In Their Own Words: Global Understandings of Modern Womanhood in the Mid-20th-Century Women’s Press

AHA Session 146
Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Kim Gallon, Purdue University
Kim Gallon, Purdue University

Session Abstract

Over the course of the recent contentious election season, to the surprise of many commentators, Teen Vogue rose to forefront of critical media publications. It offered reporting on political and social issues, as well as think pieces that offered analyses and perspectives that foregrounded critical gender and critical race theory. At the helm since May 2016 has been editor-in chief, twenty-nine-year-old black woman Elaine Welteroth. Since her tenure, Teen Vogue has attracted attention for its blending of fashion with politics, as well as other issues of interest to teenage girls. Despite commentator’s focus on the novelty of Teen Vogue’s recent reporting and the supposed incongruity between fashion and politics, the publication’s new slant neatly fits within a long history of complex women’s publications which have deftly navigated issues of race, gender, and politics with general interest topics such as fashion. Within the pages of these publications, historians have found complex iterations and depictions of modern womanhood. This panel will explore this history in a global perspective, focusing on how women have understood their own gendered and racialized identity and written both to local audiences while interacting with global themes.

This panel contributes to the growing scholarship on women and print media. Since the historians, notably the Modern Girl Around the World collective, which located concepts of modernity and womanhood transnationally in the early twentieth century. This panel traces similar themes through the mid-twentieth century, while analyzing how changing ideas about modern womanhood were influenced by emerging ideologies around racial and national formation. Around the world, as editors, columnists, and readers, women participated in the development of women’s press which emerged in the form of not only women’s publications and women’s pages, but also regular columns, opinion pieces, how-to guides, and letters to the editor. Through these forums, women negotiated their complex racial and gender identities with new ideals of modern womanhood in a changing world. Taken together, these papers contribute to the growing scholarship on these questions by offering a global perspective on modern womanhood in the women’s press.

Amira Rose Davis will analyze the contributions of black American sportswriters in the 1930s, with attention to tensions between athleticism, femininity, and respectability. Moving into the late 1940s and 1950s, Sara Rahnama will look at how the earliest publications devoted to Algerian women debated how Algerian women could negotiate the demands of their families, their labor, their religion, and their relationship to European society on the cusp of the Algerian War. Her paper is attentive to how these complex negotiations were situated alongside changing norms of respectability in African contexts. Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué will foreground the importance of history in 1960s Cameroonian narratives about modern womanhood, specifically as told through women’s pages in the Anglophone press. More specifically, these articles emphasized the critical roles women played throughout African history to shape ideas about women’s emancipation in 1960s urban Cameroon. Kim Gallon will chair and offer comments.

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