• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12

Discuss the ways that domestic ideology constructed femininity and what this meant for women's agency

Extracts from this document...


Discuss the ways that domestic ideology constructed femininity and what this meant for women's agency. 'Any girl worth her salt wants to be the best housewife ever - and then some' screamed at us from the pages of Woman's Own in 1932. (Pugh 2000, p.212) Yet, this philosophy was not a new phenomenon. According to feminist historians, domestic ideology and particularly, its focus on separate spheres for men and women has played a fundamental role in British culture since the late eighteenth century. (Webster 1998, p.ix) Although there is vast material available on this subject, a full exploration of this area of women's history would exceed the limits of this particular essay. Hence, in this instance, attention will be offered to the importance of the prevailing domestic ideology during the interwar period in British society. This will be undertaken within a Cultural Studies framework with reference to Hall's reading of the circuit of culture using the constructionist view of Saussure's semiotic theory. (Hall 2000, pp.1-19) I will illustrate how representations of femininity were directly associated with domesticity and the central notion of the interwar years was foremost that a woman's place was in the home. There is a mass of information regarding women's continuing and vital role within the field of politics. Historians such as Pugh have suggested that feminism fell apart during the interwar years but it is evident from the women's legislation introduced between 1918 and 1929 that there were still many successful campaigns being won. (Pugh, p.108-109) During this period we can observe a dichotomy between the dominant domestic discourse and feminist ideology which was perceived by many men and paradoxically, many women as a threat to the traditional gender roles and as a force to break up the family. Yet, as Beaumont suggests, this negative portrayal of feminism and subsequent backlash was unfair in that many feminist societies had not challenged women's domestic role but were in fact campaigning for better status and rights for women both inside and outside the home. ...read more.


The idea of smaller families was advantageous for women in that having fewer children freed up more time for them to go out to work should they choose to, albeit on lower pay than their male colleagues. It must be kept in mind that although working class women had always played a fundamental role in childcare and housework, their middle class counterparts were now expected to do the same and to maintain certain standards in doing so. As previously mentioned, a woman's role after the war was seen as primarily that of wife and mother, blissfully content with her life within the private realms of domesticity. Thus, this dominant stereotypical image of the ideal feminine woman was reinforced within popular culture in the form of the booming newspaper, magazine, novel, cinema, radio and advertising industries. Beddoe highlights the abrupt transformation in advertising, offering images and headlines which were no longer signifiers of women as war workers but signifiers of women as housewives. (Beddoe p.13) There were more than fifty different women's magazines in circulation during the 1920s and 1930s aimed at both middle class and working class women. (Pugh p.209) Their titles alone emphasised their domestic predisposition. Articles on beauty, cookery, childcare and housekeeping were covered and according to Pugh, the nearest these 'came to tackling feminist issues' was on the problem page and despite the successful legal reforms on issues such as divorce, these controversial subjects were largely ignored. (Pugh p.209) As Adam suggests, such reforms were still concerned with women in their identity as wives and mothers. (Adam p.98) Ironically, women were encouraged to take up suitable employment which would prepare them for married life, once again propagating the notion that in order to be truly feminine a woman's role should be within the home. In sharp contrast to this there were the women who did not wish to conform to these pressures to be constrained within domesticity but who wanted to work and have worthwhile careers. ...read more.


(Bruley p.62) From 1918 British society felt a great need to return to pre-war 'normal life' and the subsequent reassertion of domesticity and return to traditional gender roles within the separate spheres. If we refer back to Hall's reading of the circuit of culture, it can be utilised to explain the significance of domestic ideology in the construction of femininity. The actions of the media and government agencies played a fundamental role in the representation of women during the interwar years. Yet these manipulative processes could not have worked alone. The identity of women was constructed according to stereotypical ideals which were disseminated via media propaganda and other popular cultural forms such as novels, films and advertising of consumer goods. Women's prescribed role was centred on familial and domestic life and this was the one desirable image during this period, accepted and unchallenged by the majority of British women. This was regulated by the State by means of legislative measures such as the marriage bar, imposed to put women back in their place and advocating the role of wife and mother only served to exacerbate these powerful idealised images which were then consumed by society giving them cultural meaning. However, it should be recognised that there were women who were happy to stay at home as they considered marriage their best career option. There were also women who resisted pressures to conform; asserting themselves both within the workplace and socially and politically within other areas of the public sphere. But this freedom came at a cost, as representations of these women were mostly negative and disapproving. Wartime work had offered women a new sense of self-worth and pride in their abilities. (Braybon & Summerfield 1987, p.131) Yet, this came to an abrupt end for many as the overriding central notion of the interwar years was that a woman's place was in the home and this feminine ideology filtered into every area of women's lives and many feminists and anti-feminists alike would argue that this remains the case even today. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Sociology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Sociology essays

  1. The Go-between, while a powerful story of a young boy’s premature involvement in an ...

    When looking at the previous quote, we see how particular words such as "thick", "straps" and "strain" are suggestive of repression. Clothing in this quote also represents suffocation "strain on the circulation of my legs", which is also symbolic as it portrays social restrictions.

  2. is domestic violence a purely private problem or a national social problem? Discuss

    Violence within the family was neither a criminal nor a social issue. The husband was allowed to chastise his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb; this became known as the 'rule of thumb'. The judiciary was of the opinion that, "a man had the right to beat a bad woman."

  1. Shifting Gender Norms: The Ideal Woman in Story of an African Farm.

    We want to go. Then a loving hand is laid on us: "Little one, you cannot go," they say, "your face will burn, and your nice white dress be spoiled." (135). That, according to the new woman, is how the loving hand of society imprisons females; all the while claiming it is for their own good.

  2. Look at domestic labour within the family and any possible changes of domestic labour ...

    and takes even longer. Advantages of Closed questions: * More reliable * Easier to get a straight answer from * Simple and easy for person to fill in * Very quick * Easier to evaluate/categorising-put into different forms (charts) * Easier to collect statistics (quantify)

  1. Conservatism as a Ruling-Class Ideology.

    A conservative view of human nature is one that is weak, selfish and irrational. This means that the masses need a strong set of laws, and a government whose sole job is to maintain order. This government needs to be made up of the elite, as they can stave away

  2. Explain and discuss the significance of Mill's work for philosophical considerations of freedom.

    Rather, he also believes in the protection of property. Such limits on liberty intended to protect private property are consistent within a capitalist order where the legal system privileges private ownership. Mill takes the view that the rights of the corn dealer to do business are more justifiable than the free speech rights of the "mob".

  1. What are 'femininity' and 'masculinity'? To what extent and in what ways are women ...

    way she perceives herself in the manner of a stereotypical masculine mode, for instance 'dominant', 'brave' and 'rational'. This results in many individuals defining themselves as having combination of both feminine and masculine manners. The three major perspectives which give an explanation of what femininity and masculinity consist of are: social learning theory, psychoanalytic theory and cognitive development theory.

  2. Max Weber: Basic Terms (The Fundamental Concepts of Sociology)

    General presuppositions for the existence of modern day capitalism (thinking along the ideal type line): 1) Rational capital accounting. This involves the appropriation of all physical means of production as the property of autonomous private enterprises. 2) Freedom of the market, in the sense of the absence of irrational limits on trading in the market.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work