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"Women's Work": Feminization and Media Production


This dissertation examines historically feminized professions in the American film industry, such as casting, script supervision and secretaryial positions -work that remains female-dominated or feminized across gender today. To account for the continued existence of these gendered sectors of labor and illuminate the place of feminized labor in the industrial logic of media production, the dissertation locates the origins of industrial notions of "women's work" in the sex segregation practices which developed at the early studios of the 1910s and 20s. The dissertation then follows this logic of feminization, as well as the work sectors that grew up around it, through the 1930s and 40s, by which time "women's work" and feminized labor had become essential to the functioning of major U.S. studios' large-scale operations. The study reveals how earlier practices of sex segregation and feminization continue to impact the industry today, half a century after the end of the studio system, when legal-political reforms have supposedly barred gender-based discrimination in American workplaces.

The project's thesis posits that the professions were feminized due to their work's roots in clerical or other traditionally feminized sectors, and developed additional gendered practices as women fit themselves to the work assigned to of them through culturally acceptable gender performance in order to succeed, acquire additional responsibility, and in some cases expand their creative agency. As such, women's professions and workplace identities within media production culture were, in effect, co-constructed by the female media worker and the system, a negotiation between the worker's agency and that of the forces that acted upon her.

The research integrates a primarily archival methodology with conceptual tools from gender and media production studies. The project is grounded in an examination of the cultural and industrial causes of the feminization of certain types of film labor. It accounts for feminization and its effects through of both public and studio discourse around women's labor, and the statements of the workers themselves. This top-down/bottom-up triangulation attempts to address historiographic concerns presented by subject matter that has largely been marginalized into the footnotes of other Hollywood histories of "great men" and great texts.

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