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Cinema and the Modern Woman

2. 1929 to 1945

2. 1929–1938

  1. Veronica Pravadelli

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf033

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Pravadelli, V. 2011. Cinema and the Modern Woman. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 2:2:31.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


In American cinema of the 1930s the image of the modern woman and the trajectory of female desire present two different models. Between the end of the 1920s and the early 1930s, American cinema continued to focus on the image of the young, self-assertive, and sexy woman in her multiple facets: Working girls, gold diggers, flappers, show girls, and kept women inundated the talkies and perpetuated the cult of New Womanhood that emerged in the early years of the century. This tendency would wane as the decade progressed. From about the mid–1930s, the dominant narrative of female desire was tuned to the formation of the couple and to marriage while the figure of the emancipated woman became marginal. In this process the representation of class rise and upward mobility were also questioned and the heroine's social aspirations were more often thwarted than supported. One need only compare Baby Face (1933) and Stella Dallas (1937), both starring Barbara Stanwyck in the leading role, to realize how the convergence between gender and class changed dramatically in just a few years. In the second half of the 1930s, only the upper-class protagonists of screwball comedy enjoyed sexual freedom and independence, while working-class women were denied both upward mobility and gender equality.


  • new woman;
  • cinema and modernity;
  • cinema of attractions;
  • classical style;
  • female desire;
  • female audience;
  • woman's film;
  • screwball comedy