Leading Ladies: Concepts of Femininity in 1937-1941 Hollywood Women’s Films

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Arts and Humanities | Film and Media Studies | History


Kenneth Jones, History


Women’s films centralized women during an era which lauded “the forgotten man.” The films depicted the horrors and successes of female independence and the problems and happiness of marriage. They dealt with conflicts women faced while working outside the home and strengthening their authority within the home. Every heroine portrayed a woman that audiences could aspire to be or chastise for her mistakes. Women’s films provided a model for female behavior at a time when women were uncertain about their own roles. I examined some of the most popular films of all time – including classics such as Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday, Gone with the Wind, and Rebecca – and studied smart-talking characters played by revered actresses like Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Ginger Rogers. I considered how the heroines of 1937-1941 Hollywood women’s films reflected concepts of female behavior and femininity and discovered that heroines in women’s film were feminine yet strong, witty yet gorgeous, in control of their own lives yet happy to choose the socially acceptable path of wife and mother.