Feminization of Smoking in Britain
In 2001, 26% of women and 28% of men were smokers of manufactured cigarettes in Britain. While men’s smoking predates 1900, smoking amongst women is a twentieth-century phenomenon. In 1920 the proportion of women who smoked was too small to record, but over the next three decades this changed dramatically. By 1949 41 per cent of women aged sixteen years and over, from across the social-class spectrum, were smokers of manufactured cigarettes. Shifts in the gender composition of the smoking population were accompanied by dramatic changes to the gender associations of smoking. While in 1900 smoking was an activity associated almost exclusively with masculinities, by 1950 cigarette smoking was widely perceived as compatible with a range of respectable femininities. In spite of the emergence after 1950 of scientific evidence that smoking caused fatal diseases, it has been difficult to dispel the idea that smoking is compatible with femininity.
In this paper I will argue that the feminization of smoking that occurred in the twentieth century was fundamentally, but not exclusively, a visual phenomenon. Combining a social history of women’s smoking with extensive research of visual media including photographic portraiture, art, advertising, fiction illustrations and film, I will explore four key visual dimensions to the ascendancy of the ‘female fumigator’.
Keywords: smoking, women, visual, history
Dr. Penny Tinkler
Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Manchester