Did you know that 350,000 women served in the Armed Forces in World War II, or that one out four married women worked outside the home?
Judith Dutill, assistant professor of communication at Central Penn College, explores these facts in her lecture, “Media Representation: Women, Work and World War II,” on Wednesday, June 13 at the College’s Capital Blue Cross Theater.
Dutill’s lecture, part of the quarterly Faculty Research Colloquium Series, researches how the portrayal of women changed in the media before, during, and after the war.
“World War II brought newfound challenges and opportunities for American women,” said Dutill, who also serves as director for the Center for Teaching Excellence at the college. “As the roles of women began to change, so did the way they were portrayed in the media.”
I was excited to talk to Dutill to learn more about her research, especially how it ties into today’s media-fueled climate and female empowerment movements.
HF: Why is this message so important to hear now?
Dutill: We live in a mediated world and hand-held devices and new media (e.g. social media) seem add an interesting layer to that; Pew Research just reported that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly.’ It is easy to forget the hold media have on our culture and how influential media are in our lives. My research simply demonstrates that media’s influence is not new and that we need to remember that, regardless of our constant immersion, we are not powerless in a mediated landscape. This message is especially relevant now because of our current socio-political climate and the role media are playing in shaping our points of view.
What drew you to this study?
I tend to gravitate toward studying print media because I have always loved magazine advertisements and have collected them since I was a kid. Print media are amazing time capsules and you can learn A LOT about our culture, values, and beliefs by examining these artifacts. My grandfather, who was a World War II veteran, really inspired my interest in this time period. He was a really great storyteller and it was impossible to not want to learn more about the 1940s after hearing his stories.
Can you give us a little insight – without too many spoilers! – into how portrayals have changed?
My research examines the way women were represented by media over an approximately fifteen year time period from the 1940s-1950s. The reason for this exploration is not necessarily to compare the portrayal of women from then to now (although that IS a fascinating exploration for anyone who is interested.) My interest is in addressing the tactical use of representation by media for political and economic purposes. This is important information for everyone to understand because representation is still tactically used by media today and it is difficult to spot/comprehend because it capitalizes on our implicit biases and other cognitive weaknesses. Very interesting stuff!