Friday, June 30, 2017

Women and the Pulps: The Audience

A look at women, the pulps, and their share of the buying audience, presented with minimal comment:
Similarly, the role of women in the pulps needs to be re-examined. There were of course female writers for the pulps– more for the “women’s pulps” than the more putatively masculine pulps, but even in pulps like Adventure and Astounding there was the occasional female author. Nor were women just authors; in January 1928 Daisy Bacon (1899-1986) became editor of Love Story Magazine, and within a year had boosted its circulation to the top of the market.  
But something that has received even less attention is the position of women in the pulp-buying audience. Most people would assume that women were not in the forefront of the pulp publishers' minds when they were conceiving of and publishing pulps. Pulp scholarship (what there is of it) consigns the female demographic to the romance genre, and assumes that women were buying the slicks rather than the pulps. But a look at the numbers in 1928 certainly makes me wonder if that assumption springs from sexism and an underrating of the publishers.  
It’s a safe assumption that the great majority of the buyers of Romance pulps were women. Regarding the dominant genre, Western, only two of the 18 Western pulps published this year were Western Romances. But there's always been a certain number of women who enjoyed Westerns, and if Ranch Romances was largely responsible for the rise of the Western, doesn’t it follow that Ranch Romances persuaded both men and women to start buying Western pulps? It seems likely that the Western audience did not consist only of men who, on seeing Western pulps on the newsstand, added Westerns to their lists of pulps to buy. Women would likely have been persuaded as well.  
Certainly in the late 1920s there were an increasing number of pulps, like Live Girl Stories (1929-1930, 3 issues) which were aimed at the female market, and were an attempt to give women the equivalent of the male adventure pulps, only with female protagonists. And an increasing number of stories in genres like Western and Detective had women in active roles, although the real surge in heroines as lead characters would come in the mid-1930s. The pulps had a surprising number of female protagonists--despite their (deserved) reputation for racism and sexism, the pulps also had a lot of female and non-white heroes and heroines, far more than appeared in the slicks. So perhaps the truth is that pulp publishers were less in thrall to sexism than we now assume. It would not be at all odd or unusual for greed to trump sexism in their thought processes.
So the pulp market needs to be conceived of as more mixed than is traditionally thought. Certainly in the late 1920s teenage women had a historically unusual amount of money to spend on luxury items (Jon Savage's Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture is quite good on this) like magazines, and undoubtedly a certain number of them were geek girls, the kind who would like and buy Western and Detective and, yes, Science Fiction pulps, even if they were forced to be more covert than they are today. So any thoughts about the pulp market needs to take this into account. 
Nevins, Jess. The Pulps: A Yearly Guide (p. 70-72).  . Kindle Edition. 
Of special interest is the admittedly qualitative assertion that:
 The pulps had a surprising number of female protagonists--despite their (deserved) reputation for racism and sexism, the pulps also had a lot of female and non-white heroes and heroines, far more than appeared in the slicks.
especially in these days where under-representation of minorities and women is a cudgel by which critics castigate past works.

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