WWI was the great divide of the beginning of the last century. We often don’t appreciate what kind of caesura it was, especially in contrast with the century before. Life changed widely for all sections of society. The language changed too, trying to describe this new reality. All forms of expressions changed greatly.
But for some groups of people, this was truer than for others. In the magma of the post-war years, some social groups found a totally new possibility of expression.
All the arts went through a time of innovation and experimentation. Even the way arts were understood changed completely. No more necessarily the realm of all that is beautiful and harmonic, the arts became a workshop for the language and expression. It became maybe the most important, more accessible field where the new reality was discussed and dissected.
Through the arts, it was possible to discuss subjects that were normally considered taboo, like the changing sexual mores, the effect of the war on the human mind and soul, new political stances.
Because the arts approached these subjects inside a society that was actually trying to ignore them (because they were fearful), almost all the new arts adopted an extreme language. And the new language sometimes spilt into the new media of cinema and even advertisement.
Women might have been a new race, so different they emerged from WWI.
Many women served in WWI. They were nurses and ambulance drivers. Although they did not take part in the actual battles, they often experienced the same physical and mental stress than any soldier. They, who had been considered too gentle and delicate for any hard job in the Victorian times, endure – like men – the industrial destruction of WWI.In the 1920s, life changed widely for all sections of society. Language changed too, trying to describe this new reality. All forms of expressions changed #history #diversity Click To Tweet
On the home front, it wasn’t different. While men were away at war, women took up men’s jobs and not only endured them but perfectly managed them and sometimes even excelled in them.
Upsetting as it might have been, there was no going back from this experience. Women might have been forced to leave the workforce and give back their jobs to men, they might have been pushed into their old housekeeper role, but they now knew what they could do, because they have done it.
In the dark years of WWI, women have found a different voice, a different vocabulary, therefore a different way to express themselves. After the war, that vocabulary didn’t disappear. Women found a new way to express themselves through their look, their sensuality, their aspirations, and yes, also their political demands.
And slowly, society started to listen.
Among the new ways women expressed themselves, the most upsetting for society was their new sensuality.
Thanks to the development of contraception methods, to the new familiar expectations, and to a new companionate relation with their man (if not real equality yet), the position of women inside a couple changed very much. Alarmingly so, for many sections of society.
The new women wanted to explore their sensuality and their desires, just like men. They wanted to have control of their bodies, and they wanted to decide about the steps in their life. Though marriage was still the final goal for many women (as well as for many men) the way to get there changed radically when the companionate couple became the norm, at least among young people.
Young men and women started to choose their partner, trying to attract the partner they sought by using their looks, which for women was a huge revolution. They started to share what they did in their spare time. They wanted to have fun together.
The unbalance created by WWI actually proved to be a great opportunity for many minorities through the Western World. Maybe the more apparent examples were the African American community in the US and the Jewish community in Europe.
The specific reasons why this happened are very different, but still in part resided in the same opening that a time of great destruction created. It also resided in the prosperity that for some time seemed to be enjoyed.
It was not going to last long. But the activity of these people would have a lasting influence on everyone who came after them.
Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002
Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992