• 2-3 pages
• double spaced
• times new roman
• standard 1 inch margins
• Try to just use readings from our course—if you do use outside source material for this paper, do make sure you properly site it in the text and in a workcited

page. Use the format of your choice (MLA, APA, Chicago…etc.). If you use readings from our class, you will not need to cite it beyond introductions. Example: ‘In

Collins text, ‘Toward a New Vision,’ she…”
• Keep the focus of your essay on the comic itself – avoid the temptation to research the author and structure your essay around his life and intentions for the

comic, for example.
• Your essay can flush out several topics, or you can use this opportunity to go in depth, pivoting around one major topic/issue/question at hand. Do you best,

however, to ground everything you do under one claim, even if it’s a broad one.
• Please email me if you have any questions as you write.

Feminist Critique of Wonder Woman #1 (this is in bblearn, labeled “Marston_Wonder Woman: And Introductory History”) We have done feminist critiques of advertising—you

will apply those same strategies here.

Before you get started, I strongly recommend looking at Purdue University’s great explanation of feminist criticism. They do a nice job outlining the critical

perspective necessary for such a work along with some general framing questions.

Consider the general questions on Purdue’s website, but also consider the following. Again, you don’t need to answer all these questions, or even most of them. The way

you frame your paper is up to you.

Just like an analysis of an advertisement, your feminist critique will be able to utilize everything the text provides—the language of course, but also consider the

visual representations of people, places, the way they’re positioned, their body types…consider the roles they take on…consider all these things as a commentary on the

position of women in the 1940’s and 1950s.

If an alien came down and found this comic, what might they deduce about what it means to be a woman or man in this culture?

Does the comic challenge traditional notions of femininity in some ways, but reinforce/reproduce others?

Does the comic offer any underlying messages/arguments about class or race? Nationality? Sexuality?

Considering the context of this comic, arriving at the tail end of first wave feminism, but before the second wave, is there anything present in the comic that sheds

light on the political and social position of women during this time?

How does the comic embrace and/or challenge dualistic thinking?

the sweet innocent girl who grows up and becomes the passive helpless woman.
Elisa Davila describes how she learned to be a “good girl” in a patriarchal and sexist
society. Developing an understanding of the different standards imposed for men’s
and women’s behavior, Davila challenged them, creating a life in the United States
that resonates with her own needs for self-fulfillment. However, she reminds us that re-gardless of where she is or what she does, she is still subject to being judged

by artificial
ideals of womanhood. Ana Grossman and Emma Peters-Axtell, both 14 years old, are
determined to make a difference in the world by challenging stereotypic notions about
girls. In “Not a Pretty Girl,” Ani DiFranco squarely defies the idea of women as deco-rative, fragile, and in need of rescuing.
The Problem That
Has No Name
Gradually I came to realize that the problem that
has no name was shared by countless women in
America. As a magazine writer I often interviewed
women about problems with their children, or their
marriages, or their houses, or their communities.
But after a while I began to recognize the telltale
signs of this other problem. I saw the same signs in
suburban ranchhouses and split-levels on Long
Island and in New Jersey and Westchester County;
in colonial houses in a small Massachusetts town;
on patios in Memphis; in suburban and city apart-ments; in living rooms in the Midwest. Sometimes
I sensed the problem, not as a reporter, but as a
suburban housewife, for during this time I was also
bringing up my own three children in Rockland
County, New York. I heard echoes of the problem
in college dormitories and semi-private maternity
wards, at PTA meetings and luncheons of the
League of Women Voters, at suburban cocktail
parties, in station wagons waiting for trains, and in
snatches of conversation overheard at Schrafffs.
The groping words I heard from other women, on
quiet afternoons when children were at school or
on quiet evenings when husbands worked late, I
think I understood first as a woman long before
I understood their larger social and psychological
Just what was this problem that has no name?
What were the words women used when they tried
to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel
empty somehow… incomplete.” Or she would say,
“I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted
out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she
thought the problem was with her husband, or her
children, or that what she really needed was to re-decorate her house, or move to a better neighbor-hood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes,
she went to a doctor with symptoms she could
hardly describe: “A tired feeling…. I get so angry
with the children it scares me…. I feel like crying
without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it
“the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women
told me about great bleeding blisters that break out
on their hands and arms. “I call it the housewife’s
blight,” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see
it so often lately in these young women with four,
five and six children who bury themselves in their
dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t
cured by cortisone.”
Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feel-ing gets so strong she runs out of the house and
walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her
house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and
she doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I
Dominant Ideas About Women 47
talked to women who had spent years on the ana-lyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to the
feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a
wife and mother.” But the desperate tone in these
women’s voices, and the look in their eyes, was the
same as the tone and the look of other women, who
were sure they had no problem, even though they
did have a strange feeling of desperation.
A mother of four who left college at nineteen to
get married told me:
I’ve tried everything women are supposed to do—
hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very
social with my neighbors, joining committees, run-ning PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it
doesn’t leave you anything to think about—any
feeling of who you are. I never had any career
ambitions. All I wanted was to get married and have
four children. I love the kids and Bob and my home.
There’s no problem you can even put a name to.
But I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no person-ality. I’m a server of food and putter-on of pants
and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on
when you want something. But who am I?
A twenty-three-year-old mother in blue jeans
I ask myself why I’m so dissatisfied. I’ve got my
health, fine children, a lovely new home, enough
money. My husband has a real future as an elec-tronics engineer. He doesn’t have any of these feel-ings. He says maybe I need a vacation, let’s go to
New York for a weekend. But that isn’t it. I always
had this idea we should do everything together. I
can’t sit down and read a book alone. If the children
are napping and I have one hour to myself I just
walk through the house waiting for them to wake
up. I don’t make a move until I know where the rest
of the crowd is going. It’s as if ever since you were
a little girl, there’s always been somebody or some-thing mat will take care of your life: your parents, or
college, or falling in love, or having a child, or mov-ing to a new house. Then you wake up one morn-ing and mere’s nothing to look forward to.
A young wife in a Long Island development
I seem to sleep so much. I don’t know why I should
be so tired. This house isn’t nearly so hard to clean
as the cold-water flat we had when I was working.
The children are at school all day. It’s not the work.
I just don’t feel alive.
In 1960, the problem that has no name burst like
a boil through the image of the happy American
housewife. In the television commercials the pretty
housewives still beamed over their foaming dish-pans and Time’s cover story on “The Suburban
Wife, an American Phenomenon” protested: “Hav-ing too good a time … to believe that they should
be unhappy.” But the actual unhappiness of the
American housewife was suddenly being reported —
from the New York Times and Newsweek to Good
Housekeeping and CBS Television (“The Trapped
Housewife”), although almost everybody who
talked about it found some superficial reason to dis-miss it. It was attributed to incompetent appliance
repairmen (New York Times), or the distances chil-dren must be chauffeured in the suburbs (Time), or
too much PTA (Redbook). Some said it was the old
problem—education: more and more women had
education, which naturally made them unhappy in
their role as housewives. “The road from Freud to
Frigidaire, from Sophocles to Spock, has turned out
to be a bumpy one,” reported the New York Times
(June 28, 1960). “Many young women—certainly
not all—whose education plunged them into a
world of ideas feel stifled in their homes. They find
their routine lives out of joint with their training.
Like shut-ins, they feel left out. In the last year, the
problem of the educated housewife has provided
the meat of dozens of speeches made by troubled
presidents of women’s colleges who maintain, in the
face of complaints, that sixteen years of academic
training is realistic preparation for wifehood and
There was much sympathy for the educated
housewife. (“Like a two-headed schizophrenic…
once she wrote a paper on the Graveyard poets;
now she writes notes to the milkman. Once she
determined the boiling point of sulfuric acid; now
she determines her boiling point with the overdue
repairman The housewife often is reduced to
screams and tears No one, it seems, is appre-ciative, least of all herself, of the kind of person she
becomes in the process of turning from poetess into
Home economists suggested more realistic
preparation for housewives, such as high-school
workshops in home appliances. College educators
suggested more discussion groups on home man-agement and the family, to prepare women for the
adjustment to domestic life. A spate of articles
appeared in the mass magazines offering “Fifty-eight Ways to Make Your Marriage More Exciting.”
No month went by without a new book by a psychi-atrist or sexologist offering technical advice on find-ing greater fulfillment through sex.
A male humorist joked in Harper’s Bazaar
(July, 1960) that the problem could be solved by
taking away women’s right to vote. (“In the pre-19th Amendment era, the American woman was
placid, sheltered and sure of her role in American
society. She left all the political decisions to her
husband and he, in turn, left all the family deci-sions to her. Today a woman has to make both the
family and the political decisions, and it’s too
much for her.”)
A number of educators suggested seriously that
women no longer be admitted to the four-year col-leges and universities: in the growing college crisis,
the education which girls could not use as house-wives was more urgently needed than ever by boys
to do the work of the atomic age.
The problem was also dismissed with drastic
solutions no one could take seriously. (A woman
writer proposed in Harper’s that women be drafted
for compulsory service as nurses’ aides and babysit-ters.) And it was smoothed over with the age-old
panaceas: “love is their answer,” “the only answer
is inner help,” “the secret of completeness—
children,” “a private means of intellectual fulfill-ment,” “to cure this toothache of the spirit—the
simple formula of handing one’s self and one’s will
over to God.”
The problem was dismissed by telling the house-wife she doesn’t realize how lucky she is—her own
boss, no time clock, no junior executive gunning for
her job. What if she isn’t happy—does she think
men are happy in this world? Does she really,
secretly, still want to be a man? Doesn’t she know
yet how tacky she is to be a woman?
The problem was also, and finally, dismissed by
shrugging that there are no solutions: this is what
being a woman means, and what is wrong with
American women that they can’t accept their role
gracefully? As Newsweek put it (March 7, 1960):
She is dissatisfied with a lot that women of other
lands can only dream of. Her discontent is deep,
pervasive, and impervious to the superficial reme-dies which are offered at every hand. . . . An army
of professional explorers have already charted the
major sources of trouble From the beginning
of time, the female cycle has defined and confined
woman’s role. As Freud was credited with saying:
“Anatomy is destiny.” Though no group of women
has ever pushed these natural restrictions as far as
the American wife, it seems that she still cannot
accept them with good grace…. A young mother
with a beautiful family, charm, talent and brains is
apt to dismiss her role apologetically. “What do I
do?” you hear her say. “Why nothing. I’m just a
housewife.” A good education, it seems, has given
this paragon among women an understanding of
the value of everything except her own worth
And so she must accept the fact that “American
women’s unhappiness is merely the most recently
won of women’s rights,” and adjust and say with
the happy housewife found by Newsweek: “We
ought to salute the wonderful freedom we all have
and be proud of our lives today. I have had college
and I’ve worked, but being a housewife is the most
rewarding and satisfying role… . My mother was
never included in my father’s business affairs …
she couldn’t get out of the house and away from us
children. But I am an equal to my husband; I can
go along with him on business trips and to social
business affairs.”
The alternative offered was a choice that few
women would contemplate. In the sympathetic
words of the New York Times: “All admit to being
deeply frustrated at times by the lack of privacy, the
physical burden, the routine of family life, the con-finement of it. However, none would give up her
home and family if she had the choice to make
again.” Redbook commented: “Few women would
want to thumb their noses at husbands, children
and community and go off on their own. Those who
Dominant Ideas About Women 49
do may be talented individuals, but they rarely are
successful women.”
The year American women’s discontent boiled
over, it was also reported {Look) that the more than
21,000,000 American women who are single,
widowed, or divorced do not cease even after fifty
their frenzied, desperate search for a man. And the
search begins early—for seventy per cent of all
American women now marry before they are
twenty-four. A pretty twenty-five-year-old secre-tary took thirty-five different jobs in six months in
the futile hope of finding a husband. Women are
moving from one political club to another, taking
evening courses in accounting or sailing, learning to
play golf or ski, joining a number of churches in suc-cession, going to bars alone, in their ceaseless search
for a man.
Of die growing thousands of women currendy
getting private psychiatric help in the United States,
the married ones were reported dissatisfied with
their marriages, the unmarried ones suffering from
anxiety and, finally, depression. Strangely, a num-ber of psychiatrists stated that, in their experience,
unmarried women patients were happier man mar-ried ones. So the door of all those pretty suburban
houses opened a crack to permit a glimpse of un-counted thousands of American housewives who
suffered alone from a problem mat suddenly every-one was talking about, and beginning to take for
granted, as one of those unreal problems in Ameri-can life that can never be solved—like the hydrogen
bomb. By 1962 the plight of the trapped American
housewife had become a national parlor game.
Whole issues of magazines, newspaper columns,
books learned and frivolous, educational confer-ences and television panels were devoted to the
Even so, most men, and some women, still did
not know that this problem was real. But those who
had faced it honestly knew mat all the superficial
remedies, the sympathetic advice, the scolding
words and the cheering words were somehow
drowning the problem in unreality. A bitter laugh
was beginning to be heard from American women.
They were admired, envied, pitied, theorized over
until they were sick of it, offered drastic solutions or
silly choices that no one could take seriously. They
got all kinds of advice from the growing armies
of marriage and child-guidance counselors, psy-chotherapists, and armchair psychologists, on how
to adjust to their role as housewives. No other road
to fulfillment was offered to American women in die
middle of the twentieth century. Most adjusted to
their role and suffered or ignored the problem that
has no name. It can be less painful, for a woman,
not to hear the strange, dissatisfied voice stirring
within her. [1964]
A Work of Artifice
The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
Whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch. [1973]


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