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Gender Roles in Imitation of Life February 27, 2007

Posted by lindamc in imitation.
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One of the major themes in Imitation of Life is breaking out of traditional gender roles. The film seems to want to discuss the classic ideals of “women stay home” and “men work and provide for the family” with such sequences as Steve’s first proposal to Lora and her response “I want more. I want it all.”  She argues with him, breaking away from being a stay at home mom, and wanting a career. Steve’s role is to represent the voice of the time period the film was made in (1959) which pushed women to strive for marriage and raising a family as opposed to any form of a career. The film clearly wishes to put the idea out there of women (Lora, and later her daughter) breaking free of the restrictions of society and going on to achieve success in the workplace (Lora’s daughter goes on to college).

This agenda of the movie seems, to me, fairly obvious and blatant, however what makes it particularly interesting is the racial or class discussion which follows. Throughout the film, Annie and Lora have a very genderized relationship. Lora is obviously the breadwinner, and Annie the homemaker, raising both children and providing Lora with food, house, and all her other needs at home. So while the film is clearly standing up for women to join the work force, it is at the same time only encouraging white women to do so. Lora could not succeed as she does without Annie in her life. The two have a sort of classical marriage in terms of roles, and Lora is only able to succeed as a “man” by having a “women” there to fill the homemaker role. Whether intentional or not, I believe that by creating this unity between the two women, this film is suggesting that white women can be successful, as long as they have a “lesser” women with them to fill the role of the housewife. The film is NOT saying that Lora can “have it all” they are saying she can “have it a man’s way” as long as she finds herself “a women” to tend to the house. Is the film suggesting that to “have it all” IS to “have it a man’s way?” Clearly Lora does not maintain a strong relationship with her daughter (her daughter yells at her, telling her she was never there, and that Annie was the one who raised her), and does not have or really seem to wish to have any lasting relationship with a member of the opposite sex. She puts her job first, always. What does this film suggest to our earlier question in the semester about what it means for a women to “want it all?”

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1. kellyeng - February 27, 2007

I think Lora’s devotion to her job is especially interesting when one considers the original version of this film. I haven’t seen it, and am not very familiar with it, but was told by a friend (and IMDB) that in the 1934 version, the two women team up to start a business using Delilah’s (the equivalent of Annie) pancake recipe. Here the women are presented as entrepreneurs and as economically independent. Furthermore, the business is fueled by both women. In the version we watched, however, Lora is the main breadwinner and her profession is changed to that of an actress. While we can argue that in the original version both women took on the domestic act of cooking, by making Lora an actress, the screenwriters (or whoever) make it her job to entertain and to be the subject of the “male gaze.” No longer is she an independent business woman, but she becomes an actress reliant upon men in the acting business and upon an audience who perhaps values her only as something to be viewed and exploited. Since I haven’t seen the original version, this idea may be totally inaccurate, but i thought the change was interesting to note.


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