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Representation Of Women In The Kitchen Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3283 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Do women still get placed in the kitchen in today’s society? This essay will be looking at the imagery and other media from the 1940’s to the current day and compare and discuss the differences to find out if much has changed from the sexist way women were always portrayed as happy housewives in the kitchen. Imagery, television and the media will all help reveal the truth about how much, if at all, our society has changed with their views towards women and their roles at home.

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The far left picture is an old photograph this is told by the quality of the picture. The image is of a young woman and a little girl sitting around a table in the kitchen. They look like they are from a poor background judging by the fact the little girl has to sit on a milk churn. The picture in the middle is hard to depict whether it is drawn or photographed because of the finish on the image. There is a little girl licking some mixture out of a mixer in the kitchen with her mother and they look like they have been baking together. The third picture is more of a modern kitchen and the woman is wearing smarter clothes so this implies that she is of a high class than the other two images. She seems to be quite contempt whilst preparing a meal. As you can see she has a few utilities that the others do not so this may help speed up the cooking process and keep the kitchen cleaner. In all three of these photos there is not a male figure present. This starts to show the views and the opinions of the people in the 1940’s and may be a good starting point to show the gender representation of women in the kitchen.

When looking back to the time of the Greeks and observing how they lived in the home environment, you will see that the women’s place was in the kitchen whether she was a slave or a house wife.

“Most Greek households had slaves. Female slaves cooked, cleaned, and worked in the fields. If a woman did not have a slave, then they had a lot more freedom, but a lot more work to do.”

The saying “home is where the heart is” is from the famous Gaius Plinius Secundas also known as Pliny the Elder. This saying continues today when we may describe our homes. Did women inspire the meaning of this quote? One idea could be that Pliny came up with this quote by seeing that the woman he loved was always in the home therefore his heart which belonged to his wife could mean that his heart would always be at home with her or on the other hand he could be referring that his home will always be somewhere that he will love, which doesn’t involve women.

Women used to get taught from a young age how to wash their clothes and how to clean a house so from an early age young girls were getting, what was considered the vital skills that they would need for their married life to a man. In the 1940’s a man in the kitchen was unheard of but in today’s society it is perfectly acceptable for a man to like cooking and want to cook for his family, so the saying “men are hunters and women are gathers” has become a balanced statement where both sexes are hunters and gatherers.

It was not only imagery that women were shown in the kitchen space, there were the advertisement of kitchen wear and kitchen appliances and here are a few examples.

Figure 4 Figure 5

The first image on the left is showing a mixer that is built into the work surfaces of the kitchen units so this invention was quite modern in the time of 1940 – 1950. What can be observed is that today in a kitchen some people prefer to hide their kitchen appliances as it can make the kitchen look cluttered but in this 1950’s modern kitchen the appliances have been built into the work surface because in this period it was seen as convenient to have main appliances to hand. Today you would only bring this equipment out when you were baking. What this image is showing is the appliance of a mixer but in a subtle way we can see which target market the advertisement is targeting. This product is aimed at women and this is evident by the sex of the assistant that is used to promote the appliance. It is clear to the viewer that these are female hands because of the bracelet on her wrist, this is all subtle marketing. In the second photo the nails on the hands have been painted so this product again is aiming at the women. Some may agree that they have painted her nails to show that the job she is doing is womanly, glamorous and can be completed with class, but then on the other hand they may be trying to aim at the wealthier women by representing her with a luxury item like nail polish or a lavish life style. Both images if re taken today would not include hands because the target market is aiming at everyone not just women.

Another source of research that will be observed will be looking at films and television advertisement which also played a big role when it came to the female gender being placed in the kitchen. The first advertisement is called ‘Mrs. Modern vs. Mrs. Drudge’, 1939, this is an advert which is not like what we have today, this has been designed so it is performed in front of a live audience and whilst the advert is being performed it is being filmed and put onto the television. The main message that this video is trying to get across is that Mrs. Modern with the dish washer can clean dishes cleaner and quicker than Mrs. Drudge who is washing by hand. What was noticeable was that almost all of the audience were women and the contestants Mrs. Modern and Mrs. Drudge are women to. At the beginning of the video it says on a sign “see it here the battle of the centuries, the solution to one of women’s problems.” Writing that it was a “woman’s problem” proves that this was the woman’s domain in the late 1930’s – 1950’s.

Another video that shows women in the kitchen space is ‘A Word to the Wife’, 1955, here we can see a slight change in the gender roles in this video. ‘A Word to the Wife’ is about two women, one has just had a modern kitchen fitted and the other one has a kitchen that is falling apart and the problem with this is that it takes her twice as long to clean and cook where as her friend it takes her less time. The story is about convincing the husband of getting a modern kitchen for his wife just like her friends. What is interesting in this video is that the husband with the modern kitchen shows off his appliances in the kitchen to the other man, what is interesting is that he said “this is really for me son” when he is talking about a gas disposer and then he goes onto telling his friend about his boiler. So in the 1950’s we can see a slow change of the genders in the kitchen and from this video you can see that when the lady asks the husband to do something he does it without saying “it’s your job”.

Looking at a third video ‘Frigidaire Finale’, 1957, this clip is of a man and a woman dancing around a collection of fridges whilst showing the features of each different fridge. We are beginning to see men being brought into the kitchen space but yet they have not completed taken the role off the women.

One will compare these programs to what is shown on television today in 2011. Cooking programmes have become a growing interest of the public, there are such programs such as ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ with Gordon Ramsey, ‘Come Dine with Me’, Nigel Slater with ‘Real Food’, Jamie Oliver’s ‘American Food Revolution’, ‘Ready Steady Cook’, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith and many more. The programmes on television and in magazines feature both sexes so instantly you can see that in 2011 the gender relationship related to the kitchen has changed from being female orientated. What is interesting is comparing the amount of views that either sex brings in with their television advertisement and entertainment. Gordon Ramsay has a show broadcasted on TV called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and he is renowned for having great food and exquisite restaurants. He managed to pull in 5.98 million viewers with this show. Now we will compare this to a female chef, Nigella Lawson also has a cooking program, she received 80,000 thousand with her first series but at Christmas she managed to pull in 3million. With these figures it is clear to see that Gordon Ramsay is the more popular out of the two but this would not have been the case back in the 40’s. So why has our culture changed and now except men in the kitchen area? Some may believe that the television ratings are made up of more females or on the other hand it may be down to the fact that more men are taking an interest in the culinary side of life. Fanny Cradock in the 50’s, was the first lady to have her own cooking program on the television and because there was a limited amount of channels so there was no need to have more than one of these programmes and this is where England starts to differ from America. America had a lot of television stations so this meant they could target a wider variety of people, where as England only had BBC and ITV.

When Margaret Thatcher became the first lady prime minister, 1979, after challenging Edward Heath and won she became a role model for all women. By Thatcher achieving such a high position, equality started to emerge within the work place and the home. Some may believe that a woman becoming higher up than some men showed that women had what it took to take on a man’s job.

If you look at the advertisements for kitchens and appliances in 2011, the media do not place only the females in the kitchen in the adverts as this for one would be sexist and would not reach the varied target market as it has changed hugely since the 1940’s along side with the culture. When researching kitchen companies and exploring the companies visual side of their work you will notice that they have left figures out of the photo a lot of the time, as they are only trying to promote the style of kitchen not a way that you should live. It is interesting to compare kitchen advertisement from both era’s as there is a clear sign that today’s advertisement companies focus more on showing off the product than using gendered figures to show who the target market is.

In some traditions today, such as the travellers, the oldest daughter has to clean the home or caravan every day and when she gets married she has to keep her duties up for her husband until she has a daughter who is of a suitable age to clean and manage the home, but for the family the oldest daughter has left behind her duties get pasted down to her younger sister which she will up keep for her mother until she is married off. So for the women cleaning is a recurring cycle in their tradition. Maybe one day their culture will change where the roles are equal. This information has come from the program ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ when you watch the young newlyweds you can see that although they are happy that they just got married, some of the girls are not happy with having to clean every day the same old house or caravan so some may believe that it will not be too long until the travellers wives have had enough and make a change to their traditional ways.

Figure 6

Another route to explore is the way a kitchen was put together and how the measurements were gathered and configured. “Have a kitchen chair with a back to it for women who like to sit while they iron or do dishes.” This is taken from a book written by Nancy A. Walker and it is about Gender roles and in one section she teaches the women how to wash their dishes. Someone from today may find this insulting where as someone in the 40’s would find this possibly helpful, because they were always trying to be the best housewife. This book has been specifically written solely for the use of women. This book gives the reader an insight to the literature that these ladies from the 40’s were reading. Someone of today may consider this book sexist and may feel that it may have brainwashed the women to believe that becoming the best housewife was the best aspiration in life.

Figure 7

The whole kitchen was designed around women even down to looking at the ergonomics of women to improve the sizes of the kitchens produced. Here is an image that was taken from MoMA, New York. It is of a lady’s body and shows her measurements but this is the percentile of 50 women that fall under these sizes. “The standard kitchen work surface height of 36 inches (91cm) is based on the dimensions of the average woman.” This proves that the kitchen work surfaces were based around the size of women so already you can see in the 1950’s kitchen designers were only designing this space for the use of women. Today if researching the ergonomics for furniture or kitchen designs, they will have both sexes’ sizes because designers realised that cooking was becoming a mutual interest. If you research ergonomics in the kitchen you will notice that sometimes the way they illustrate figures is by using muscle people so it is more than a stick person but it does not define sex obviously. Although a few of the images found some may agree that you can see the shape of the figure looks more like one gender than the other. This is a big difference when you look back at the 1950’s, where they just illustrated women and thought that women’s sizes were the only sizes they would need when designing a kitchen.

Figure 9

Figure 8

In the 70’s Graham Kerr was the first man to be seen in the kitchen and once he was in there the kitchen designers discovered that they were limiting their sales by only targeting this space to women, so instead of targeting half the market they discovered that targeting men and women would give them a wider target market which would lead them to more sales. This was the same for cars. Not only women were the ones stereotyped, men also where when it came to mechanics. The car was initially designed just for men and yet it took the designers a while to see that they were only targeting half the population so they too started to design unisex cars so that both women and men could purchase them.

Some may say that men only started entering the kitchen because there was a social change and that convenient meals started to become popular which made cooking easier and there was less cleaning up to do. The convenient meals captured a wider audience as they were not just aimed at one sex. A lot of our influences come from America so when they started to change so did England.

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After looking at the 1940’s one wanted to find out what people’s attitudes were to women in the kitchen space in 2011 were, so one way to do this is by producing primary research and designing a questionnaire based on women in the kitchen in today’s culture and get true opinions from both sexes (see Appendix A). So the questionnaire has been undertaken and 16 people have submitted their answers. Below are the questions and the results that were calculated. The reason behind this questionnaire is to investigate how other families live today and what are people’s views about women being limited to the kitchen space. From the results that have been gathered you can see that, yes females are still working more in the kitchen than the males but some may believe that this is not because they are forced to but because it may either have come naturally as a mother to be in the kitchen or because they take an interest in cooking. Unless the women who cooked were spoken to there is not a way to know why each one of them chose to make this space their responsibility. So after gathering the results from the questionnaire you can see that yes more men are making their way into the kitchen space but also that our culture does differ from the 1940’s.

To conclude this investigation woman in the 1940’s had sole responsibilities over everything regarding with the kitchen space whether it was cooking the evening dinner for their husbands or cleaning the kitchen area from day to day but this was the female’s domain and this was not negotiable. It would be fair to say that this was the way back then mainly because women didn’t have much right compared to the men so this was a contributing factor to why women were domestic goddess’s to their partners. The ladies of today are more fortunate than those of the 40’s because we are in a society where women and men are equal in the home environment unless they come to an agreement which works for them. The media, imagery and opinion about the kitchen space, has changed dramatically from 70years ago. The use of the kitchen is more of a social and family room now, which is why in some kitchens you will notice that the dining area and the kitchen are connected. Kitchens have become a place where people like to socialise and they also may enjoy themselves in this space. The unique designs of kitchens today allow people to cook independently or with others which would not have been the case in the 1940’s. Both men and women have been liberated into working in the kitchen in today’s society so this has given both sexes a chance to explore the kitchen and what it has to offer.


“Her job is to make a home, the American home, today it is perhaps the most important

job in the world” – 1946, Making a new day out of Tuesday, Ironrite Ironer Co, video

2 ‘Making a new day out of Tuesday’ – 1946, Ironrite Ironer Co, video

3 “Most Greek households had slaves. Female slaves cooked, cleaned, and worked in the

fields. If a woman did not have a slave, then they had a lot more freedom, but a lot more

work to do.” – http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/ancientchix/

4 “home is where the heart is” – Gaius Plinius Secundas – Pliny the Elder – (AD 23 – August 24, AD 79), Como, Italy, Available at: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080124143837AAx7DTy

5 ‘Mrs. Modern vs. Mrs. Drudge’ – 1939, Audio Productions, Inc, video

6 “see it here the battle of the centuries, the solution to one of women’s problems.” – 1939, Audio Productions, Inc.

7 ‘A Word to the Wife’ – 1955, Telamerica Inc, video

8 ‘Frigidaire Finale’ – 1957, Jam Handy Organization, video

9 ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ – May 2005, Rebekah Fry and Suzanne Pate, FOX

10 ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ – 2011, Firecracker Films, Channel 4

11 “Have a kitchen chair with a back to it for women who like to sit while they iron or do

dishes.” – Nancy A. Walker, N.A.W, 1998, Women’s magazines 1940-1960: gender roles and the popular press, United States of America, Haddon Craftsman Inc.

12 “The standard kitchen work surface height of 36 inches (91cm) is based on the dimensions

of the average woman” – Popular Science, September 1953, MoMA


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