"The coming of the projectionettes”: Women’s work and changing modes of spectatorship in British cinemas in the Second World War

Rebecca Harrison

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This article investigates women’s roles as projectionists, and transformations to women’s spectatorship, in Britain during the Second World War. Between 1939 and 1945, the British Cinema Exhibition Association (CEA), among other organisation, encouraged women to train as cinema projectionists when the government conscripted men into the armed forces. The ‘projectionettes’ experienced unequal pay, often chaotic training programmes and patronising, sexualised portrayals in contemporary press reports. Yet, without female operators, British cinemas would not have been able to operate during the war. Here, the paper traces histories of the ‘projectionettes’ and their daily, working lives through archival materials and the trade press to consider how women’s labour contributed to British film exhibition. Moreover, by situating the women projectionists’ work in a broader narrative about gendered spectatorship, the article proposes that owing to changing labour conditions, women gained new perspectives throughout the movie theatre. Thus, the paper argues that investigating women projectionists can help us re-examine histories of British film exhibition, points-of-view, and the proliferation of ‘women’s cinema’ in wartime.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)47-70
Number of pages24
JournalFeminist Media Histories
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • British cinema
  • Women projectionists
  • Exhibition
  • Second World War
  • Spectatorship

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