- Club de señoritas: Productions of Mexican Femininity in the 1950s
On October 13, 1953, Mexican federal lawmakers helped President Adolfo Ruíz Cortines make good on his campaign promise to give women the right to vote when they passed legislation to legalize women’s suffrage. Women voted for the first time in the congressional elections of 1955, and by July 6, 1958, more than 4.5 million women had registered to vote in a presidential election.1 With the right to vote, women were allowed to enter the formal political sphere. Millions of women were now able to voice their political views at the ballot box and as elected officials. Granted, the chances of a woman winning an election were slim. The inclusion of women in society had limits: The same year women were allowed to step into the political ring on a federal level, the National Association of Toreros and Novillos voted to ban women from the bullring.
In the 1950s, along with the extension of women into the political arena, the public sphere underwent dramatic changes as it extended from the street to the screen—big and small, in film and on television. Conversations and forms of expression traditionally voiced in the street now were beamed into homes, as television emerged as a new “public plaza,”2 one distinct from, but not necessarily in competition with, traditional public meeting places. Television, as a new public sphere, had its own set of opportunities as well as limitations for construction, contestation, and affirmation of social, political, and cultural ideas.
On television news and in the movies, producers and directors treated the subject of women’s newfound political roles. In the process, news and entertainment producers called attention to women, their political actions and their bodies. The men who by and large controlled the airwaves and silver screen helped shape notions of femininity in the 1950s. By examining television news coverage of the 1958 presidential elections and a not-so-well known, but still mainstream film, El Club de Señoritas, a 1955 film directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares, it becomes evident that gender roles were in the midst of a dramatic shift. At the same time, it remains clear that the way new concepts of femininity were being framed were still by and large constructed [End Page 132] by men, on the big and small screen. In other words, men—who controlled how, who and what was being produced—appropriated the feminine.3
Historians have tended to focus on the 1940s and the nueva ola [new wave] of feminism of the 1960s in treating the subject of social constructions of femininity and feminism. Despite the significance of the inclusion of women into formal politics in the 1950s, the topic of shifting gender roles during this decade has been somewhat neglected. This essay helps deepen understanding about a moment of dramatic political and social change.
Media Landscape and Background
By 1955, the year women first voted in federal elections, television had been on air for five years. The day of the official inauguration of television on September 1, 1950, only a handful of citizens owned television sets.4 Broadcast executives set up TV sets in public places such as in front of the National Palace to allow Mexico City residents to view and hear the fourth informe of President Miguel Alemán. But the medium quickly gained in popularity, and by the end of the decade, national viewership had soared to 3.8 million, with 780,000 television sets plugged in around the country (with most viewers in Mexico City)5 and Telesistema Mexicano, which would become Televisa in 1973, producing about six hours a day of news programming.6 By the end of the 1950s, television had reached other major cities including Guadalajara, and the signal from Mexico City through repeaters could be watched in parts of the southeast and southwest, from the gulf to the Pacific Ocean. States such as Guanajuato, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí and Querétaro also were able to view Mexico City programming by way of repeaters.7 As television news and entertainment programs became more...