Dream Stuff: the postwar home and the Australian housewife, 1940-60
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During the postwar period the modern family home assumed a special place in the Australian imaginary. Women achieved a greater public presence in this context, reflected in calls to Australian housewives to think about how their ideal home would look. The `new look' required of the national home was addressed to its occupants, the Australian family, and was articulated through both government policy discourses and the popular media. Planning for and dreaming about modernity became key activities of homemaking. The requirements of women, in particular, to dream and plan for the future family produced the housewife as a modern figure responsible for the planning of a successful future for her family. The modern challenge to make home anew spoke to women's authority on day-to-day living, moving the efficient arrangement of the home and its public exposure firmly into their domain. However, this new, mass-mediated way of looking at domesticity created a contradiction in female domestic subjectivity. On the one hand, both state and market discourses suggested that women could sweep away the elements of traditional, particularly prewar, home designs that bound them to the home. On the other, popular magazines also placed a great deal of emphasis on the look of things and on looking itself, further inscribing women's identity within domestic space. We argue through a case study of the figure of the housewife in Australian home magazines that as a result of this contradiction during this period the identity of 'housewife' came to offer a new, reflexive relationship between female selfhood and home. Via the domestication of modernity in terms of gender, previous divisions between the public and private were destabilised. We suggest that the housewife's gaze both towards the home and towards her 'domestic self' intensified the problematic of feminity, putting it on the threshold of public and private space, offering a critical, enabling position for an ensuing feminist analysis.
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
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Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified