Tropes in the Media: Husbands vs. Wives

The trope that I chose to study was the dynamic between husband and wife. These roles within a family have evolved throughout the years, but at the start, specific identities were given to the man and the woman. This trope does not even take into account the different types of families that are emerging now. Not all families have one husband and one wife. All of the media examples that I found were from the mid 20th century. Our society as a whole, especially in America, is getting much more progressive in its view on gender roles in marriage. 


The first example I found is an advertisement from Hardee’s. The wife is shown in the kitchen, looking at the father and child through the window. The phrase “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” has been used time and time again when describing women’s roles in the family. Women were not normally in the workforce as employees and were not the breadwinners of the family. Women were taught that their main purpose was to have children and be homemakers for their husbands. The advertisement that I found said that the woman should be the one cooking the man a delicious meal. 


The next example that I found was a magazine cover from Good Housekeeping. A mother is shown with a platter with a pitcher of tea and a child. The year was 1957. Women at the time were expected to identify as wives, mothers and caretakers for their families. The 50’s were a time of conformity to strict gender roles. The status quo for women was for them to blend in and be of service to their husbands and children. The position of the woman on the cover doesn’t even make her the main focus of the cover. She wears a blue dress and she is standing in front of a blue background. This reiterates the idea that wives were not the head of the household.


The third example was from a pamphlet. It instructs husbands to “train their wives” to do different tasks. It has different tasks that men should expect from their wives. There are things like fetching slippers or massaging the husband’s feet. This booklet suggested that women respond to non-verbal cues like the snapping of fingers. Women were expected to sit quietly and be at their husband’s will. 


A common theme throughout the different media items is that wives had to be of service to their husbands. Once they become a wife and mother, they assume the role of caretaker and giver, not the protector or provider like the husband. This trope was expressed through the media by showing wives taking care of their families and promoting women to submit to their male counterparts. This trope was more than just a trope. It was a crippling stereotype that women found extremely hard to escape. The gender roles throughout time have made drastic changes since the 1950’s and 60’s. Advertisements such as these are not seen, and women are depicted as more than just the housekeeper and maid for their husbands and families.,of%20the%20postwar%20labor%20force.

Discussion — One Response

  • Kiara Bush 04/15/2022 on 11:28 PM

    I find that the types of advertisements mentioned here are just a step up from considering women objects; maybe now she’s a human, but she is still assigned value based on how well she shuts up, has babies, remains kind and caring, and overall serves a man. As the ads mention, she is supposedly still in need of “training,” as if a woman cannot think or decide anything for herself and must be conditioned so that she’ll behave well. The level of blatant dehumanization is incredibly jarring to read in the present day.
    I agree that gender roles overall are improving to allow more freedom to people of all genders, but I still strongly feel that the grip the “flirt -> date (romantically, in accordance with the gender binary) -> marry -> have kids (likely ~two to form a nuclear family) -> retire together -> grow old and happy together” expectation is very strong (the word for this expectation is amatonormativity). When combined with the theme of marriages being a bounce between bickering and life’s stressors, I find myself very confused about how to make sense of these expectations.
    I have always found it strange that socially, people often bring up how much they hate their spouse and generally can’t stand their current life that is heavily tied to this spouse. Marriage as a concept has a very complex history (even just factoring in the patriarchy and religion alone). That said, on a surface level I still wonder why it seems so casual to hate your spouse and hate your life because you’re still with them. I come from a house of divorce but have avoided any trauma from it because my parents realized early on that staying together would have been way more toxic for the family as a whole. The irony of these two sets of expectations is that everyone is expected to make all these large commitments to one person in a monogamous, heteronormative relationship while simultaneously expecting that you’ll eventually be sick of this person and that’s just how it is.

Sorry, but commenting has been disabled.