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Modernizing Tradition

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Modernizing Tradition: Gender and Consumerism in Interwar France and Germany is a book by Adam C. Stanley, which demonstrates the ways in which popular ideology surrounding a burgeoning consumer culture served as a means of negotiating wider uncertainties regarding gender and modernity in France and Germany in the interwar period.[1]


Amidst the massive upheavals that followed World War I, there was a pronounced emphasis in both nations[which?] to return to an idealized past of order and stability. The key to such recovery, according to popular thinking, was by reconstructing traditional gender roles, which had been thrown out of balance during the war. Such a nostalgized gender order could not be restored, however, without discursive modifications to account for the significant changes in society since 1914. Instead, a renewed emphasis on traditional gender norms required the provision of a degree of seeming empowerment to women by granting them discursive access to modernity.

These connections between women and the modern were carefully constructed in order to ensure that women's involvement with items of modernity, such as technological consumer goods, did not necessarily involve an assertion of female independence or liberation. Women's association with modernity went only so far as such links could reinforce women's traditional roles or highlight their continued subservience to and dependence on masculine guidance, expertise, and authority. Using advertisements and related ideological tools of consumerism, this study examines those modernized constructions of traditional gender roles.

In a broader context, the book documents the wide-ranging similarities between French and German conceptions of gender. The transnational nature of this study illustrates that French and German notions of gender and modernity were strikingly congruent, and suggests the possibility of a broader gender ideology common to larger segments of Europe as a whole. These gendered ideals were consistent across not only geographical boundaries, but also chronological and political ones as well. The interwar decades were an era of rapid and stark changes politically, economically, and socially, but gender imagery in popular discourse remained virtually identical over the duration of these years, regardless of political regimes in power or prevailing economic circumstances. One of the important contributions of this study is to note this continuity and consistency of definitions of masculinity and femininity in the interwar era. The ability of traditional gender ideologies to hold firm among disparate elements of the population, people at all points on the political spectrum, and highly differentiated political regimes should form in future scholarly endeavor a vital point for analysis and questioning of cultural attitudes about gender. The fact that gender conceptions remained relatively the same over the course of these two decades—years when virtually every other aspect of society and culture seemed in a constant state of flux—attests to the extraordinarily powerful constancy of these gender constructions in French and German society.[2]

About the author[edit]

Adam C. Stanley is an assistant professor of history in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.[3] He received a bachelor's degree from Millikin University in 1996, as well as a master's (1999) and PhD (2004) from Purdue University.


  1. ISBN 978-0-8071-3362-0 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png.
  2. http://www.lsu.edu/lsupress/bookPages/9780807133620.html
  3. http://www.uwplatt.edu/socialsci/Faculty.htm

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