Hollywood image that women are meant to be like Claudette Colbert, sexy and alluring; and that if they are attractive to men they quickly will be married. But statistics show that during the 1930s women were not marrying: "the marriage rate per thousand population fell from 10.14 in 1929 to 7.87 in 1932"; the birthrate fell also. 20 Despite the movieland suggestion that women can have everything, the facts of the Depression indicated otherwise. The average woman during the 1930s was assaulted by contradictory messages from all sides: on the one hand she was told not to work, but on the other hand she was less likely to assume the role of housewife and mother. And those women who did work were often insulted and called menaces to society.
Even more disconcerting than these incongruities is the fact that movies were made with women moviegoers in mind. As the Lynds discovered in the 1930s, "Middletown is probably representative of other localities in the fact that adult females predominate heavily in the audience" and, as one producer remarked, "set the type of picture that will 'go'." 21 As early as the teens it was the American woman who told the movie studios what type of movie would make a profit. During the 1920s she went to the movies to see her newly liberated working-girl self on the screen. Habits formed, American women, like the women in Reginald Marsh Paramount Picture, went to the movies in the 1930s with the same vicarious idealism in mind, but then they were greeted by Hollywood falsehoods which contradicted their rather dismal status in American society. Only in the soap-opera "woman's film" genre, which started in the 1930s, and in which ordinary, middle-class women were depicted as victims, did the Hollywood film begin to approach the real experience of women in American society. 22
From The Woman's Art Journal. Reprinted by permission of the author.