During the Second World War, women’s involvement in Canada’s ‘total war’ effort meant increased domestic responsibilities, volunteering, enlisting, and joining the civilian workforce. Women’s labour force participation more than doubled throughout the war, blurring gendered divisions of labour and rendering women’s labour a subject for discussion in the public sphere. But what about in the news? Using a comparative content analysis, this paper examines representations of women’s labour (domestic, volunteer and wage) in commercial and alternative (labour) newspapers during the war period in Canada. It first considers theoretical and methodological issues involved in the historical study of news media and women. Then, applying a critical feminist lens, this paper argues that, despite the magnitude and significance of women’s wartime labour, it received minimal newspaper coverage and, furthermore, coverage reinforced stereotypical values about women and minimized the social significance of their labour. Patriarchy was systemic both within and across commercial and alternative newspapers. This challenges the idea that either the women’s pages or alternative journalism offered a ‘space’ for more progressive and representative coverage than the gendered representations traditionally found in the news. As scholars accessing historical newspapers today, this study further demonstrates the value of a content analysis methodology in revealing patterns that may not be immediately evident using less systematic methods. Above all, this paper contributes to feminist media and media history scholarship in that it offers a way of thinking about women’s history in terms of labour inclusively, but beyond the traditional and historical gendered division of labour.
Tracy Moniz, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada
Stream: Media History
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