The Coming of the Projectionettes: Women’s Work in Film Projection and Changing Modes of Spectatorship in Second World War British Cinemas

Harrison, Rebecca (2016). The Coming of the Projectionettes: Women’s Work in Film Projection and Changing Modes of Spectatorship in Second World War British Cinemas. Feminist Media Histories, 2(2) pp. 47–70.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2016.2.2.47

Abstract

This article investigates women’s roles as cinema projectionists, and transformations in women’s spectatorship, in Britain during World War II. Between 1939 and 1945 the British Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association (CEA), among other organisations, encouraged women to train as projectionists when the government conscripted men into the armed forces. The “projectionettes” experienced unequal pay, often chaotic training programs, and patronisingly sexualised portrayals in contemporary press reports. Yet without women projectionists, British cinemas would not have been able to operate during the war. This essay traces their histories and daily working lives through archival materials and the trade press. Moreover, by situating their work in a broader narrative about gendered spectatorship, the article proposes that owing to changing labor conditions, women gained new perspectives through their experiences in the movie theatre. Investigating women projectionists is a valuable strategy in a broader reexamination of British film exhibition, points of view, and the proliferation of “women’s cinema” during wartime.

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