an effort to help men redefine 19th-century standards of romantic love. The magazine paid a great deal of attention to love motifs during its initial years of publication. Twenty-seven short stories involved love topics during 1934, for example, with such titles as "Forgive Me, Irene," "On the Rebound," "All My Love," and "Have a Rosebud." The pace slackened a bit in 1935, with 18 stories, but this rate was sustained through the remainder of the decade.(3) Intensity of interest was not, however, the main point. The revisionist tone was the striking feature. Editorial policy, attacking Victorian love standards for men, stated that "this is a man's magazine, it isn't edited for the junior miss. It isn't dedicated to the dissemination of sweetness and light." Esquire trumpeted the idea of a "New Love," explicitly different from the etherealized and spiritual ideals urged on Victorian men. In defining the New Love and emphasizing the unsuitability of love old-style, Esquire made its initial mark in suggesting the advent of new male standards.(4) This article explores the context and significance for Esquire's claim, as part of a definable shift in middle-class male culture. For the magazine was correct: it was innovating, though in an atmosphere in which for at least a decade Victorian romantic standards had been eroding. The emergence and popularity of Esquire, given its own early emphasis on the redefinition of love, open questions about the timing and causes of larger changes in men's emotional relationships with women. Recent work on 19th-century love ideals makes it clear that this aspect of emotional culture, particularly on the men's side, has greatly changed; love soars less than it once did.(5) There is, further, a larger sense that men's values shifted considerably after 1900, not only in love, but also in friendship and standards of work and leisure.(6) But the nature and timing of the shift, and the reasons for it, have not been analyzed. A study of Esquire and its context by no means provides the whole picture of the transformation in the ideals urged on men, but because its challenge to tradition was so explicit, and also directly tied to other commentary on gender relations, it provides a suggestive beginning to an unresolved conundrum in gender history. To explore the cultural shift Esquire embodied, we must begin of course by discussing Victorian standards, as they have been studied by other scholars but also as they emerge in prescriptive materials designed for the middle class--for the same social group whose later-day counterpart began to read Esquire. We can then turn to the new environment that emerged by the 1920s, elements of which are already familiar: the changes in sexual behavior and expectations among college students, for instance, which Paula Fass has traced, or the growing requirements of sexiness and allure for small-town women that the Lynds captured in their 1937 reassessment of Middletown.(7) We build, obviously, on cultural materials that supplement established scholarship, and we describe an evolution whose most recent results, in a decline of male commitment to love, have often been noted. Most available analysis of the process involved, however, focuses on women. The Lynds claimed explicitly that women were changing more than men. In a recent survey, that deals extensively with middle-class men's commitment to romantic love in the 19th century, Steven Seidman turns entirely to women and their sexuality in dress and behavior in dealing with 20th-century transitions.(8) Men become faceless backdrops. In fact, as Esquire loudly proclaimed, men changed too. Some of their shifts paralleled those of women, but others moved in more complex directions, raising new prospects for gender dispute. Men in Love Cultural approval of familial love gained ground reasonably steadily in Western civilization from the 17th century onward. The most important spur was Protestantism,(9) though Catholic doctrines became more favorable to family intimacy as well.(10) Protestant writings on the family routinely urged the importance and validity of mutual love between spouses; families were meant to instill proper love of God, but love within the family itself was quite compatible with this task. Familial love was also promoted by improved material circumstances, among property owners at least, which made the physical home a more pleasant place and a more central locale.(11) It was promoted, finally, by larger changes in the economy, particularly the growth of market relationships which augmented the competitive element among men and turned them, for emotional support, increasingly toward the hearth.(12) Evidence of growing commitment to family love not just in Victorian decades, but over a two-hundred year span, adds significance to the turn away from romance in male culture after 1920. By the 18th century, the cultural standards favorable to love were being more widely internalized, on both sides of the Atlantic. Love gained recognition as a valid element in the formation of marriages, and absence of love a compelling reason for a young person to reject a match. Absence of love might even be cited as proper cause for dissolving a marriage, in those European circles where divorce was possible.(13) The growing importance of love in courtship and in sustaining happy marriages affected women and men alike, but it may have constituted a particularly decisive shift for the males affected, in causing and symbolizing a new importance for family relationships. One study of 18th-century families in the English aristocracy particularly emphasizes male involvement in emotionally-intensive marriages, epitomized by such innovations as anxious attendance at a wife's bedside during childbirth.(14) Recent work on upper-class families in early 19th-century Virginia suggests a similar male shift, generating greater concern about women's risks in pregnancy, as new emphasis on female frailty conjoined with new husbandly affection.(15) To the extent that love or an interest in love brought men to consider their wives in a more favorable light, granting them greater importance in making the family what it ought to be as opposed to insisting on rigid familial hierarchies, the new emotional schema suggested some particularly interesting adjustments on the male side.(16) When the research on early modern family relationships began to emerge a decade ago, with its substantial implications about changing emotional standards, it was possible to imagine a 19th-century hiatus, in which the separation of work from home and the general pressures of industrialization erected new barriers to the love ideal, at least on men's part.(17) Men's historians indeed continue to stress the male absence theme throughout the mid-century decades.(18) Women's historians, for their part, have attributed much of the power of domestic ideology and even the emotional ties formed among women to the lack of corresponding male commitment.(19) The calculating Victorian husband, proud of his freedom from the emotionality that described his wife even as he relied on her for a new level of care for hearth and children, survives abundantly in the historical literature.(20) But nineteenth-century middle-class men did love, often with great intensity; they extended the previous trends in emotional culture. A major study of 19th-century courtship patterns showed how frequently young men would pour out their souls to the objects of their love, how vulnerable, indeed, they might become to the slights of love.(21) A fascinating examination of Victorian love letters presses the male dependence on the emotion even further.(22) Karen Lystra argues that love was a central preoccupation of middle-class men from the 1830s until the end of the 19th century. For seven decades, men joined women in seeking intense emotional intimacy as the basis for marriage and as a profound expression of personal need. Precisely because men had to adopt a calm and calculating demeanor in their public sphere, they sought a richly expressive private counterpart. Family constituted more than a tranquil haven; it became a site for deep passions. Men argued that it was only through love that their true selves could shine through. They accepted, even gloried in the idea that love required full emotional disclosure, agreeing with women that any holding back contradicted the basic goals of love. They accepted also the pain that love could bring, sometimes noting their jealousy when a lover showed interest in others, even more commonly citing their grief when a loved one was absent. As Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, writing to Sarah Peabody in 1840: "Where thou art not, there it is a sort of death."(23) Men could even dismiss mere romantic love as transient and superficial; true love, wrote one ardent wooer, "is to love with all one's soul what is pure, what is high, what is eternal." In love, he added, "all things blend that are high, ardent and pure," and for love "I have no word for it but worship." "Love is a cult and our love shall be our religion.... To each other we shall reveal only the divine attributes of tenderness and patience."(24) The emerging picture of love's central place in men's emotional lives during the 19th century has some lingering shadows, to be sure. Lystra notes how some men found a tension between a public posture of self-control and the unrestrained intimacy their definition of love required.(25) Other work on

male emotionality in the period, going beyond the superficial references to the imagery of passionlessness, mines this vein as well. Thus men's Civil War letters, though private, tended to emphasize a stoic public-like imagery, with scant place for romantic outpourings and with frequent references to the need for women to join men in greeting grief with restraint.(26) Marriage, as opposed to courtship, raises problems as well, for men and women alike might note how passion cooled or even soured once the excitement of courting had ended.(27) To be sure, earlier ideals were still reflected in laments for the replacement of real love with mere affection; it is not clear, however, that many men managed to make love a central emotional expression for more than a period in their young adulthood. Women were more likely than men to complain of disappointments in the lack of spirituality and the degrading sexuality that real marriage entailed, along with the more obvious constraints on independence.(28) Yet a strong cultural commitment to love cannot be denied, and no alternative values gained wide support in the Victorian middle class. The clearest deviant strand, utopianism, in arguing against intense coupling elicited disapproval that demonstrated widespread acceptance of the love ideal.(29) Not surprisingly, popular literature directed at Victorian men--advice manuals in particular--confirmed the importance of romantic love in middle-class male culture and doubtless helped to solidify it. To be sure, hymns to love were less pervasive in men's advice literature than in women's magazines, and boyhood reading was free from complexities of romance. Overall, however, middle-class men's reading clearly imparted lessons of love. Not only writings on marriage, but also advice about young manhood and religious instructions conveyed the central themes. Thus it was a religious tract that intoned, "love is the secret element or power in universal life," noting that its experience was a sign of moral regeneration. Fully compatible with religion, the truly spiritual love served as "the bond of wedded souls in heaven."(30) Victorian materials on marriage did note some problems on the male side. A woman writer criticized men for their frequent inability to contemplate "a love unblended with passion," noting that women could be equally taken aback by displays of sexual ardor from a loving husband.(31) Still more commonly, writers cited men's emotional lapses after marriage. The strictest construction of Victorian sexuality could lead to the conclusion that marriage frequently served as "the grave of love" because husbands failed to discipline their selfish lusts.(32) Writers friendlier to male impulses themselves commented on those who swore their love before marriage took place, but then refused to acknowledge it once marriage had occurred. "Lavishly prodigal in their love-devotions before marriage, they seem to become no less penurious in their demonstrations afterwards."(33) A few marriage pamphlets took a different tack, in echoing more traditional themes about love and manhood, noting the pain that love could bring and the lamentable wiles of flirtatious women. Love could be treated, in this vein, as a serio-comic malady. As a variant on this theme, stories in early, usually fleeting men's magazines like Idle Man might focus on the contrast between men's deep love, showing the "power and silence of an ocean current," contrasted with women's manipulative coolness and reserve. Love, here, was a vulnerability for men, though it was not attacked directly.(34) The most consistent complexity in the relevant advice literature involved the efforts to combine Victorian gender assumptions with the advocacy of love. While courting men, even married men, might well find hierarchy challenged by the love they shared with women, men's advisors made it clear that love and gender distinctions went hand in hand. Early in the Victorian period, men's stories might frankly note that while women displayed emotion readily, "our feelings are as retired as anchorites"; "men who feel deeply, show little of their deepest feelings."(35) By mid-century, however, the love ethic overrode the general insistence on male emotional control, for men should display love openly, if only in private. The male control/female passion dichotomy had become too simple. Yet men were different, more cerebral, and in the new wisdom love could be based on this very distinction. Men were thus simultaneously told of their duty to love and of their natural commitment to rationality and intellect. A good wife, indeed, fell in love with the "moral wisdom of her husband," while men were naturally attracted to the loving nature of proper women.(36) Correspondingly a loving husband should share with his spouse, but only up to her limited mental range; women could not follow everything that men had to do. Women's part of the love bargain was, of course, to maintain the home, "never cease striving to be lovely," and provide emotional support for men.(37) How men and women were to love equally, when women had the clearer natural endowment, was simply not addressed. Love flourished on the basis of difference, and women who forsook their roles in a quest for new rights were, quite obviously, forsaking love as well. Here, by the 1860s, could be a heartfelt lament, resounding more sincerely than the passing references to coquettish females: "why do not women marry?"(38) Ignorant of family statistics, but reacting from a deep belief both in love and in women's special domestic and emotional nature, some observers began to wonder if modern women were betraying their destiny. Overwhelmingly, however, Victorian writers addressing men on the subject of women and marriage gloried in the love theme. Even authors who initially toyed with some traditional caveats about love's maladies reversed field in their core passages. Frederick Saunders continued a certain coyness in dealing with women: "The ways of womanhood are manifold, and if some of their peculiarities are less pleasing than others, or are fraught with danger to our peace and happiness, it cannot be denied that in nine cases out of ten, they are our light and solace." With this transition, he moved toward a more solemn tone. Love is "the richest treasure of our nature, the most human, and yet the most divine, of our aspirations." It alone provides true happiness, it alone offers the lasting basis for a happy marriage. Pure and refined love, indeed, is "unequaled by any other emotion." Saunders went on to worry about men's carelessness, women's new interests, and a decline of love in modern society symbolized among other things by a rising divorce rate. But these musings merely reinforced what he thought men's central emotional commitment should be.(39) Other writers were equally fervent, worrying only about the many marriages that failed to establish the only sure emotional base. "When there is great love, and it is shared by two ... every difficulty is cleared away, and concord ends by hoisting its banner over a man's house"; "love is the strength of strengths."(40) A religious advisor repeated the standard injunctions about love's depth and overwhelming solace, finding its basis in the Bible. He added that love's profundity and unselfishness embraced grief, incorporating a shared loss into a fuller bond: "It may truly be said that no home ever reaches its highest blessedness and sweetness of love and its richest fullness of joy till sorrow enters its life in some way."(41) Love prevents discord and provides lasting joy and transcendence: "when the marriage has been true, and when the wedded life is ruled by love ... the wedding music and the peals of the bells continue to echo in tones of gladness and peace until hushed in the sobbings of sorrow when the singers sing in dirges and the bells toll out the number of the finished years."(42) T. S. Arthur, one of the most ubiquitous of the Victorian advice-writers in the United States, summed up the common wisdom. "True love--that which abides--has its foundation in a knowledge and appreciation of moral qualities." This was no mere infatuation or friendship. Pure love was the prerequisite of proper marriage, and when it existed "happiness must flow as a natural consequence." While men and women differed greatly, in Arthur's view, and came to love through attraction to quite distinct qualities in each other, their commitment to love should be identical. Love indeed perfected both genders, through the "mystical and holy" union it provided. Divine guidance assured that love, "the mysterious attraction of heart for heart which comes from above," would achieve its spiritually regenerative ends.(43) Clearly, relevant reading on women and marriage reinforced the theme of intense love for American middle-class men, along with the definition of this love as a spiritual union transcending (though not necessarily contradicting) both sexuality and lesser relationships like friendship. This kind of love could alone cement a happy marriage, but beyond happiness it conveyed an inner peace, strength and spiritual force that men urgently required. The beliefs that many men expressed in their love letters were available to still larger numbers in the standards urged in tracts and articles. Love was a fascinating beacon for men, much discussed in the bachelor days before courtship could begin(44)--when advice literature might be particularly helpful--and widely and sincerely voiced, by men even more than women, in the courtship process itself. Widespread expectations of love in marriage even translated into middle-class family law, as mental cruelty suits assumed some willingness on the part of good husbands to express affection for their wives; unloving husbands were defying agreed-upon middle-class norms and could be punished by divorce.(45) Here too, 19th-century emotional culture greatly extended previous trends, and seemed if anything to intensify in the century's final decades.(46) New Complexities in the 20th Century Victorian agreement on the importance of love for men, and on its spiritual qualities, did not survive the first half of the 20th century. Obviously, many men still loved deeply--many do so today. Emotional experiences are never uniform--many Victorian men doubtless did not love and some surely did not even care very much--whatever the apparent standards. Further, we lack for the 20th century the range of personal testimony that 19th-century collections of letters provide, for collections are not yet available and letter-writing ultimately declined--though other data are available through surveys and family research findings. The starting point is the demonstrable shift in the cultural norms being directed at men, significant in itself, and related to other revisions in male-female relationships such as dating practices. A new tone began to penetrate widely-publicized avant-garde writing on courtship and marriage by about 1920.(47) The importance of sexual expression gained ground. A few authorities linked it with older spiritual goals; Margaret Sanger, for example, urged against purely physical sex, stressing a "true union" of souls. Many authorities certainly maintained the link between sex and marriage: "Marriage is the permanent form of monogamous erotic relationships."(48) Others, however, wrote of still-freer sexual expression, and argued against possessiveness before and after marriage. While these notions initially emanated from somewhat Bohemian radicals, they were picked up by solid American authorities like Judge Ben Lindsey: "I believe that I have enough evidence to justify the conclusion not that this change in our sexual mores is going to take place at some time in the future, but that it has already taken place and is developing and crystallizing into a tacitly recognized and increasingly tolerated code."(49) New behaviors gave credence to these claims. Willard Waller reported new party habits among middle-class married couples, even in smaller towns, that involved regulated but extensive physical contacts with non-spouses. A new marriage expertise, though more fully developed later on as we will see, played up some of the same themes. An early (1926) article by Ernest Burgess argued that new habits, particularly greater female independence, were beginning to destroy old romantic ideals and that this was a good thing, in that romance was a poor basis for marriage; Burgess then introduced the companionship motif that was to become a staple of marriage advice literature by the 1930s.(50) Widely-circulated ideas about the new marriage assumed not only that a more sexual and possibly less exclusive definition of love was commonly accepted, publicly veiled only because of a handful of elite curmudgeons, but also that

both men and women concurred in the new concepts. Because of real and imagined beliefs about Victorian constraints on women, this second assumption immediately drew attention to changes in female outlook and behavior, conveniently signaled, at the same time, by more revealing costumes and new dance styles.(51) Yet the new fashions of love constituted shifts for men as well, given what we now know about 19th-century middle-class male beliefs, and men's culture built into their version of romance some new concerns about their potential partners.(52) Interest in novel ideas about love, on the part of middle-class men, followed from the progressive reduction of three central ingredients that had prompted male acceptance of Victorian formulas. These changes explain the male audience for the new proclamations about love and marriage. What was beginning to happen, by the 1920s, was a virtual reversal of Victorian notions: whereas in the 19th century men had accepted the principle of deep love in a context of substantial differentiation and separation from women, they now enjoyed more routine contacts but devised a less committed version of romance in compensation. The first contextual change reflected growing acceptance of industrial life, including the separation of work from home and the validity of secular enjoyments. Greater familiarity with commitments to business routine and leisure pursuits reduced middle-class men's impulse to seek and claim a morally transforming experience through love. In this as in some other respects, Victorian emphases, though vitally important during the mid-19th century, captured a set of transitional needs that would fade as innovation settled into habit.(53) It was obviously true also that differentiations between men and women declined in significance by the 1920s, as education was increasingly shared through secondary school and as interactions in offices and professional settings, though still usually hierarchical, reduced some of the more sweeping role divisions.(54) Cultural insistence on gender differences, while considerable, also declined. To the extent that male love, or a culture supporting men's commitment to love, had depended on a concomitant sense of women's distinctiveness and domestic devotion, this basis was partially eroded. Even in the 19th century, men as love-letter authors and as sources of prescriptive literature had been troubled by signs of new female activities; these troubles had only multiplied. A new set of marriage writers, to be sure, gloried in the new possibilities for love between equals, but their definitions shied away from the transcendent qualities common in Victorian musings,(55) and many ordinary men may simply have pulled back when the full context for Victorian-style love became inapplicable. Men's magazines, as we will see, abundantly reflected male emotional withdrawal in the face of the range of new women's expressions. Finally, some of the mystery went out of male-female contacts, as men began to spend more time, in more diverse settings, in women's company. Prolonged bachelorhood, spent substantially among other male companions while talking incessantly about the unfamiliar doings of women, now declined, as men and women began to date during adolescence.(56) Relatedly, while outright sexual intercourse before marriage remained uncommon among courting couples, substantial sexual contacts, through graded stages of necking and petting, did develop. Further, the use of brothels by young men before or even during courtship, while hardly a 20th-century invention, also increased in the middle class in the decades around 1900. The Lynds, for example, noted less anxiety, on men's part, about public association with "fast" women.(57) Male sexual restraint, in sum, eased somewhat, without entirely disappearing. Victorian love had not ignored sexuality, and some couples became sexually active during courtship. However, it seems likely that no small source of male yearnings under the heading of spiritual love resulted from the initial remoteness of women, followed by a period of intensifying sexual interest that could not be too blatantly or directly expressed. As sexual contacts became more explicit and as purely social exchanges with women became more casual and commonplace, men's view of love might well suffer in ethereality, and possibly even in intensity. Elements of this evolution, between love as deep affection and a more purely sexual orientation, entered into language. The word "lover" in the 19th century was not entirely clear-cut, in that it could refer to sexual liaison, but the predominant emphasis rested on a man who had a special sentiment for a woman. "One who loves; one who has a tender affection, particularly for a female," was Noah Webster's phrasing. This meaning did not vanish, but by the 1880s the word began to take on more specific courtship connotations, as with the rise in lovers' lane references. And between the 1920s and the 1950s predominant usage converted toward sexuality, as lover came to mean what 19th century dictionaries more coyly referred to as paramour. (Interestingly, American usage also, from 1911 onward but particularly by the 1950s, began to employ lover as a casual form of address, perhaps slightly derisive particularly when used from woman to man.)(58) The general point is clear: lovers in Victorian times were typically not yet engaged in sexual activity, while those by the mid-20th century were so engaged, and their notions of love shifted accordingly. Whatever the role of sexual sublimation in Victorian commitment to romance,(59) the need for it declined. This was the final factor(60) propelling middle-class male culture away from its fascination with transcendent love. A Male Mirror: Esquire Magazine By the early 1930s, even amid economic depression, the stage was set for a new male magazine, edited by self-styled cultural innovators who picked up both the earlier attacks on Victorian marriage ideals and the larger changes in male-female interactions. To be sure, the few scholars who have pursued an interest in men and love in the 20th century have tended to seize only on later restatements of male culture, such as Playboy magazine, to illustrate the undeniable pulling away from older familial standards.(61) By the mid-1950s, clearly, many young middle-class men were open to reading matter that talked about relations with women in quite unromantic terms, and that prized physical pleasures over emotional depth. To probe transitions more directly, however, additional sources are essential, that move from direct contact with 19th-century conventions about love, toward the kinds of redefinitions that would set the stage for a new set of cultural artifacts, where manifold love was replaced by centerfold cutie. This of course is where Esquire entered in, as a new type of men's periodical, tamer to be sure than its 1950s successors but noteworthy for its day, and bent on furthering an explicit process of redefinition in men's emotional rules. Not only did Esquire spell out the new rules in explicit contradistinction to the Victorian standards; but also it placed the redefinition in a larger context of misogyny that strongly suggests some of the larger factors involved in the cultural flight from intense love. Esquire won a substantial audience, supporting its validity as cultural evidence. The magazine enjoyed a startling success in circulation and readership, despite Depression conditions. Priced at 50 cents, ten times the average periodical price in the decade, its subscription list totaled 180,000 within the first six months. By autumn 1935 Esquire reached the quarter million mark, and it boasted 750,000 subscribers by 1941. With newsstand purchases added, a survey in 1936 estimated that 4,687,000 were reading Esquire regularly.(62) Readership had clearly extended from an initial upper middle-class target, to a more general middle-class audience. By this point the magazine had obtained a popularity comparable to that earlier won by standard-setting Victorian stalwarts like T. S. Arthur. The audience was not exclusively male, as by 1935 advertisements directed at women were included, causing no small controversy, but the male and middle-class orientation was substantially maintained. The 1936 survey revealed a large percentage of male subscribers who had at least attended college, a large percentage of home owners, and a group eager to keep up with the latest styles and standards. The subscribership was weighted toward middle age. Only in this respect did it differ somewhat from the target audience of much of the 19th-century love advice, but in gender as in social class and in sheer popularity it overlapped substantially with erstwhile Victorian males. Esquire provides, certainly, a revealing basis for a fuller test of what was happening to 19th-century love standards by the second quarter of the 20th century. A central theme in the early Esquire was a scathing though ideologically diffuse attack on modern women. The venom seems startling, and reminds us of areas in the history of male perceptions that require serious historical attention. The attacks dotted the magazine's early years, then crested around 1936; they faded somewhat in the final part of the decade and then disappeared (along with any systematic references to women save pictorially) by the 1940s--at the very point that Esquire installed a second approach to the question of romantic love, substituting neglect for a previous interest in redefinition. The misogynist campaign revealed some of the bases for reassessing Victorian commitments to love, reflecting a striking male version (and obvious exaggeration) of some of the basic trends in gender relations during the interwar decades. Blatant criticism of women took several forms. Some was rather traditional and satirical, including passing references that did not necessarily have much to do with the time period. Other articles, however, conveyed deep anxieties about modern trends. All the presentations shared one key ingredient: a vigorous if largely implicit renunciation of Victorian sanctification of women. With rare exceptions, maternal virtues and moral qualities were simply not evoked. The women Esquire discussed, and disliked, had different fish to fry. Thus, while the magazine repeated a few of the caveats about women that had provided some light relief in Victorian treatments, it now made them central, not peripheral to a subsequent hymn of praise; and it added a host of purely modern grievances. Esquire's view of women's foibles ranged widely. William Powell referred to the "age of gold diggers," noting that women preferred orchids because they like to "think that he paid five dollars apiece for them."(63) Carleton Smith, a frequent 1930s critic, blasted women's failure in creativity. The gender was "barren, impotent, sterile," which meant that growing freedom at best meant a growing audience for men's creations in art, music and fashion. Freedom brought reformist criticisms of men, to be sure, but these could be safely ignored on grounds of male supremacy not simply in brute strength, but in the realms of genius. Women were after all "created to be helpers."(64) Women were called to account as witnesses in court, for their failure to discern reality: "Men operate by reasoning. Women's minds work on instinct."(65) At the same time women were favored in the law, able to win whopping sums from men by claiming seduction or huge alimonies even when it was they who destroyed a marriage by taking a lover.(66) Of course women were frivolously concerned about their appearance, buying five hats to a man's one. And they were beginning to challenge men's prerogative of wearing pants. And they sometimes shed crocodile tears for men who died in war, preening themselves as Gold Star mothers like cows nosing a dead calf (the imagery could be heavy, spilling into straightforward articles well beyond the magazine's separate "satire" section). And of course women were terrible in finding directions, using sex appeal to get their drivers' licenses. And they tossed around at night, preventing a decent sleep for the presumably more rationally somnolent male. And women were too suspicious, constantly accusing men of ulterior, sexual motives. Truly, the list of faults was long.(67) The uncontrolled emotionalism theme appeared frequently. A 1936 article distinguished women from men on the basis of female glands, noting that, as women gained new freedoms, their wild emotionalism erupted in a surprising array of areas. Witness Amelia Earhart, far more daredevil than the calculating Lindbergh. Witness Marion Knowlton, "a Vassar graduate", who tamed lions. Witness violent women wrestlers. Conditions were "forcing women into men's activities," as "the age of pretended helplessness" receded, but the basic emotional difference between the sexes persisted--and made women dangerously incalculable. "Feelings, not principles, regulate the typical woman's life." This was all the more frightening given the steady march toward equality in basic activities: "There is every expectation, scientifically, that they may equal or surpass male size and strength."(68) Men, by implication, should take cover. A few articles ran against the common grain. One soberly noted that statistics proved women to be just as good drivers as men. Another assessed the different categories of modern women, warning against aggressive, irresponsible modern types but also against clinging, old-fashioned women. The woman to treasure, the woman dubbed "normal", combined career and family, and handled women's "rise to power" with aplomb.(69) The most revealing critiques combined laments about women's increasing rivalry of men with laments about their inability to measure up to proper standards. A bouncer bemoaned the female invasion of bars; they only caused trouble. Give him a male drunk any time--even inebriated, apparently, men were more controlled, less "unpredictable" than women.(70) And women were everywhere. "After taking over the bars and the barbershops, women elbow into the sports pages." "It may be, indeed, that a gradual and complete shifting of the recognized fields of the sexes is taking place. If this is so, and much current evidence points to it, I am glad that I am an old, bitter man, with not much time remaining." For the day was looming when, instead of women's sections in the newspapers, men would read articles especially designed for them, under such headings as "Tasty Tidbits for Business Luncheons."(71) Other articles bemoaned the hard-driving modern woman, tiring men out with "too much adrenal cortex."(72) G. J. Nathan echoed the frequent complaints about women's intrusiveness, blasting their drinking and smoking habits: "women, in short, are nowadays often distinguishable from men only by virtue of the fact that their hair is sometimes not so long."(73) Then there was sex, which further exacerbated the battle of the sexes atmosphere. Women, Nathan at work again, were far more obsessed with sex than men were. "Women think of sex in the daytime as well as at night, whereas men seldom find their thoughts hovering about the topic when the sun is shining." Women like pornography better than men, and their notorious need for psychiatric therapy (nine of ten patients being female) was almost entirely the result of their sexual complexes, their guilt over what so preoccupied them.(74) In case the message remained obscure, Esquire ran an eight part series on women's infidelity in 1936-7, under the heading "She's No Longer Faithful If ..." The symptoms noted (over 250 were detailed) included a suspicious rush of attention toward a mate, a new interest in the mate's male friends, a sudden preoccupation with a particular piece of music, loss of jewels, pallor at a newspaper account of a shot lover, feigned illnesses ("heart attacks" were often mentioned) and unexplained trips. The column was remarkably unfunny and surprisingly long-winded, and if taken literally seemed to urge suspicions at virtually every female act. And it was punctuated by dire warnings: "Infinite are the ways of the wayward and definite are the misplays that betray her." "Marriage statistics have proved beyond any doubt whatsoever that the maiden before marriage invariably proves to be the most faithless of matrons afterwards."(75) Life, apparently, was turning into French farce with the humor left out. No feat of deconstruction is required to note that the Esquire of the 1930s found modern women's activities annoying, invasive, and frankly intimidating, possibly sexually threatening. The magazine could not complete its picture logically; it was disbarred, by its valiant embrace of modernity, from urging that Victorian habits be revived. With traditionalism denied, Esquire was forced into wild exaggeration about the extent of women's new behaviors, combined with consistently demeaning references to the gender's emotional qualities and lack of good sense. Frequent cartoons featuring busty, empty-headed chorus girl types provided another solace for harassed male readers. The idyllic picture of female virtues, that staple 19th-century emblem of largely separate spheres, disappeared entirely in this version of 20th-century male culture, hovering at most as an implicit standard for criticism that was too unrealistic to mention outright. The revised version of womanhood had obvious implications for assessments of male love. Esquire spent almost as much space on the love theme as it did on women in general (about 10% each, during the 1930s), and its approach followed logically from its perjorative view of the female gender. Victorian love standards, when directed toward men, had intertwined with deep-seated assumptions about women's special character and their ultimate domestic functions. These assumptions were now passe, and Esquire replaced them with distaste and suspicion. Small wonder that love, too, had to be reviewed. Indeed, the magazine was far more explicit about its male mission to redefine Victorian love standards than about its more carping approach to women overall, for in this case it had a clear substitute to propose. After a decade of fascination with new-style love concerns, however, it shifted gears yet again. Esquire suggests, then, a two-stage 20th century cultural evolution, in which 19th century love ideals were first reviewed, where men were concerned, and then more fully jettisoned. As the self-proclaimed herald of men's interests, Esquire in no sense caused this development. Its first phase reflected an ongoing transition in the interests of many men as well as popularized version of the avant-garde "new love" writings of the 1920s, while disseminating the revisionist approach more widely. Esquire's second phase may have been more innovative, but here too the magazine mirrored shifts in dominant middle-class male interest, giving them wider visibility in the process. In its first phase, marked by the explicit campaign against Victorianism, articles on love by marriage experts set forth the contours of the new love most directly, though it must be emphasized that in sheer volume and also potential impact the new love themes that predominated in the magazine's short stories were more significant. Treatments of love by popularizing experts were not standard fare, but they dotted Esquire's pages periodically during the 1930s. And they spoke with a consistent voice, both in disseminating the more pioneering notions of the 1920s and in converting them to a more distinctive, even aggressive masculine voice. In 1934 Henry Morton Robinson launched Esquire's new emotional directions with an article on "The Brave New Love."(76) Robinson, a former Columbia professor and a board member for Reader's Digest, saw himself in the front line of a new "rebellion" "in the lives of those persons who most easily and naturally reflect the genius of the time, a brilliant experimental use of the new love." Robinson explained that the older romantic love ideal, with its assumption that "a pair of passion-oozing souls could merge into a mystical unity," was "a dream conceived in fallacy and proposed by childish desires." New Love, in contrast, was stripped of illusions: "the New Love is at least an adult emotion without that annoying fuzz of pubic hair on its handsome cleft chin." Women's magazines and radio fare might maintain the Romantic illusion, but men needed different stuff, lest they be duped through a "childish myth" that could cost them emotional suffering and no small financial expense (presumably when exploited by naive or unscrupulous women). Dr. Alfred Adler, in a 1936 article,(77) clarified what the New Love was all about, while repeating the denunciation of the older romantic ideals. His article and others referred still to spiritual components in love, but they stressed rational, cooperative arrangements between men and women. Gender equality was a key ingredient of this collaborative approach, but soaring ideals and moral regeneration were absent. Love became a summary word for practical accommodations that could allow a couple to live together harmoniously, sharing various interests including sexuality. Companionship, not emotional intensity, was the goal to aim at. Esquire's short stories, with their frequent treatment of love themes, drove the same points home for the most part. A 1936 story implicitly captured the transition of standards quite nicely. "Sleepless Night" depicted a husband in bed with his slumbering wife: She rested motionless and it seemed to the young man that her light breath, the faint perfume rising from her hair, the dimly illuminated outline of her slim body, entered into the design; the harmony of this night was its essence, refined and alive. He felt a renewed surge of love and softly bent to kiss the white forehead.(78) However, as the night wore on, the circulation in his arm was cut, and he felt discomfort from his wife's position. His thoughts strayed toward resentment: Women, with their ill-timed joys and superficial sadness, never kept the promises given by their eyes. Even the rapture they yielded was transitory; after a while, it had a taste of corruption and death. With morning, the husband kept silent about his thoughts, in favor of a smooth relationship. Clearly, deep love has been evoked and rejected, as the man's emotional outlook matured in some senses during the night. Other stories demonstrated the futility or irrelevance of romantic commitment. Plots featured in 1934 and 1935 dealt with partners who differed greatly in their interests in romance. In one, a woman urges her man to be more romantic, rather than seeking conquest without love. The man responds, "one must be hard. In love, he who does not devour, is devoured. All the same, it must be a relief, now and then, to give in, to be the weak one, to seek one's happiness in someone else's happiness." In fact, the man tries a more tender approach, only to find the woman leaving him, declaring that she "likes a man who compels one to make sacrifices."(79) "Second Honeymoon" focused on a husband and wife who separate because the husband was insufficiently romantic. They try again, with the husband manifesting more sentiment--but the wife leaves because he is not in tune with the New Love that everyone is urging.(80) Finally, a number of stories treated sexual prowess as a mature alternative to love. A 1938 plot focused on men in college, initially naive but gaining in sophistication as emotional vulnerability yielded to sexual confidence.(81) Another story talked of a husband who took a mistress with his wife's approval--though in this case the man suffers from the mistress's desire for no-strings sex, arguing "I don't want to be only a memory. I'm not a flower to be pressed into your memory book."(82) On the whole, Esquire stories in the 1930s treated love issues with great prominence, urging the validity of reduced emotional intensity as a sign of a man's maturity but also because the alternative was so unlikely to work out. There were no happy endings in which transcendent love was confirmed. Thus Esquire's first stab at dealing with men's love focused on curtailing its emotional charge, by redefining the appropriate basis for male-female relations. Practical accommodation and due recognition of gender equality (though this last complicated by the jabs at female exploitiveness and/or undue emotionality) were the order of the day. This approach to love required a good deal of ink, which suggests how enthralling, and perhaps how difficult, the transition from one set of male standards to another might be. With World War II, however, the inkwell dried up, never, in pages, to be refilled. Esquire's commitment to fiction lessened during the war, in favor of reportage, but the stories that did appear dealt with war, adventure, mystery, sports and western themes. The love interest, which had already dwindled quantitatively in the later 1930s by about 40%, vanished. Esquire turned to travel and leisure interests, aside from war reporting. Its clearest innovation involved the extensive pictorials of Hollywood starlets and "Varga" girls. Pictures in these features carried occasional captions suggesting that these women sought sex without romance. The same theme surfaced in coverage of trips by entertainers to show the boys overseas what awaited them at home. Esquire was turning, in effect, to the approach that would be more fully exploited by Playboy. After the war's end the shift in coverage persisted. In 1950 a new philosophy was enunciated, promising that "Esquire will be dedicated more than ever to what men are interested in."(83) Travel, automobiles and fashion became regular features, and fiction devoted to romance, even new-style, was not part of the package. (Nor, as we have seen, was much discussion of women.) One 1952 article, by a woman, purported to respond to men's complaints that women had become too career minded and sexually frank; the article argued that men themselves had made women "sophisticated, undraped and immodest", and if men yearned for domestic types they had only themselves to blame.(84) This salvo aside, emotional and family issues remained in limbo (suggesting some limits, in male culture, to the domestic hyperbole that suffused other 1950s media). Topics in a typical issue, by the 1950s and into the 1960s, included travel, politics, war bravery, fishing, race relations, yachting, and social climbing. Sex, cars, vacations and jazz held center stage in reflecting what Esquire judged were the leading male interests. Consumerism and adventure fantasies displaced romance of any sort. The Shifts in Standards: Esquire, the Marriage Experts, and Masculine Wariness Esquire's interest in redefining love, particularly during the 1930s, gains significance from the distinctive male audience the magazine managed to acquire, and from men's apparent concern for appropriate definitions of male standards in a time of change. The relationship to a broader, and hostile, revision of the male judgment of women's qualities was obvious. This is not to argue that Esquire stood alone or that it innovated substantially, as much of the magazine's soaring popularity lay in disseminating themes launched a decade earlier and in mirroring new impulses among men themselves. Esquire continued to build on more general marriage advice in the 1930s, though its misogynist twist followed from its unusual, for-male-eyes-only policy. Yet the masculine emphasis on "new love" ideals was not simply an eccentricity of one magazine with a particularly forceful editor. For the growing school of marriage experts, whose articles flooded popular magazines (including Esquire in the 1930s) and whose college courses on marriage and family reached a crest of popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s,(85) also uniformly warned against the misleading qualities of excessive love. Emotional attraction was an inadequate basis for marriage. In direct contrast to the more informal 19th-century expertise, 20th-century authorities on marriage inveighed against, not the possible lack of deep love, but its potential, if temporary, excess. They spent more time urging careful consideration of mutual interests and suitable backgrounds, items that Victorian writers would have approved as well but which required less attention in the 19th century because of later ages in courtship and marriage and more parental guidance. Twentieth-century expertise innovated, then, in part because of the new contexts of adolescent co-education and early dating. But the emotional basics were different as well. The experts could not conceive of the kind of spiritual, lasting love that Victorians had sought. They sought stable marriages, but through milder kinds of affection based on shared interests and, above all, sexual compatibility. Intense emotion could be misleading, a poor guide to spouse selection and the establishment of a family. The general warnings experts directed against excessive romantic expectations were addressed to men and women alike. Some authorities drew no gender distinctions when discussing emotion. Other authorities, however, noted that men's values made not only love, but domestic tenderness something of a problem. Paul Popenoe urged affection between husband and wife but admitted that women had an edge here because of their emotional experience with their mothers.(86) Men had to be domesticated gradually and the process might never be complete. Distinctions of this sort aimed at drawing men more fully into family comradeship, not a soaring love, and were compatible with the more familial versions of the New Love touted in the pages of Esquire. The distinctions also tended to direct expert concern about love's excesses primarily toward women, which could confirm men's belief that avoidance of great intensity was a natural and largely desirable male stance. Here too, shifts in expertise away from men's association with Victorian love ideals paralleled Esquire's more explicit attack. Even in reflecting wide expert cautions, Esquire helped articulate a distinctive male approach, implying more gender disputes about love than either the new love pioneers of the 1920s or the counseling authorities conveyed. The advent of a fashionable but distinctly masculine love-and-leisure magazine suggested and extended men's needs for some new male standards, as Victorian havens crumbled. While advocating companionate marriage for men, Esquire often implied that women sought deeper snares, such that men would do well not only to jettison romantic intensity but also to adopt a certain wariness as well--or, by the 1940s, simply to devote themselves to consumer and sexual goals, relegating women to an emotional background. Here Esquire's tone was both creative and revealing, suggesting distinctive male concerns that had not been explicitly present in Victorian formulations of love and which were not in the main identified by the social science experts save in their more general attention to sexual satisfaction in marriage. Here too, however, Esquire was no mere eccentricity. Other evidence in the 1920s and 1930s suggested innovations in male culture around love-related themes, designed to create some emotional distance from women. The focus was jealousy. Men's fiction but also polling data demonstrated a growing male hostility to jealousy, at least in principle, and while this position built to an extent on 19th-century definitions of an unpossessive true love, the degree of sensitivity was new.(87) Victorian advisers on emotion had urged against jealousy's pettiness and had attributed its ravages particularly to women, but they also provided many examples of men responding to their wives' or sweethearts' insecurities by renewed assurances of affection. Jealousy was, in sum, ambivalent in the Victorian context, undesirable but, as a token of love, worthy of sensitive remediation. This cultural tolerance vanished by the second quarter of the 20th century. Polls revealed a pervasive male grievance about wives' nagging jealousy--matched, interestingly, by almost equally frequent female charges about their husbands' undue attention to other women.(88) For men, jealousy was increasingly taken not as a signal to apologize and conciliate but as an unacceptable intrusion, a nagging effort to control. Men's public version of the New Love thus clearly included a declaration of individual freedom against undue emotional claims.(89) These lessons might apply to men themselves, for without question many sexually jealous males continued to prowl, but the general assumption was that women had the greatest need for remediation. And this assumption could only confirm many men in a desire to avoid displaying undue vulnerability. Here too, the Victorian paradigm had been abandoned, and beyond this some men began to consider love issues in newly-gendered ways, with male impulses pitted against those of women. The Impact of New Standards The new signals concerning men and love pointed uniformly away from Victorian standards, but they suggested various new directions rather than a single replacement model. Marriage experts, whose preachments were widely available to young middle-class men as well as women, urged solid relationships but grounded on shared interests and companionships rather than overweening passion. Magazines such as Esquire, after flirting with this reorientation as part of a sophisticated New Love, seemed to settle on consumer fulfillments and sex as replacements for more conventional emotional priorities--though they did not make this exchange explicit. As Victorian emphases waned, middle-class men may have responded by developing a more diverse array of commitments, some opting for a less flamboyant kind of love, others moving gleefully into the wonderful world of gadgets and resorts. Now cultural signals do not, of course, prove new definitions among middle-class men themselves, and doubtless, particularly in a transition period, older expectations often persisted. Yet cultural change, in the emotions area, usually has some link with real standards. The extraordinary use of marriage and courtship manuals and college courses, into the 1940s and 1950s, reflected the need young couples felt for guidance in a period of uncertainty.(90) To be sure, all the cautions about testing the significance of cultural evidence firmly apply. Esquire, for all its rising circulation, was only a magazine, its readership interested in many kinds of articles, not necessarily those on love. Some of its audience, additionally, consisted of men in middle age, past the prime romantic phase in any event. While Esquire vividly contrasts with popularizations directed at men in the 19th century, in its scorn for deep romantic idealism and its equation of love with recreation and sexuality, it is by no means automatically representative even of professed attitudes, much less of changes in male aspirations and relevant behavior. The message of cultural change sets a further agenda for research on actual male beliefs and emotional behavior in the 20th century. Some correspondence between Esquire redefinitions and shifts in middle-class experience during the 1920s and 1930s suggests that men were changing more than just their reading materials where love was involved. Esquire's formulation of love sat squarely amid changes in male courtship and marriage habits that began to emerge in the 1920s but gained fuller expression, aided by legitimations such as the new magazine itself, in the following two decades. Without pretending a full exploration of middle-class men's love life in the second quarter of the century, and without providing full delineation of the cause and effect relationship between new behaviors and new reading materials, we can note evidence that cultural changes spread beyond the printed page and suggested important new disparities between men and women even as social and sexual contacts increased. Thus the institution of dating, spreading in the middle class from the 1920s onward, while accurately revealing freer behavior for young men and women alike also yielded frequent distinctions in goals. Men who, at this age in the 19th century, had largely associated with other men while building idealized fantasies of women prior to later courtship, were now socializing fairly routinely with women in high school and college, and their goals had more to do with sexual than with more general romantic fantasies. For dating put a premium on male sexual advance tempered by female regulation. A 1920s fraternity phrase captured the mood from the men's side: "If a girl doesn't pet, a man can figure he didn't rush her right."(91) For college men, dating was a recreation, as marriage expectations focused on a later period in young adulthood; for the women involved, however, the marriage focus was dead serious. This did not mean an inevitable female commitment to intense romance, for women paid close attention to their dates' economic standing despite a girls' magazine culture that placed a premium on the mystery of love and on love-based mate selection.(92) The recreational aspect, however, was not primary for most dating women by college age, as opposed to a sorting procedure or a search for love or both. For men, however, dating habits coincided closely with the redefinition of love ultimately advocated by Esquire. Even in high school, at least by the early 1940s, middle-class boys talked in terms of pushing petting as far as their dates would allow, if not farther, describing the whole experience as "having fun" or "taking them for a ride."(93) Clearly, the idea of redefining love, or relationships with women, in terms of enjoyment rather than intense devotion spread widely in male culture between the 1920s and the 1940s; the Esquire tone did not cause this outlook, but it did reflect and disseminate it, possibly encouraging even middle-aged men to recall the values of their youth when they thought about love. While dating behavior reflected redefinitions of love ideals for women as well, as has so often been noted regarding heightened sexuality, these did not fully coincide with the new male slant. Similar gender distinctions cropped up in the scattered polling evidence available for the period. Lewis Terman's marriage inquiry in the mid-1930s, for example, revealed considerable disagreement between husbands and wives about relevant features of marriage. The disputes over jealousy were part of this division. Rifts over sexuality continued. Husbands were far more consistently interested in defining marriage in terms of sexual satisfaction and frequency than wives were; they also manifested far more interest in extra-marital sex. Forty-three per cent of all husbands surveyed thought about extra-marital affairs occasionally or frequently, compared to only 11% of wives. Both husbands and wives complained about lack of affection from spouses, though this was not a top grievance for either group (or, as slightly later polls confirmed, a major rated factor in divorce by either gender). Husbands indeed mentioned lack of affection slightly more often than wives did. However husbands complained strongly about their wives' tendency to manifest hurt feelings--this was one of their four top grievances, with no comparable concern on the wives' side. And women expressed common concern that their husbands failed to express love for them verbally; a seventh of all happily married wives, and a full quarter of those who rated themselves unhappy, listed this problem. The results of the Terman data should not be exaggerated. Men and women did not dispute love down the line.(94) Other marriage studies, focusing on the 1950s, would indicate even more substantial agreement on the criteria for a companionate relationship, though polling disputes over thoughtlessness (the wives' complaint) and nagging (the husbands') circuitously confirmed the earlier divisions.(95) Nevertheless the Terman poll was suggestive in pointing to some areas where men liked to hold back, while simultaneously resenting their wives' emotional demands and while highlighting strong sexual expectations. Victorianism had become irrelevant in the male view of love, and the correspondence between the values preached in men's magazines and available evidence on private expectations worked toward a definition of the new masculine approach. Even if the 20th-century male caution was not entirely new--variety had surely existed even amid Victorian culture--it was clear that new values allowed men to be more open about love's snares--a significant change in itself. Conclusion Barbara Ehrenreich has argued that a male reorientation toward family and commitment, visible in her judgment by the 1950s, preceded the larger and louder changes in gender relations that developed during the 1960s and beyond. As men were encouraged to talk about love less, and as they manifested new passions for consumer goods and sexual prowess, their outlook might well affect the stability of some relationships while encouraging certain women to rethink their own priorities in response. This process began early in the 20th century, for Ehrenreich mistook the timing and some of the causation involved. Changes in gender relations in the 1920s began to prompt middle-class men to reevaluate Victorianism in fundamental ways. Rather than a male withdrawal from commitment preceding changes among women--the Ehrenreich formulation for the 1950s and 1960s--men's earlier reactions to what they perceived as the new woman must be reintroduced in explaining the altering of male emotional culture. Women reevaluated also, and the result facilitated a variety of new male-female interactions. But the gender patterns were not identical, as both men's magazines and polling data suggested from the male side. Victorian emotional culture had urged agreement on the nature of love, with some genuine impact.
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Author:Knapp, Mark
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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