MoDA’s collection has plenty of examples that illustrate historical perceptions of gender roles. Books, ephemera and magazines were important vehicles for shaping women’s identities and subject positions in the past. They also reveal power imbalances and inequalities between men and women. Looking at examples from the past can help us uncover social attitudes towards women and gender narratives about femininity, the home and motherhood.
The behaviours prescribed to women in past centuries may differ to our current-day perceptions, but this historical perspective is significant for thinking how we might move forward. Many of these discourses and ideas of the past are still alive and well today. We see the daily targeting of women by sexist trolls in social media, particularly against women who ‘take up’ or ‘occupy’ space and speak publicly. Also in our domestic spaces, housework tends to be typified as feminine labour (whether paid or unpaid), and professions that are associated to “care” like nursing or teaching are still being feminised.
Here we take a closer look at a selection of objects from our collection that refer precisely to the power dynamics that are implicit in these gendered constructions of space and society. You can use these as a starting point for thinking about gender today
Learn how advice manuals reinforced the patriarchal ideology of 'separate spheres'.
What lies beneath the yellow wallpaper? A tale of oppression and power.
How has the imagery of postcards reflected power dynamics?
Think about the gender politics of the image in these music covers