Lecture V: CLASS, GENDER, AND MATERIAL CULTURE
This lecture explores the way advertisements and clothing have
helped us to understand differences in class and gender. The so-
called "separate spheres theory" has suggested that women and men
have occupied different realms in the modern world; images in
magazines support this view. Women are mostly shown in the home;
men are more typically photographed or painted in public.
Working-class women are often shown in kitchens. We discuss reasons why it is so difficult to study women and working-class people of the past (bias of images and
Fig. v1: The Canadian Kitchen Interior, National Museum of Science and Technology.
Fig. v2: Fragrance Holder, McCord Museum
We then turn to images of mass culture, examining how women have been portrayed in advertisements in a single Canadian journal. Women are clearly associated with interiors, as helpers to men, and as extensions of household technology, especially heating equipment and locks. Another clear pattern is the representation of women's body parts, like arms and legs, divorced from their bodies. Conversely, images in women's magazines show rather positive views of women.
Fig. v3: Shoolbred Catalog, c. 1910, Victoria and Albert Museum
Fig. v4: Advertisement, Glidden Paint, RAIC Journal, Jan. 1957.
Fig. v5: Advertisement, Crane, RAIC Journal, May 1969.
Fig. v6: Advertisement, Johns-Manville Building Materials, Canadian Homes and Gardens, April 1946.
After World War II, two important subthemes appear in ads: the
virgin and the vamp. These are overtly associated with the artifacts we expect to find in kitchens and bedrooms respectively. We then explore popular television shows looking at differences in how working-class and middle-class family life are portrayed.
Fig. v7: Advertisement, Organdy, House Beautiful, Oct. 1952.
Fig. v8: Advertisement, Utica Sheets, House Beautiful, Jan. 1952.
Our survey of costume reveals important differences between men's and women's fashion and among class groups. Clothing expresses membership in exclusive groups (religious, ethnic, political). Changes in work have changed clothing customs; here we discuss men's suits/industrialization, women's undergarments as a limiting force in society and eventually clothing reform as a form of political liberation. We also consider the impact of modern urban amenities (dancing, movies), sports, and recreation on clothing design.
Fig. v9: Religious Costumes, McCord Museum
Fig. v10: Items trashed by feminists at 1968 Miss America Pageant, Atlantic City.
Fig. v11: Corset from the 1880s.
Fig. v12: Gold Sequined Evening Dress 1925, Gold Leather and Brocade Shoes, Feather Fan.
Fig. v13: The Flapper, 1930s.
Fig. v14: Young women playing basketball in bloomers at Western High School, Washington, 1899 .
We conclude that images and clothing are important aids in our efforts as material-culture scholars to redefine gender and class. We may think that we have erased sexism and racism in Canadian society, but a closer look at advertising and clothing clearly shows how power structures are clearly expressed in images and artifacts, if not in words.
Prof. Annmarie Adams: Adams@urbarc.lan.mcgill.ca