Wedged between the idealism and activism of the 1960s and the avarice of the 1980s, the 1970s tend to be allocated a slender role in American cultural and social history. Only now have scholars begun to examine the suspect decade—perhaps in part because it has seemed too close, at least for many who lived through it, and in part because cultural critics have rendered it synonymous with cultural stagnation and overall frivolity. Ironically, in everything from retro fashion to interior design to music, American culture today is heavily influenced by this decade so routinely scorned by the academy. Proceeding from the idea that the preoccupation with nostalgia veils the decade's true cultural significance, the essays in Disco Divas reveal that the 1970s, far from being an era of cultural stasis, were a time of great social change, particularly for women.
Disco Divas argues that 1970s popular culture provided an arena in which women's roles could be negotiated in new ways and, through individual chapters on topics ranging from film, music, television, and advertising to cheerleaders, teen-idol fans, and second-wave feminists, demonstrates how these roles were renegotiated. The great cultural shifts of the 1960s were still reverberating in the 1970s, and American society, while holding onto the ideal of the nuclear family and the white picket fence, had to come to terms with these shifts. This tension created a time of intriguing, if complicated social opportunity for women; the essays here chart the history of the women's movement from a genuinely liberating movement to a tool of corporate profits. Offering commentary on the sources of our fascination with the period, Disco Divas is an ambitious tour of how the mass-mediated popular culture of the 1970s shaped public perceptions of women and the actuality of women's lives.
Sherrie A. Inness is Associate Professor of English at Miami University, author of Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture, and editor of Kitchen Culture: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, both also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.