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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: Motherhood, Occupational Prestige and the Roles of Women in Hollywood Films of the 1940s and 1950s

  • Author(s): Hoover, Tracey Kim
  • Advisor(s): Miller, Bruce T
  • Aguirre, Adalberto
  • et al.

Cultural stereotypes and controlling images have been imbedded in the context of U.S. cinema, especially since the end of the second world war. Women have been disempowered and marginalized by these images. It is important to explore the existence and prevalence of these images in order to understand the impact this medium has on women's occupational choices. It is particularly important to study the cultural expectations of motherhood for women, and the influence post-World War II films has had on occupational gender role expectations A feminist content analysis of the themes present in 104 U.S. films from the years 1939 to 1959, along with 11 remade versions (1978 to 2008) of films in the sample was conducted as a means to find evidence in support of intersectional feminist theory's position in regard to female representation in film, and the extent to which this representation has changed over time. The review of the 1,150 lead characters in the 115 films was done through the use of a content review sheet which was developed by the researcher through the use of prior research and previously used review sheets in studies using similar research designs. The analysis revealed themes including but not limited to the idea that careers should be secondary to romantic and marital relationships in women's lives; women appear in significantly fewer numbers than men in primary roles; women of color were portrayed characters who served white women; women are portrayed more often as mothers during the 1950s. In addition, women of ethnicities other than White are not adequately represented in the films, much less with regard to career choices. The films project the message that white women are secondary to men in one more area of society and that, women of color are secondary to white women.

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