Escape the Confines of the Kitchen by the Modern Woman

A recent visit to a local Vintage Car Show to view the polished and pristine metal beauties prompted a thought about how today one takes for granted this mode of transport. However, in the 1920s the automobile was novel and regarded as a way to escape the confines of the kitchen by the modern woman, the homemaker. She was now gradually loosening the reins that tied her to the kitchen sink–the old way! After her experiences outside the home during WW1 she was loathed to become, once again, a ‘household drudge,’ and wanted to continue to experience the outside world. An independent female, a new phenomenon, now confronted men who returned from fighting. This revolution helps to explain why so few of the early 1920s advertisements, especially in France, pictured the woman alone in the public sphere. Her place was the interior whilst the exterior was the male domain. It was naturally difficult for men to accept the gradual change in gender roles, even those who worked in the advertising agencies. Therefore, in spite of a burgeoning automobile industry, whose product was becoming more affordable and within the reach of a wider public, most of the advertisements still depicted a male behind the wheel of the car. Nonetheless, the time was ripe to tap into the female market for which a new textual and visual strategy was required–though still not one prepared to acknowledge her independence. Instead, the reluctant housewife was astutely targeted via the husband with words tantamount to making him feel guilty his wife was ‘marooned all day’ indoors.

An early advertisement for Chevrolet Utility Coupe circa 1924
An early advertisement for Chevrolet Utility Coupe. circa 1924

Chevrolet asserted the company’s Utility Coupé was the ideal second automobile–price and upkeep low, quality not sacrificed. But you were doing more than just driving a car, you were arguably driving a work of art. Just as the slogan for Anderson’s touring car ‘It’s As Roomy For Five As It’s Chummy For Two’ exhorted the versatility of a convertible that with little effort transforms from a roadster into a ‘a fully-fledged, strictly correct five-passenger touring car.’ Definitely a two for one deal not to be missed! Especially, if one was a member of the expanding middle classes, who was eager to show off a new found affluence to neighbors and acquaintances.

Anderson Touring Car and Roadster circa 1920
Anderson Touring Car and Roadster. circa 1920

However, did many men succumb to the sales pitch or were alternatively prepared to allow the mistress of the house her new desired freedom from domesticity? The motor industry was acutely aware a subtle approach was necessary and ensured the status of “new woman” was never overtly flaunted. Yes, in the adverts she is well dressed (further underlining the prosperity of the family) and depicted beside the car or about to step in and sit behind the wheel, but is invariably accompanied by other people. The implication–all the time, whilst is in the company of family and friends, ‘the threatening potential of a female driving through public places’ is diffused by the presence of companions. The woman is modern! However not one who is heading to the workplace, for the ownership of her own car indicates she has a devoted husband and has no need to work outside the family home. Instead, its use is centered round the family excursion, which is acceptable to the male. The car now acts as a machine of ‘feminine duty,’ and becomes purely a vehicle to assist the wife or mother in her traditional domestic chores of shopping and childcare. The object itself may be recognized as an enticement to return to the house, an area, which the post-war spouse still considered it was her place to occupy. Most probably today’s lady car owner and driver is not aware of the early struggle her predecessor had in her attempt to find independence outside the home!!!!!!

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