A Look at Cheap Amusements 2

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An extremely interesting, but ever-contradictory sociological study of sexual relationsis presented in the Kathy Peiss book Cheap Amusements . The reason I say that it is ever-contradictory is that the arguments are presented for both the benefit of cheap amusements for a woman s place in society and for the reinforcement of her place. In one breath, Peiss says that mixed-sex fun could be a source of autonomy and pleasure as well as a cause of [a woman s] continuing oppression. The following arguments will show that, based on the events and circumstances described in Cheap Amusements , the changes in the ways that leisure time is spent by women has indeed benefited them in both the workplace and at home. This position requires a closer look at specific leisure activities; where and with whom they are spent, and the ultimate effect that these activities had on society and gender roles. More significantly however, is how the establishment of leisure activities for women came about, rather than the simple change in availability of such activities. First let s look at Peiss s position on the matter of how cheap amusements challenged gender traditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What does Peiss have to say about women s roles at the turn of the century? Peiss argues initially that young women experimented with new cultural forms in terms of sexual expressiveness and social interaction with men, linking heterosocial culture to a sense of modern individuality and personal style. Creating this style was an assertion of self. Peiss quickly discounts these assertions by saying that without economic independence, such freedoms are hollow. Peiss s essay claims to focus on the role of working women in fostering change from a homosocial to a heterosocial culture, but as we can see from the earlier quote, there is still what seems to be a hint of male dominance in preventing the experience of true leisure. By this we can see that Peiss believes women were challenging gender norms, but doing so under the implied watchful eye of the male-dominated culture. One very interesting point that Peiss makes is that there is now a market for leisure time. This market included such activities as attending shows at a nickelodeon, riding the trolley, and, especially in Manhattan, spending the day at Coney Island. What is interesting about this point is that we must ask the following: did the market create the desire and opportunity for leisure time or did the desire for leisure time create the market? We must ask this question so that we can later determine if women took initiative in establishing their need for relaxing activities. If it is the case that women took initiative in this area, we can safely conclude that women benefited tremendously from the changes in gender roles as a result, because they would have subverted the so-called hollow freedoms mentioned earlier. If the opposite is true, then it may appear as though women have benefitted, but it could still be argued that the male culture controlled these changes in the way the leisure market came about. One of the more interesting aspects that Peiss mentions about the change in the demographics of the labor force directly relates to the way leisure time is spent. Peiss mentions many statistics that show how the working woman was quickly refusing household work and moving to the factory or office position. More specifically, a study of 370 working mothers showed 70 percent of them to be employed in domestic and personal service while the vast majority of their daughters worked in stores, offices, and factories (Cheap Amusements, 39). The significance of this change lies in the resulting change in attitude about leisure time. Now, a clearer distinction between time spent at work and personal time could be made. Prior to this shift in the workplace, domestic workers would catch small breaks to gossip while still caring for their...
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