Television’s introduction into the US home in the 1950s challenged the gendered divisions of the domestic home as a place for leisure (for men) and for labor (for women). The newly introduced television could potentially distract housewives from their chores and thus threaten the gendered divisions of the time. The essay also shows how television itself would be used to contain this challenge—through its programming and its portability throughout the house.

From the abstract: “Based on a study of popular media from the postwar era, specifically middle-class women’s magazines, considers how television was introduced to the American housewife. Combining methods of textual analysis with industrial and cultural history, it shows the ambivalence which characterized popular discourse on television. In particular, the study reveals the way television was imbricated in the gendered division of labor and leisure at home by exploring how the magazines deliberated on the problems television posed for women’s domestic chores and the efficient functioning of the household. It thus contributes historical perspective to the ongoing concerns about television’s relationship to family audiences.”


  1. What are the traditional divisions between labor and leisure and how is the domestic and public spheres connected?
  2. Spigel references the work of Tania Modleski and Nick Browne. How do either of these explain the relationship between television and women’s place in the home? How did soap operas accommodate the working schedule of a housewife in the 1950s?
  3. What was the a priori and idealized conception of a middle-class woman in the 1950s, according to Spigel?
  4. How did 1950s magazines promote “family togetherness” despite the contested spaces of the home?
  5. How did 1950s magazines renegotiate the bifurcation of sexual roles of male (leisure) and female (productive) activities because of television’s arrival in the home?
  6. What conclusion does Spigel offer about how television viewing connects to the “larger patterns of family ideals and gender construction within our culture?”

P.S. how would the post-COVID transition of the domestic space as a site for “work from home” challenge notions of masculinity/femininity and labor/leisure as television’s introduction did in the postwar years?