Women and the Suburbs in Late 20th and Early 21st Century American Film and Fiction
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Magali C Michael
Linda A Kinnahan
Contemporary, Suburb, Suburban, Suburbia, Women
This project examines novels and films published/released between 1993 and 2005 that focus on the experiences of women in the American suburbs since the Second World War. Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven (1998), Gary Ross's Pleasantville (1998), Michael Cunningham's The Hours (2002), Alicia Erian's Towelhead, Erika Ellis's Good Fences (1998), and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) all intervene in suburban discourse in order to affirm, revise, or reject the suburbs' reputations as controlled and controlling environments that limit women to thankless domestic tasks and physical and social isolation. This project looks to the interdisciplinary field of Suburban Studies, which has documented that the suburbs have been either lauded or vilified since the escalation of suburbanization after the Second World War. Pro-suburban discourse describes the benefits of suburbia in terms of safety, superior schools, and privacy. Anti-suburban discourse imagines the suburbs as materialistic, conformist, isolating, and spiritually bereft. The novels and films that this project analyzes intervene in these discourses by suggesting that the features of the suburbs noted by pro- and anti-suburban discourse have different implications for women, ethnic or minority suburbanites, gay men, and lesbians than they do for white men. For these marginalized groups, many of suburbia's supposed advantages are withheld and the suburbs' supposed disadvantages are exacerbated by the suburbs' built environment and social structure, particularly the suburbs' existence as a collection of private homes situated far from the city and from most communities of color. In the years immediately following the Second World War, these inequalities were intensified by Containment Culture; in the late 20th century, the suburbs' entrenched social hierarchies persisted despite the feminist movement, civil rights, and gay liberation. Through the work of feminist theorists I argue that the novels and films I examine all demonstrate that suburban women can attain agency if they forge connections with other women, experience empathy, and/or form coalitions with other oppressed groups. At the same time, such optimism is often qualified. Some texts suggest that this agency is limited, that women can only be empowered by leaving the suburbs behind, or that coalitions are often problematic.
Runquist, B. (2011). Women and the Suburbs in Late 20th and Early 21st Century American Film and Fiction (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1550