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N is for New Woman (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

N

“Shameless, selfish and honest, she takes a man’s point of view as her mother never could.”

This is how the New York Time defined the flapper in an article of July 16, 1922.
In the Twenties, the flapper attracted a lot of attention from everyone, scared older people as well as excited young people, and created a new vision for all women. Everybody talked about her, and even back then she was glamorized and fantasized upon as much as we do today.

This was a woman who knew she could compete with men at the same level and took up many of men’s attitudes her mother would never dream of: smoking, drinking, dating, petting. She wasn’t afraid of her sexuality and lived it with joy, enjoying looking sexy, wearing dresses that showed rather than cover, a kind of dress that allowed her to be a companion to men in many activities that her mother couldn’t think to involve herself with.

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When we think about flappers, this is what we think today. It is also what most people who talked about flappers in the Twenties thought. But was the flapper really an all-around, accurate representation of women in the 1920s?
To be a flapper, a woman had to have enough money and free time to play the part, so let’s see how women faired.

Having free time already restricted the possibility to be a flapper to mostly young women and especially college girls. This doesn’t mean other women didn’t try to go along. In fact, flapper fashion was taken on by most women. Their new freer way of presenting themselves was adopted even by their mothers – if they could afford it, because let’s face it, dressing like a flapper wasn’t cheap.
So you needed to be young (that is, not having the responsibility of a family) and have some money on your hands.
In the Twenties, after during WWI women took up jobs vacated by men gone to war, the idea of women working for wages started to become acceptable. So there were indeed many young women who worked, and they were extremely glamorized by films and magazines as the new, independent woman.

Still, the ideal life that even most women desired was still a family life. Young women dated and petted, but that was considered acceptable only if it ended up in marriage. Likewise, working women were accepted only as long as they would stop working once they got married and leave the business of earning money to their husbands. This led to women’s work to be considered temporary and never supposed to lead to a full-blown career. Enthused upon as they were, women professionals were still rare in the extreme.
Most women who worked in the Twenties weren’t young modern girls in search of independence, but daughters and wives of working-class families trying to make ends meet. These women invariably got lower jobs for the lower wages, and all of their earnings went straight into the family budget. There wasn’t much glamour about it, any way you looked at it.

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As wild as flappers looked, and as true as it is that they broke with the past in many ways, their expectation for their future was still very similar to their mothers’: get a good marriage (although a more companionable one) and be a good mother and housekeeper.
In fact, there was great social pressure on this. Once again, the new ways and possibilities were greatly glamorized.
True, women who could afford it had a whole array of new appliances to help them keep their house clean and tidy, but this seldom translated into the advertised free time. Because standards of cleanliness, both personal and of the house, had risen too, a lot of the time spared by the new appliances went into doing more cleaning. There was a lot more attention to food and healthy practices. Society and magazines tended to represent the new housewife as a professional, someone who could keep pace with the new way of doing things and the knowledge necessary to do it, and because wives were generally the ones who managed the family budget, they became the preferred target of the new practice of advertising and the centre, both as young women and modern wives and mothers, of the new consumer life.

So yes, a new breed of women stepped on stage in the Twenties, but this was more of a mixed bag that it’s often considered.


RESOURCES

NCpedia – A New Woman Emerges
History Matters – The New Woman of the 1920s: Debating Bobbed-Hair
About Education – Flapper in the Roaring Twenties

The New Woman and the Politics of the 1920s by Lynn Dumenil (PDF)
The Twenties in Contemporary Commentary – The Modern Woman (PDF)

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


ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - New Woman - The 1920s brought about a new way of thinking in so many ways, which allowed new spaces to so many people. Women found themselves in the position to demand more equality. Middle and upper-class women gained more freedom than they ever had before

38 Comments

  • Kim Hine
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 01:25

    hello, just popped in from the A-Z challenge,
    I love the 20’s era!!

    fellow A-Z Blogger
    Kim in Australia

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:18

      Hi there :-)
      Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m make sure to return the visit!

  • Mee Magnum
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 03:31

    You should turn this entire #AtoZchallenge in to a book when all is said and done. I love reading all of your articles!

    –Mee (The Chinese Quest)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:19

      A book? Don’t put funny ideas into my head! ;-)

      • Mee Magnum
        Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:21

        The book is writing itself!!

        • Mee Magnum
          Posted May 10, 2015 at 17:34

          Sarah, please reserve a copy of the book for me when you publish it, and if you could autograph it, I’d be in heaven!

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 03:36

    I learned a lot about the flapper lifestyle and how we evolved to where we are today in your post.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps’ Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:20

      I enjoyed learnign about flappers because, as so many things about the Twenties, reality was much more complex than people normally think.

  • zannierose (A-Z )
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 06:29

    love that top photo…and so agree- to be a Flapper as we perceive it today was a luxury.
    Maybe not everyone could afford the lifestyle but the attitudes were freeing even for those without disposable income….flapping away the concretes of social programming little by little

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:26

      I do think flapper lifetyle was some kind of vision for so many women, even older women. I’m actually impressed by the modernity of many flappers’ attitudes, much more modern than attitudes of women who came after, and for quite a few decades.
      But I hear a lot of people placing a lot more into flappers than it actually was there. I find that flappers’ role and place is one of the biggest misconceptions there are about the Twenties.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 08:51

    Do you what Miss Fisher? Now there is a flapper to take on the world :).
    It’s funny how appearances can change, but expectations not, still trapping people in their roles.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:26

      Changing one’s appearance is far easier than changign one’s social role. I believe.

  • Alex Hurst
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 11:30

    Look this series so much… I do agree with an earlier commentor. You should turn this into a handbook for the Roaring 20s. :)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:27

      You people should stop saying it, or something despicable may happen ;-)

      • Mee Magnum
        Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:29

        I would buy a copy!

        Would bring back memories of my Grandmother.

        –Mee (The Chinese Quest)

  • Sue Coletta
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 13:54

    Flappers are interesting characters. Aren’t they? Such empowering women for their era.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:28

      But also deceiving. Flappers are a very complex character and phenomenon.
      Very intriguing ;-)

  • KaTy Did
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 15:42

    I recall my Great Aunt talking about the 20’s. She had a “grand time”, she would tell me!
    As I See It Daily

  • Anabel Marsh
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 14:35

    I’m so glad we’ve continued to progress since then – but still not far enough in terms of equality.

  • diedre
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 16:46

    My great grandma wasn’t exactly a flapper but she sure dropped a lot of jaws when she began to walk herself down to the local pub, order a beer and wait for grandpa to show up after work on Fridays! Great post!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2015 at 19:43

      That’s a fantastic story!
      I suppose that’s the way flappers inspired all women, even thos who weren’t flappers: showing them that so many things could be done and it was ok.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 16, 2015 at 20:20

    Interesting! A lot more complex than I thought :) Thanks!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

  • Sue Archer
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 01:03

    That’s a great point about standard of cleanliness going up, too. It still feels like that today – the more “modern conveniences” we come up with, the more we are expected to do!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 17, 2015 at 06:23

      It’s a dog biting its own tail, I suppose.

  • Jeri Burns
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 03:00

    New stuff here, as always. I’m particularly intrigued by this because my mom says that my grandmother was a flapper (or at least dressed as one, I’ve seen a photo) – but she was definitely a working class lady, never a lady of means.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 17, 2015 at 06:25

      I’ve read that girls who remotely had the means to dress like a flapper, whould do anything to achieve theri goal. It was a kind of status symbol, I suppose.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 03:06

    I’ve dressed up as a flapper for Halloween and Purim several times. I love their style, though I’d never be able to go all the way and achieve that unnaturally boyish figure with my ample bust!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 17, 2015 at 06:28

      Same here. I have everything ample, actually ;-)

  • Celine Jeanjean
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 06:44

    That’s so interesting, I love that you’ve lifted the curtain on that myth of the glamorous flapper we all see in films. The way you’ve put it, it wasn’t quite as much of a liberation as novels and films would have us believe, it’s more of a first step in a looooong journey that is still going on now. (I found it depressing to read that back then women got lower jobs and lower wages, and a lot of that still happens now. As is the lack of free time because the standards of living are even higher now, even though we have an even bigger array of technology at our disposal – but at the end of the day women are still very much expected to be the housekeeper)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 17, 2015 at 06:53

      I’m happy you enjoyed the article. Yes, I did try to lift that stereotypical image, becasue that’s what it is. Women in the Twenties did break with the past, but as you say, it was just a first step.

      Well, I think today there’s much more helping each other in a couple, both regarding children and housekeeping. But in addition to higher expectency of cleanliness, there is also much less time to dedicate to the house, because both members in a couple work. And let’s be fair, it’s becoming more and more acceptable for a man to be a ‘housewife’ ;-)

  • Dawn
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 22:14

    Thank you for for sharing about the Roaring 20s. Very interesting time period and your posts are awesome.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 18, 2015 at 07:14

      Oh, thanks, Dawn.. I’m happy you’re enjoying them :-)
      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Lanise Brown
    Posted April 18, 2015 at 10:12

    Flappers seem so modest compared to today’s pop culture icons. Wow.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 18, 2015 at 11:14

      I wouldn’t know ;-)
      I was actually very surprised to discover how much of our culture (that we consider so modern) was already present in the Twenties flapper movement.

  • Tara
    Posted April 19, 2015 at 11:20

    What a fantastic era to be writing about, Sarah… I’m enjoying it so much, and the pieces about women in particular as it really seemed to be the first era which took notice of women as individuals in their own right, didn’t it? Your series is my favourite in the A-Z Challenge this year by far (but Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, or I’ll get in trouble) ;)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 19, 2015 at 18:17

      Tara, I’m so happy to see you here. I didnt’ know you were lurcking on my AtoZ thread ;-)

      Thanks for the nice words. This challange is really… well, challanging, more than I expected. Knowing people enjoys my efforts makes all the difference :-)

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