Representations of Female Sexuality in the 1950's Essay

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The 1950's and Sexuality

World War II can be seen as an ending and then a beginning for different eras. Prior to the war, the world was in a the most severe economic downturn that anyone had experienced in modern times, whereas the 1950's were one of the most prosperous times in American history. The prewar years were fraught with struggle for between the wealthy elite and the poor. There was a relatively small middle class that served the wealthy and helped to dominate the poor. After the war, people, as a whole, had more economic opportunity, and the middle class grew astronomically. The war also separated America's ideas of what a woman was from what she could become. During the war women had been required to work in factories doing jobs that were normally reserved for men. Women could be teachers, nurses, or mothers before 1945, but the long climb toward total occupational independence began during this time period. America was also beginning to look at women a little bit differently with regard to sexuality. This concept was more regional prior to the war, but afterward, with the advent of television, the ideal woman began to take shape. Most shows had female figures that were average house wives and they seemed content in their roles. However, there were those icons of the age that fought
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that construction also. This paper looks at how images such as Barbie, beauty pageants and Marilyn Monroe shaped how people thought about sexuality in the 1950's.

The doll, Barbie, was introduced to the world in 1959 (officially March 9, 1959 which is her birthday) as "every girl's dream of the woman she hopes to one day become- beautiful, glamorous, and always dressed reflecting the latest styles" (Lester, 2010). The reason that Barbie was impressive was that she was modeled after a mature woman rather than a baby. Most dolls produced prior to this were babies with which little girls, and sometimes boys, could play as if they were a mommy and a grownup. Barbie allowed children to have more of a realistic fantasy. The intent was that children could play as if they were Barbie going to work, or staying at home and doing the things that mommy did. She was a change from the traditional because she was (and is) a curvaceous, attractive ideal. Since most dolls were babies, girls had never had an ideal other than the women they knew from the neighborhood or the ones they happened to see on television (who often looked like the ones from the neighborhood). Barbie changed that ideal, many say for the worst since she was in some respects the beginning of a poor body image for many girls, for better or worse.

Barbie was billed as…

Sources Used in Documents:


Lester, N.A. (2010). Disney's "The Princess and the Frog": The pride, the pressure and the politics of being a first. Journal of American Culture, 33(4), 294-310.

Sharp, G. (2009). 1950s beauty pageant judging guidelines. Retrieved from guidelines/

Williams, Z. (2005). The fifties ideal of sexuality was serious: Less flesh, more promise. New Statesman, 134(4741), 28-33.

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