'Happy housewife' myth debunked by new book

Dec 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many believe that 1950s cinema portrayed women as complacent, conservative housewives who liked nothing better than to rustle up a three-course meal for their hardworking husbands, but a new book has shown it was not so clear-cut.

Dr Melanie Bell, of Newcastle University, has written Femininity in the Frame (published 7 January 2010), which argues that, rather than being a decade where popular cinema was hostile towards and offered audiences a bland reflection of gender conservatism, it actually created female roles that were challenging, ambiguous, contradictory, and frequently surprising.

“What has emerged from my research is a sense of how remarkably bold some popular cinema was,” said Dr Bell. “Many concerns of the time were explored through film, such as whether women should give up work to look after their children or have sex before marriage.

“Equally evident were the messages that choosing over a career was ‘dangerously romantic’ and that women were more than housekeepers, mothers and sex objects.”

These concerns were articulated in films which spanned the cultural map, from low-budget productions like The Perfect Woman and Easy Money to more prestigious productions such as A Town Like Alice and Madeleine.

Films and critical writings at the time played an integral role in mainstream society and showed how British cinema was engaging with, negotiating and working through social change in relation to women.

In the early 1950s, women were bombarded with a number of contradictory messages. They were simultaneously addressed as housewives and mothers while the employment rates for women actually increased. Female was increasingly recognised whilst women continued to navigate double standards and different attitudes to pre and extra-marital .

“To be commercially successful, what women saw in the cinema had to engage with the shifts that were taking place in women’s roles in the real world,” said Dr Bell. “While the popular consciousness may be dominated by the figure of the housewife, women’s experiences in real life were varied and diverse, and to date only a partial account has been offered concerning gender and femininity in this decade.

“There is another, more challenging side to British and when we engage with that a completely different picture emerges.”

Femininity in the Frame draws across a range of genres - war, comedy, science fiction, crime, social problems and key figures - the prostitute, the femme fatale, the incarcerated woman - to explore in depth how British popular film engaged with the new ideas and contradictory understandings of femininity that were surfacing in the 1950s.

Explore further: World population likely to peak by 2070

Provided by Newcastle University

3.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gender affects perceptions of infidelity

Oct 29, 2008

A new study in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy explored how men and women perceive online and offline sexual and emotional infidelity. Results show that men felt sexual infidelity was more upsetting and women felt e ...

Single women gaze longer

Jun 03, 2009

A study by neuroscientist Heather Rupp and her team found that a woman's partner status influenced her interest in the opposite sex.

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

Data indicate there is no immigration crisis

Oct 22, 2014

Is there an "immigration crisis" on the U.S.-Mexico border? Not according to an examination of historical immigration data, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2009

film, books(novels), tv are all cultural/societal artifacts, and are, at best, merely subjective in content and insight. Contrast this with the more objective reality to be found in day-to-day life, and you can see where this premise breaks down.
For example- just because one of the aforementioned media portrays a woman in the role of a happy housewife, it does not alter the objective reality of a much more complex human being, quite possibly dissatisfied with the "mere housewife" role, and aggressively and assertively hungry for more education, employment and sexual experience. I oversimplify to make the point.
So, this "research" merely debunks myth- but confuses the difference between subjective(cultural artifact) and objective(day-to-day life) reality by equating the two. Therefor I ask: what's the point?