Something I noticed in our discussion of the 1960s and 70s is that some recent popular media has revisited those decades to highlight the accomplishments of prominent and less-well known women. I’m thinking specifically of Hidden Figures (2016), Battle of the Sexes (2017) and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2013). All three of these media texts centre on women working in male-dominated fields who accomplish great things.
Battle of the Sexes addresses sexism head-on; Billie Jean King felt that beating Bobby Riggs was important for the future of women’s tennis and gender equality in sports. The match was a significant moment for the women’s liberation movement.
Beautiful and Hidden Figures, on the other hand, look at the contributions of women who may have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. Though Carole King of course found great success with Tapestry, the musical focuses on her work in the 1960s with her husband Gerry Goffin and the songs they wrote for groups like The Shirelles and The Chiffons. Milestone and Meyer point out that it is producers of that era like Phil Spector who are regarded as auteurs or creative geniuses. Similarly, the figures associated with the Space Race include President Kennedy and astronaut Neil Armstrong, and Hidden Figures highlights the contributions of women like Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson.
I wanted to mention these three works because I think they offer a nice contrast to some of what I discussed last week about gendered cultural production and the many cases where women’s work is not valued or recognized. As we fight for equality and the feminist movement continues to stride forward, it is essential to also reflect on past challenges and victories and to celebrate work that may not have received much recognition at the time.
“Chapter 2 Gender and Cultural Work: Post-War to the Late 1970s,” Gender and Popular Culture, Katie Milestone & Anneke Meyer (2012)