Mags: Retro Review - Cleo 70s style

Retro Glossy Review

When the first edition of CLEO hit Aussie newsstands in 1972, riding the momentum of the women's liberation movement, it sold out within 48 hours, climaxing (no pun intended) with sales of 250,000 copies five years later. It now sells 128,000 copies a month.

Earlier this week, the magazine's founding
editor, Ita Buttrose, talked to ABC Radio's Richard Fidler about the success of CLEO, amongst other things, which was based on appealing to what she called the "progressive woman".

"We saw the progressive woman as, well, someone like me, from middle-class Australia," she said. "Women's Liberation caught on in Australia because it was middle-class women who embraced it wholeheartedly and CLEO reached that middle-class woman... What [Germaine Greer] did was make us question where we were at; made us realise that perhaps there were other things a woman could do with her life."

And it was CLEO's role to show her just what she could do with her life and the money she made while living it. Perhaps this is part of the reason why mainstream women's magazines like CLEO are struggling now – young women don't feel like there's a fight to be fought; a cause to rally to; a reason to pull together... other than to lay into Lara Bingle?

While the language might be different ("spiv", "sired", "slimmer", "spinsters"), the ads reek of sexism (though, apparently, some parts of the ad world are still lagging behind the publishing Zeitgeist), tanning had no health consequences, sexual liberation was new territory to be explored and "celebrity", as we know it, was yet to be commodified, it turns out the content and stories in CLEO are still much the same (save for the male centrefold!).

Yes, we're still talking about the same things we were 40 years ago: sex, finding good men, singledom, marriage, breast cancer, dieting, cola calories, obesity, alternative medicine, hair colouring, the appeal of the Best Gay Friend and negotiating social situations with aplomb. Travel, astrology, fashion, music, films, books... it was all there to start with and still is.

However, the CLEO of 1974 exudes a certain sophistication and maturity (without the benefit of What We Know Now) that is Very Ita: confident, worldly, provocative, educated; a little lofty. The stories are written for grown-up girls with a flourishing interest in politics and the world outside the shops. Not for this magazine fluffy profile pieces, flimsy reviews or weak vocabulary.

There is always a tendency to glorify the 'grand old days' at the expense of negating the good that is being done now. The CLEO of 2010 is very much of its time. But worryingly, 40 years on, women are collectively still experiencing the same insecurities, self-doubts and decision making scenarios that first presented themselves when 'Liberation' entered the lexicon. But where the CLEO of yesteryear presents us with pages of information to churn over, the CLEO of now is more positively intent on helping us cut to the chase and win the race on our own terms.

Still, perhaps a little historical exploration will encourage us all to lift our game (as apposed to a middle finger) in all the areas where the Liberationists left off?

CLEO, February 1974, 60c, ACP Magazines
Editor: Ita Buttrose
The cover:
Model Louise Francett, shot by Carroll Holloway, wears a Carla Zampatti dress and cosmetics by Yardley.
Editor's letter: Buttrose highlights two new regular features – stories "designed for those of us who have children" and a diamond ring offer ("we have eight styles for you to choose from") – as well as the triple gatefold centrefold ("we had to fit in 16 men"), astrology special ("I always like to read my stars each morning"), and main cover feature, "The Female Woman" (huh?).

Main features: "The Female Woman" is a three-page extract from Arianna Huffington's (nee Stassinopoulos) book of the same name, which was her anti-feminism treatise. In short, she respects the idea of female emancipation but not the "repulsive" Women's Liberation Movement ("a doctrine of mass egotism"), which she says negates and devalues distinctively female qualities, attitudes and values: "Emancipation insists on equal status for distinctively female does not mean compelling women into male roles by devaluing female ones. It means adults choosing freely the way they run their own lives."

She takes the Libbers to task for rejecting the "otherness" of men; for showing "unliberated" women contempt; for defining men as the enemy; for its rejection of altruism, virtue and sacrifice; for idealising institutionalised work outside the home; for fostering insecurity through the blurring of male and female expectations of behaviour; and for denying intelligence and femininity are compatible. Her contempt for her Liberationist contemporaries is seething but many of her arguments are inconclusive: the conversation continues.

Other features:
- 'Tricia Edgar and the words of change' - while academics are often cited in CLEO stories today, it would be an unusual thing to see a five-page profile feature dedicated to one, which is a shame, as so many dynamic, interesting women exist in the field. Tricia Edgar – author, academic, mother, champion of women's rights – is fascinating, if intimidating. A real powerhouse, she has three books to her credit at the time of writing: one which looked at how growing up was limiting for girls; another on the exploitation of women through mass media and advertising; and a third dealing with children's perceptions of violence in film.

Her comments on women's media are equally as relevant today: "The idealised woman in the mass media is the same the world over. She is young, essentially youthful, with a slim figure. She is all things to all people... a mother to her kids, a wife to her husband, competent in her work role. This tends to confuse women – particularly in Australian society – about which role they should be filling... there are a hell of a lot of women caught in a state of ambiguity, not knowing quite how to behave... and this is where women's magazines and newspapers can help them..."

And on the media reflecting and reinforcing attitudes and type-casting: "The publishers are caught. Their public doesn't know what it wants, they aren't sure what to offer. Inevitably they proceed with caution, take things gradually. The main exception is that American magazine, Ms. That was a gamble. Ms didn't know whether there really was an audience waiting for its Women's Lib-oriented ideas but it went ahead... and sold out... Maybe our women's magazines could be one hell of a lot more adventurous. I wish they would be, personally.

I believe – and I will say so in my book – that while some of our magazines do publish good individual articles, mostly their whole orientation is a put-on. They tend to push sexual liberation, which can be much more confusing than beneficial, although I think it's very good that women can now talk about their sexual experiences and what any of the inadequacies might have been. The magazines come on in the guise of attempting to do something for Women's Lib while in fact they're reinforcing the same old stereotypes, offering a more sophisticated way to get your man. I don't think that's what it's all about. I wish they could go further." Words out of mouth.

- Supporting Edgar's argument this issue is, amongst other stories, 'These days a good man is hard to find', which reminds me of the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie is commissioned to give a lecture on this very topic. The writer, Annette Morris, classifies a "good man" as someone one who will tell you he adores you at least twice a day and who has an interesting job: "One which will keep him employed happily long enough for you to have your hair, face and nails done... providing enough money for you to splash on a new outfit at least once a week." She advises you against "peacock types" (insecure and frivolous), hippies, university-educated snobs and "men who wear red shirts with pink trousers" and, should you find a potential candidate, sit next to him while he's eating an apple and ask if you can put up with the noise. Her last words: "good luck".

- 'The Woman Alone' is author Patricia O'Brien's third-person exploration of what it means to be a woman without a man in a society that grooms girls on the "unspoken assumption" that she will marry. The piece is accompanied by an illustration of a woman with her face downcast. O'Brien asserts that "very few women actually choose singleness" and paints a rather morbid picture of the women plan their days meticulously to circumvent lonely situations, are burdened by choices and "look ahead only to short-range goals: a university degree, a new job, going out on Friday nights." Far from the glossy set of Sex and the City, a new type of single woman has emerged who has "built something separate for herself that depends on no man and is "wary of fashioning herself to please the first man who demonstrates interest and affection" but who ultimately wants to "fulfill the yearning for someone to love truly, deeply, permanently" - preferably before she gets too old ("the ultimate nothingness"). Though there's a cursory nod to "the troubled self-questioning of wives" who live their lives through their husbands, there is no suggestion that one can feel utterly alone in marriage, too. Depressed? "Weave yourself a cushion!".

- The now-late Minister for Immigration Al Grassby (dubbed the "father of multiculturalism") is pitched to CLEO readers as a very good man. The colourful, affable politician responsible for "felling the White Australia Policy" is an unstoppable force who is given several column inches to impress us with accomplishments and encyclopedic knowledge of Australian history. His Utopian vision for a better country was his motivation: "If you have a program of things you want to do, then the inspiration is to see them getting done... That's why you've got to be in it – certainly not just to sit in an office and look important." He believed the "highest calling for a man is in public life" and certainly lived his life as if it were.

Other features:
- 'Genetics: humans made to order'
- 'Mastectomy: new approaches to rehabilitation'
- 'Male stripping: art or just another rip-off?
- 'CLEO's Men of the Month' centrefold showcases 16 members of the 17-member Daly-Wilson Big Band in the buff. Toot-toot.
- 'The CLEO Guide to Astro-Analysis'
- 'How to renovate and survive'
- 'At home with Anne and Jan Raaymakers'

Main fashion: In 'Tweed, checks and other flecks', "the country look comes to town"... as it has again, in 2010! Shot by John Porter in a ballet studio, the models play ballet mistresses.
Beauty: "Multi-shading is a new colouring technique by Schwarzkopf for re-creating those natural, child-like hair lights."
Health and diet advice: "For those who have weight problems, alcoholic drinks are not good news" - Rosemary Stanton; imagine that piece of chocolate cake is "a huge lump of faeces dripping with thick phlegm". Ew.
Entertainment: Reviews take in The Canterbury Tales.
Advertisements: Yardley Power Eyeshades; Uncle Sam Anti-Perspirant Deodorant; Check deodorant toothpaste; Johnson's Baby Oil ("Stay baby soft all summer through, baby"); Gilbey's Gin; Kodak; Iceberg cologne; Benson & Hedges; Enavite; P&O; Stayfree...

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Claire said...

I loved this post, Erica. By the way, did you know that Arianna Stassinopoulos is now Arianna Huffington? One of the things that particularly impressed me is the inclusion of content for mothers - these days mothers seem to be in a separate magazine demographic.

petal said...

goodness gracious that piece of advice on how to know when you've found a good man is certainly instructive.. i should definitely dump the man who makes me incredibly happy for one who will pay for my manicures and enable a shopping addiction! hilarious - i love it!

Margaret said...

This was so refreshing to read - thanks for reviewing a vintage copy! It seems the language in magazines back then was a lot more formal compared to the acronyms and colloquialisms populating today's mags. Will you be posting a review of the 1970s Cosmo as well?

Vicki said...

Thank you for this walk down memory lane!

Kristina said...

I was wondering if any of you have read anything that you could maybe link me to about Cosmo magazines during this time. I'm doing a massive school assesment and any info would be great. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi there Erica, this was a terrific post to read. I am actually looking for the Cleo 1974 February issue for an article on Single Mothers (as part of research into a single mothers organisation that began in 1969 and is still going today)...
Did you happen to come across that article in this issue?
It is interesting to view opinions on feminism in the 1970's, especially from a single mother's perspective, as throughout the 60's and 70's they were ostracised because they had children to look after and were not following the 'feminist' guidelines! Anyway, there is a whole larger argument about what happened there - I'll leave it for another time! (Single mothers were interestingly ostracised across society, and largely ignored by historians etc as well)...
Thanks Fiona
My email address is: