A look into gender roles in 1941 The photograph “Little Girls with Their Dolls and Buggies” (1941), taken by Russell Lee, is of two young girls pushing baby dolls in carriages along a sidewalk in Caldwell, Idaho. It’s a bright, sunny day and the girls are walking alone, with no other people visible in the photograph. Both girls are smiling, and the girl pictured to the right is looking intently at the girl to the left. Behind the girls to the left we see a respectably sized house, and well maintained lawn.
Behind them, the sidewalk endlessly continues to trees in the background. To the right of the picture there is a road which contains no cars. It appears to be in a middle to upper class, suburban neighborhood. They appear to be approximately the same age and are similarly dressed. It is an intriguing image that demonstrates traditionally accepted feminine gender roles during the mid 20th century. Gender roles can typically be defined as the behaviors and attitudes expected of male and female members of a society by that society. In 1941, women were typically expected to stay home and raise a family.
They were also supposed to be social and they were Judged quite often on their appearance. These expectations of women were pushed upon them at a young age, as shown through the photograph. The girls appear to be about seven years old and they are already pushing around baby dolls and exploring their maternal roles. How identical the girls look is also a very revealing. The girls don’t look to be related, but yet they appear as mirror images of one another. They both have short, groomed hair, pulled away from their face. They are both wearing dresses, and are pushing ractically identical carriages.
They are shaped to look “how a woman should” and follow the same expected role of women during that time period. I think it’s also important to note the variety of social influences of gender roles. Influence and reinforcement of gender roles often comes from the toys children play with. Dolls are traditionally a toy for girls. Dolls tend to represent feminine traits and help to prepare young girls for the task of motherhood. Children tend to get most of their toys from a parent or family member, who often has the strongest influences on a erson’s gender role.
The young girls clothing also comes from their parents. This is yet another example of how their parents reinforce their perceived gender roles. Peers also play a role in shaping one’s anticipated gender role. During this time especially, peers responded more and got along better with children who fit traditional gender roles. This again leads back to how similarly the girls are dressed in the photograph and the similar toys theyre playing with. The girls are being conditioned to follow society and their peers assumed ideas of the roles they are expected to play.
The girls are also walking alone; their parents are not in visible in the photograph. It’s like their parents are trying to let them be “little adults”. They’re preparing their children for their expected future of raising a family. Imposed gender roles are often hard to escape. Especially during the 1940’s, women had very specific assumed roles. While looking at Russell’s photo, you may see two young girls, message about traditional gender roles. It’s a shame that these girls, at such a young age, were being shaped to a very limited role that society has deemed to be their future.