Women's Film and Female Experience, 1940-1950

Women's Film and Female Experience, 1940-1950

Women's Film and Female Experience, 1940-1950

Women's Film and Female Experience, 1940-1950


Women's Film and Female Experience takes a fresh look at a wide range of popular women's films in order to discover what American female consciousness in the 1940s was really about. The author traces the evolution and development of the Hollywood women's film, and describes the social history of American women in the 1940s. She then analyzes dominant narrative patterns within popular women's films of the decade: the maternal drama, the career woman comedy, and the films of suspicion and distrust.


Movies of the past are like samples--swatches of cloth--of the period in which they were made.

Pauline Kael, Reeling (New York: Warner, 1972), p. 16

The year 1940 marks the onset of a crucial decade in the history of American womanhood. The draft and war emergency compelled Americans, temporarily at least, to question and re-evaluate Depression-era stereotypes of subordinate and subservient femininity. With over six million new female recruits joining the labor force by 1944, women comprised over 36 percent of employed persons in the United States. Rosie the Riveter, Norman Rockwell's super-competent blue-collar heroine, stepped off a 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover to become the all-American womanly ideal of World War II.

Wartime Rosies faced challenges unimagined by many of their sisters in the 1930s. They were as apt to find themselves wielding a shovel or welding torch as pounding away at a typewriter or carrying a bedpan. And, while they earned higher salaries than they had before the war, many women worked double shifts: at home as well as at the plant or office. Unlike her Depression-era counterpart, the typical female wartime worker was also a wife or mother whose dual role became more demanding with the enlistment of many husbands and fathers. Young single and married women alike experienced the war years in a much more female atmosphere than that of the Great Depression. At work and at play, women came to depend more on themselves and one another, cooperating with each other in child care, volunteering to aid the war effort, and relaxing together on all-female baseball teams.

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