Consider the following headline: “‘Help! My Spouse Hates My Boss’: A Whole New Kind of Love Triangle” (offensive punctuation and phrase “Love Triangle” in original).

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty

Now: See if you can guess which publication recently contained said headline. I’ll even narrow it down for you. It’s either A) The Ladies’ Home Journal, B) The Wall Street Journal or C) The Betty Crocker Working Woman’s Cookbook. Take your time.

Hint: The answer is B.

This article appeared Thursday as part of the Journal’s massive redesign, which marketing gurus hoped would attract the young and the female, not necessarily in that order. It would lure us in with pretty colors and hook us with headlines that screamed (we would know they were screaming because they’d have exclamation points in them) just like in Cosmo. A makeover of sorts. Jazzy. User-friendly for the new millennium, with bullet points for easy skimming.

Spouse hate your boss? Have sub-par interpersonal skills? Help is on the way.

I don’t know whether to be amused or horrified at the article’s advice to married careerfolk on maintaining peaceful relations between spouses and bosses. “Agree on conversational ground rules before boss and spouse meet … avoid face-to-face meetings … Is the tension masking deeper problems in your marriage?”

Egad. When did this turn into a mediation session with the elementary school psychologist? Who are these people and what have they done with The Wall Street Journal? How long before they start running mascara ads next to articles about the black-market Mongolian mascara ring in New Mexico, ads assuring us that four percent of Maybeline’s profits go to support the War on Mongolian Mascara and Terror? Help!

This is exactly what the Journal’s target demographic (apparently the timid, flighty segment of the newspaper-reading population) wants. The marketing gurus have done the research and the math; women eat this stuff up (newsprint being fibrous, low in calories and devoid of nutritional value, like popcorn). This is what sells.

Perhaps that’s true. But it’s also true that while almost anyone will tell you the Journal’s readership is overwhelmingly male, almost no one will tell you it’s marketed toward men. “It’s marketed toward interested people,” they say. “Men dominate the fields of business and economics, so they are statistically more likely to be interested.” I agree with both of those statements, but the Journal seems to have different ideas; otherwise, why would its marketing team go out of its way to attract people who under normal circumstances would be reading Family Circle and Vogue?

“Set good work-home boundaries to keep tension from spilling over.”

This is such touchy-feely bullshit. It smacks of “That’s sexual harassment and I don’t have to take it.” It’s like articles in women’s “health” magazines that suggest counting to ten and breathing deeply to ease pre-menstrual mood swings: Passive, futile and ultimately damaging. Better to let your spouse and your boss duke it out on their own terms and charge the neighborhood kids five bucks apiece to watch. There’s entrepreneurship for you.

Another nasty side effect to marketing campaigns like the Journal’s is that it relegates outspoken objectors to the sidelines. “You don’t want to see substance-free pieces in the Journal? But we’re targeting people like you. You must be an aberration. If you can’t stand the fluff, get out of the crosshairs. Become black or gay or both. Dye your hair green and learn to speak Tagalog. Change your name to Dakota and have a traumatic plastic surgery experience. We’ll get you next time.”

No. I am not unusual. Having more than six brain cells does not make me unusual. Most men do not read The Wall Street Journal for advice on the unique pressures associated with simultaneously having a family and a career. Neither do most women. We don’t need marketers to hold our hands and show us the ins and outs of old boys’ newspapers; we know our way around. But thanks for the offer.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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