Date of Award

December 2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Patrice Petro

Committee Members

Gilberto Blasini, Tami Williams

Keywords

Blogosphere, Domesticity, Feminism, Film, Housewives, Television

Abstract

This dissertation explores the immensely popular return of the housewife character in the twenty-first century. From films like The Stepford Wives (2004), to television dramas like Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) and The Good Wife (2009- ), to reality shows like Wife Swap (2004- ), Bravo’s The Real Housewives franchise (2006- ), Basketball Wives (2010- ), Mob Wives (2011- ), and most recently on the blogosphere with personalities like The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, the housewife character has reentered our imaginations on a mass scale. This anachronistic character trend is in stark contrast to the urban, working superwoman ideal of the 1980s and 1990s portrayed in characters like Ally McBeal and Carrie Bradshaw. Arguably, reimagining the housewife in the new millennium is both a part of a larger project to nostalgically return to earlier periods of US history while trying to redefine womanhood and motherhood today, post 9/11. Chapter one links the rise of the housewife as an American stock character to American nationalism in anywhere from early advice books in the nineteenth century, such Lydia M. Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (1829), into cinematic narratives such as Cecil B. DeMille’s sex comedies like Old Wives For New (1918) and, later, to the classic 1950s June Cleaver television character in Leave it to Beaver. Chapter two analyzes the 2004 film remake of The Stepford Wives and its relationship to second-wave feminism and the 1970s popular horror novel by Ira Levin and film directed by Bryan Forbes. Chapter three describes how the television show Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) was the first to bring the character of the suffering housewife imagined by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique back to life. Chapter four examines the pervasiveness of the housewife character on reality television, as it explores the relationship between so-called real housewives and real feminists within neoliberal constructions of postfeminist and post-racial identities. Chapter five concludes with a brief discussion of new trends in hip domesticity that are popular on the blogosphere, ultimately revealing how the housewife character has been historically aligned with articulating American feminist identities and concerns.

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