The 1930s is an important era to explore the role and portrayal of women because the Depression era lends an interesting backdrop to explore how women are portrayed, due to the changing morals and increasing cynicism of the country, and also because the early 1930s is considered to be “pre-code” (Doherty, 1999, p. 3). This refers to the Hays Code, which was instituted in 1931, but not enforced until 1934, and this meant that, during the early 1930s, studios had more free reign to portray women in a lurid fashion. Additionally, the pre-code era portrayed women differently than in the post code era, as the post code era relied less on showing women as sex objects and more on showing women as equals to men (Doherty, 1999, p. 5). Under this topic, the following themes will be discussed: the representation of women in films in the early 1930s, the role of women in films, the portrayal of women in films in the 1930s, and the criticism of women’s roles in films in the 1930s.
Hollywood cinematography often objectified women for men’s pleasure (Kaplan, 1994, p. 3). According to Mulvey (1989, p. 56), female characters in Hollywood were presented as being worth looking at but not worth listening to. As such, in this era, men viewed women in different dimensions, often known as the Madonna/Whore (Kaplan, 1994, p. 103). This means that women were stereotyped either as sexually active whores, or pristine and powerless Madonnas (housewives). According to Gates (2011, p. 23), most Hollywood films present women images with the purpose of gratifying male viewers.