As a nation, Britain is associated with a number of traditions. Drinking tea and the stiff upper lip are the perceptions most people have of Brits – regardless of whether they live amongst us or not. Yet, whilst other nations may find their women unfairly represented, British lasses are depicted as the epitome of femininity and strength: domestic goddesses.
20th Century: the suffragettes and war posters
Tracing the depiction of domestic goddesses back to its roots, the suffragette movement and rise of women power which dominated the beginning of the twentieth century is the only logical starting point. This movement propelled women into the public sphere and saw them depicted as strong and independent as well as feminine and delicate. This combination of features which appear contradictory gave British women their distinctive personas and the idea of a domestic goddess became a reality.
Following this movement, the impacts of two world wars took their toll on Britain. During this time, women were used as pin-ups to raise the spirits of soldiers and as conscription tools: covering the faces of posters designed to encourage enrolment. The depiction of the domestic goddess became popular through these posters and the strength and power of women was emphasised. After all, with most of the men at war, women were left to do the majority of the work at home and this put household problems firmly in their place.
1950s – 1970s: advertisements and family values
As the wars came to a close and men returned homes to their families, women had firmly established themselves as strong and supportive members of the British community. Working women became a more common sight and numerous advertisements used the image of the domestic goddess to promote traditional values and a comfortable way of life.
These advertisements retained a number of old values depicting women as strong and delicate; beautiful yet resilient. The focus on family values gave women a distinctive role within Britain and the home – they were responsible for the upkeep of the household and for managing the finances, for raising the children and supporting their families in any way possible.
21st Century: modern housewives and working mothers
As more decades passed, the working world continued to open itself to women. Soon, men and women were working alongside each other in high-powered positions whilst the image of the domestic goddess remained a firm fixture. Women gained an independence they had never experienced before and the modern housewife was transformed into a successful working mother.
Depictions of domestic goddesses transformed to reflect the change and icons such as Trinny and Susanna became the modern role models for women. Not wanting to lose their traditional heritage, American shows such as Desperate Housewives won British hearts with its depiction of traditional housewives with modern families and modern difficulties such as mundane dishwasher problems.
Amy Pearson is a retired teacher from London. She offers regular advice on how modern mothers can juggle the constraints of family life with everyday nuisances such as dishwasher problems. She also runs regular cooking and cleaning workshops to help new mothers care for their homes and their families.