Academic journal article Journalism History

A Woman's Place Is in the News

Academic journal article Journalism History

A Woman's Place Is in the News

Article excerpt

A "woman's place is in the war," wrote feminist historian Leila Rupp as a play on words to capture the tug-of-war between traditional notions of a woman's relationship to the home and the simultaneous need for women's workforce participation throughout the Second World War.* 1 * With men enlisting for active duty overseas, this created critical labor shortages on the home front and women's labor immediately became "essential to a total war effort," as then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King declared in 1942.-' For Canadian women, assuming a "place" in the nation's war effort meant increased domestic responsibilities, volunteering, enlisting in the armed forces and joining the civilian workforce-many for the first time. Women's workforce participation doubled such that, by January 1944, women filled one of every three jobs.3 This blurred traditional divisions of labor based on sex and created confusion over women's "proper" roles in society. A sexual division of labor, with women in the home and men in the workforce, is crucial to upholding a patriarchal system, and so women's labor quickly became a subject for discussion in the public sphere, at the very least within government circles. But what about in the news-the very "space" through which, Jürgen Habermas argued, the public sphere emerged?4 How did newspapers tell the story of women's "place" in the war?

Based on a comparative content analysis of commercial and labor newspapers in Canada, this article examines representations of women's labor-domestic, volunteer and wage (with a focus on wage labor)-during the Second World War.3 The analysis is rooted in feminist media studies' claims that the production and content of media are gendered. The article first identifies and contextualizes the extent to which women's labor received coverage in the wartime news and then explores the dominant perspective-a gendered perspective-reflected in the pages of the press. Next, it addresses whether the invisibility and marginalization of women within and by mainstream news media, as maintained by feminist media theory, persists across general news pages and editorials (historically written by men and for men) and the female-dominated women's pages (historically written by women and for women)-the latter of which, scholars have argued, chronicled women's advancing status in society. The same feminist media studies framework structures the comparison across newspaper type: commercial versus labor newspapers-the latter of which, as an alternative news source, may be more apt to critique dominant social relations.

Existing literature on whether and how newspapers represented women's labor in Canada during the Second World War, although limited, suggests a proliferation and celebration of women's achievements in the workforce. This research is based largely on case studies, historical overviews or random selection of newspaper articles taken as representative of broader trends.6 The lack of a systematic, longitudinal content analysis reflects a methodological gap in the literature, and this calls into question whether existing research sufficiently captures a comprehensive Canadian perspective on the social construction of gender in news of women's wartime labor, using newspapers as an object of analysis (instead of fiction, advertisements or women's consumer magazines, for instance). Methodologically, this study takes count of if, where and how women's labor surfaced as a subject in the commercial and labor press during the Second World War, creating a systematic way of understanding how news media negotiated women's shifting roles in wartime society.

To contextualize the study, the article begins with an historical overview of women's domestic, volunteer and wage labor during the Second World War. Dubbed "Canada's Housoldiers," homemakers were an important group in the mobilization of Canadian wartime society.7 Women's domestic labor was mobilized on the largest and most strategic scale during the Second World War, and it was "in the spirit of near-total mobilization for war that women's traditional domestic services received new recognition as socially necessary labor" where, traditionally, as unpaid work, it was perceived as being "of less value than the work of the [male] wage-earners on whose financial support [women] must rely. …

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