The formative role of gendered cultural expectations in the everyday lives of American women from the mid-nineteenth century onward is hardly a subject of scholarly debate today. Numerous historical and theoretical investigations of the formations and agencies of womanhood, and manhood for that matter, in the United States have demonstrated the centrality of gender in the construction and negotiation of cultural meanings and material relations.
For women, cultural expectations of gender often focused on domestic roles and responsibilities and notions of femininity. An established weft of the social fabric of American culture by the turn of the twentieth century, prescriptions regarding female behavior and appearance were tethered to such gendered beliefs. In this period women were inundated with domestic advice in newspaper columns, magazines, etiquette manuals, and advertisements about how to be better mothers, cooks, hostesses, housekeepers, decorators, and consumers. However, one subset of this advice literature that cut across spheres, private and public, young and old, single and married, was beauty.
Like gender, feminine beauty was and is a social and cultural construction, long considered a primary constituent of female identity. In addition to hair dyes, powders, rouge, lipstick, and other cosmetic aids, electric lighting, the subject of this study, was among the many tools promoted for enhancing feminine beauty.
As a culturally constructed aspect of identity, beauty also implicated other related social beliefs and practices, including those constituting race and class. The intersection of dominant notions of race, class, and gender is apparent in the strategic development of the market for electricity in the first half of the twentieth century.
|—||'Threats and Promises: The Marketing and Promotion of Electric Lighting to Women in the United States, 1880s-1960s' by Margaret Maile Petty IN: Vol. 21 No. 1 / Spring-Summer 2014 print edition of West 86th. [via @W86th]|