- Restoring the Clutter of the Everyday
These two engrossing books approach twentieth-century cultural studies from different perspectives—where Heroes and Happy Endings is specific in time and genre as a window into gender dynamics, Women and the Media spans the century, with diverse subjects, focusing attention on women’s roles. This latter focus is a more traditional approach to women studies, to be sure, but both yield similar revelations about women’s status, if with different valences. Heroes sees the persistence of masculine narratives holding women in place while Women traces efforts to resist such ongoing sidelining. In neither case do the insights so much shift our understanding as fill in gaps through their welcome attention to overlooked and underexamined cultural products.
Women comprises seventeen essays (including the introduction) by thirteen authors—coeditors Maggie Andrews and Sallie McNamara author five and three essays, respectively, meaning they contributed roughly half the collection. The limited number of contributors belies the gratifying breadth of subject matter. Gillian Murray’s piece about midcentury media depictions of female bus drivers renews the imperative within cultural studies for scholars to, in Janet Mussell’s words, “restor[e] the clutter of the everyday” (quoted in Andrews and McNamara 2014, 171). The collection aptly fulfills this mission, leading readers through the pastimes and work environments of women, often disclosing the existence of a wealth of underexplored archival resources. From its opening body chapter, a delightful investigation of representations of women’s motorcycle riding before WWI, to its analysis of the market and cultural forces shaping the placement and salaciousness of pinup photographs in the popular press, the book offers an eclectic sample rather than a comprehensive survey. [End Page 240]
Despite the seemingly scattershot subject matter, however, the editors have curated the collection carefully, so that it traces several strains of media across the twentieth century. The volume is organized by periods, each containing at least one chapter on print media and one on radio and/or television; all time periods except 1900–1939 also have at least one film chapter. Through these recurrences, the reader begins to develop a familiarity and fluency with, for instance, the BBC’s efforts to create programming for women; the struggles of women in male-dominated fields like architecture, photojournalism, and bus driving; or the uneasy fit many professional women had within the publications for which they wrote. The chapters are thus in productive conversation with one another, notably in the sequence devoted to the BBC’s Women’s Hour, Other Women’s Lives, and Women’s Viewpoint. Similarly, chapters on periodical culture trace public anxiety about the sexuality of young women from the 1950s and 60s, when most magazines, according to Rachel Ritchie, were frank about sexuality when it aided in their enforcement of married heterosexual norms, while they downplayed contemporary controversial topics like race and the Pill (143–55). Fan Carter’s chapter about teen magazines in the 1990s astutely characterizes MP Peter Luff as emblematic of an ahistoricizing moral panic, constructing girls as vulnerable, impressionable, passive consumers of increasingly consumerist, sexually frank magazines (231–43).
The investigations of film are particularly interesting in their collective analysis of depictions of prostitution across eras. One of the highlights is Paul Elliott’s “The Iron Lady and the Working Girl: The Image of the Prostitute in 1980s British Cinema,” notable for its attention to genre as well as ideology. Elliott revisits the long-standing question of how form is linked to politics; he combines this analysis with an important corrective to the (already solidifying) account of Thatcherism as articulating a cohesive monolithic narrative. Noting that the “traditional values” discourse of American conservatism in the 1980s does not appear in Thatcher government rhetoric until 1987, Elliott argues Thatcherism’s economic interests generally trumped moral ideology. He reads the prostitute in this era as small businesswoman: “Prostitution is an occupation rather than...