- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (January 15, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1845200314
- ISBN-13: 978-1845200312
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,990,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sentenced to Everyday Life: Feminism and the Housewife
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'Why are 'housewife' and 'feminist' seen to be mutually exclusive terms? Why has feminism so often assumed that women can only become modern by leaving home? In their illuminating work of cultural history, Johnson and Lloyd challenge such beliefs by redescribing the housewife as a distinctively modern and politically complex form of identity. A timely, invigorating, and much needed reassessment of feminist ideas.' Rita Felski, University of Virginia 'Combines an impressively broad range of materials from popular culture and wider public debate to challenge some of the key feminist wisdoms about the significance of the figure of the 1940s and 1950s housewife. This exemplary study offers a taste of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship at its best.' Jackie Stacey, Lancaster University 'Why do stories about happy homemakers provoke such conflicting emotions among contemporary women? Sentenced to Everyday Life helps us understand the issues at stake. It is a timely analysis and
About the Author
Lesley Johnson is Deputy Vice-Cancellor (Research) and Professor of Cultural Studies, Griffith University, Queensland.
Justine Lloyd is Visiting Professor in Australian Cultural Studies and Australian Postdoctoral Research Fellow.
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Top Customer Reviews
They wrote in the Preface of this 2002 book, “This study is part of an increasingly important cross-generational dialogue within feminism. This discussion has revolved around exactly what the domains of work and home might mean to and offer us as women. We contribute to this debate by building on the observation made by many feminist scholars that as feminine as well as feminist subjects, we are ‘made up’ in different ways depending on our historical and social situations. Our personal desires for and aversions to domesticity have been shaped by moments in feminist activism as much as they have been influenced by the ways in which feminine gender roles changed for Western women in the twentieth century…
“For feminists of the baby-boomer generation, denigration of the housewife role in the 1960s and 1970s represented an affirmation of women’s role in the workplace and their equality with men. For women born after the feminism of this period, the housewife’s role and new interpretations of its meaning offer a different space for the self, one that is not ‘sentenced’ to everyday life, but actively chosen because it provides for the possibility of a different relationship to work and a work-based identity. Many women are now insisting on the recognition of caring and affective relationships within an identity that goes beyond who they are at work… women are increasingly wishing to assert the importance of domesticity and child rearing at the same time as they are insisting on their equality with men. Drawing on a mix of cultural studies, sociology, social theory and feminist thought, this book seeks to contribute to this debate in a way that we hope will assist in the revitalization of feminism and particularly in making it again relevant to the everyday lives of a broad range of women.”
In the first chapter, they explain, “In this book, we are interested in the way feminism since the second world war appears to have had a troubled relationship with the figure of the housewife. We will discuss how feminists today, but more particularly in the early years of second wave feminism, have represented the housewife… We will suggest that the way in which the figure of the housewife was used in these contexts can still be seen today to limit the extent to which feminists of different generations understand each other. And we will argue that such problematic representations continue to curtail feminists’ ability to participate effectively in contemporary debates about how modern families can balance family and work life.” (Pg. 2)
They state, “The texts of early second wave feminism… provided forms of training through which women could learn to understand themselves as self-choosing and acquire the desire to be self-determining, able to order their lives and the world around themselves by planning and making their own selves… While the work of Simone de Beauvoir and Germaine Greer… functioned as … providing women with guidance about how to think about their lives and selves, [Betty] Friedan set out to be a populist writer and to speak to women more explicitly about how to change their lives and become autonomous selves… she devised a linear narrative in which women could see themselves as having been oppressed or manipulated by the media to believe themselves fulfilled as housewives.” (Pg. 14)
They suggest, “it is precisely the focus on housewives as mothers in these years and immediately after the [Second World] war that also creates the conditions of possibility for the emergence of second wave feminism… The popular media in the years immediately after the second world war… began to talk about women as the moral core and authority of the family and the controller of man’s environment… In suffering drudgery and deprivation, they might be damaged selves, but the injured self of the housewife was nevertheless precisely a self, a modern identity with responsibilities, entitlements, a sphere of importance in which to act and hence also the potential to move beyond this sphere, and to begin to determine her own responsibilities.” (Pg. 26-27)
They observe, “In the 1950s we then see an important shift with the housewife now being represented in the sense of feminism seeking to speak on her behalf as a figure who needs to be rescued from her plight---rather than enabling her to speak for herself. She appears by this time as an identifiable if problematic figure within feminism. She is represented as victim, suffering from boredom and futility, in an argument about the equality of women and the social and political necessity of ensuring that women’s talents are appropriately recognized and valued. It is this view that 1960s and 1970s feminism extended and elaborated.” (Pg. 42)
They explain, “By analyzing a set of post-war films that feature housewives as main characters, we shod that the ‘woman’s film’ … actively explored a tension between discourses of modernity and femininity. We suggest that the housewife in such popular cultural forms of the period had to work through the problem of the individual’s relationship to home: that is, the discourse of self-determination that requires the modern self to be completed in the public world of work. Gender complicates the housewife’s story: she must become a modern citizen, yet still complete her feminine subjectivity ‘at home.’ We suggest that popular films of the 1940s and 1950s therefore reveal subtle yet profound changes in a historically formed emotional ambivalence about the figure of the domestic woman.” (Pg. 89)
They summarize, “In this book we have been looking at a period in history in which there were significant developments in the dissociation of individuals from their wider social context, at the same time as we can see evidence of moves to re-embed individuals in forms of social identity as a ‘fact of nature.’ … This book has been tracing these uneven developments in the 1940s and 1950s in Australia to understand the emergence of a particular feminist subject position in the following two decades. Our argument has been that while the production of this subjectivity obviously had a huge impact in enabling a major social revolution, it also created a form of social agency which feminists have found difficult to let go.”
They conclude, “Even at the time it was most prevalent, the figure of the housewife was not seamless with women’s subjectivity, and was related to significant changes in masculinity, in what it means to be a modern man. This book has sought to unsettle our received memories, and has shown how the housewife role, far from silencing women, gave women as a group a speaking position, and a political voice that is still relevant to current debates about paid maternity leave and child-care policy. By asking the state to take account of domesticity and support the home as a workplace, the housewives’ organizations of the 1940s asked for public recognition of their contribution on equal terms with the male breadwinner.” (Pg. 156-157)
This is an original, and quite interesting perspective on feminist theory and its relationship to the model of the “housewife.” Although focused somewhat on Australia, Americans interested in feminism, as well as the historical development of the role of the housewife in modern society will likely find it very interesting as well.