Representations of the Female Swedish-American: From the Drag Maid to the Bikini Girl

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Representations of the Female Swedish-American: From the Drag Maid to the Bikini Girl

In Swedish films from above all the 1930s, the Swedish American visitor is a rather recurrent guest. Interestingly, the Swedish-American women are often portrayed much more negatively than their male counterpart, a fact that becomes visibly apparent in for example dress and role behaviour. The Swedish woman should ideally be characterized by naturalness, but in these films, this ideal is punctuated by what in Sweden was considered as American tastelessness and an Americanized female type that was dominating the men. These Swedish-American women were no longer considered as worthy Swedes.
These representations become even more interesting when compared to the American cinematic portrayals of the Swedish female immigrant. In the 1910s, Swedish immigrant women were very popular as servants in the Chicago homes, and Swedish women did quite often make a career in professional life. However, were the Swedish female immigrants regarded as worthy American citizens, or were they also here represented as something deviating? As I will show, the Swedish self-image of a delightful woman who stands close to nature is turned to its opposite in the American cinema. Here, with only some noticeable exceptions as for example as a woman making career in politics, the Swedish-American female immigrant is ridiculed by a male actor who in drag plays a Swedish maid in a series of films from 1914 1915, she is portrayed as a childish and silly maid still in the 1940s, and later she emerges as a bikini girl. Why was the Swedish-American maid portrayed as so comically rustic, why was she so belittled? The drag maid is also an interesting parallel to the Swedish-American woman in the Swedish cinema who in some way is a woman in a masculine disguise, while in the American film she is played by a man disguised as a woman. The drag seems to be an effective way to patronize and depreciate women, as well as negotiating conditions where a woman is challenging professionally and ethnically. In this presentation, I compare and discuss the different representations of the Swedish-American female migrant in Swedish and American film, and drag and Americanization seems to be key words in exploring how the female immigrant metaphorically lost her citizenship in both nations.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Arts
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
EventSociety for Cinema and Media Studies, 2011 - New Orleans, United States
Duration: 2011 Mar 102011 Mar 13


ConferenceSociety for Cinema and Media Studies, 2011
CountryUnited States
CityNew Orleans

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