Flappers:  A preview of modern feminism

In the roaring twenties, a ‘period of sustained economic prosperity’ a new breed of feminist appeared.  The Flappers:

Flappers were a “new breed” of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.[1] Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.

The Wandering Mind blog also has a good write up of flapper culture.

Flappers and the New Feminism

In the 1920s flappers represented a new type of feminism. They possessed different goals and methods than feminists of the early twentieth century. During the 1920s middle-upper class women were no longer concerned with political equality, rather these new feminists desired social equality. Historian Michael Lerner asserted, “women had the right to enjoy themselves socially as much as men did, whether through drinking, sex, or indulging in the pleasures of urban nightlife.”[1] Flappers gleefully defied many long-standing ideas about American womanhood by demanding social equality. They redefined acceptable social behaviors through their dress, new approaches to courting, and their fascination with public drinking. By most descriptions, Lois Long, a reporter for The New Yorker, was the embodiment of the 1920s flapper. Her writing provided a voice for these new feminists.

You can certainly see the very beginnings of modern feminist ideology and it seems to be driven by affluence.  Flappers also represented a significant break from first wave feminists.

Flappers represented a dramatic change in women’s behavior. Previously feminists had been single women determined to create some sort of political change. Pre-World War I feminists focused their efforts on causes such as suffrage, temperance, and equal employment opportunities. Women, such as Jane Addams, wanted to make America better through their dedication to service. Thus, the earlier generation of feminists was not at all happy about the lack of seriousness among the new generation. Women went from service-bound matrons to carefree, consumption-crazed flappers. Journalist, Gail Collins, conjectured, “It was a disturbing time for the older generation who had grown up believing that they had a duty to make the world better.”[27] Flappers viewed pre-War feminists with a cool disdain, flippantly characterizing them as bitter old maids.

However the Flapper era did not last long:

The flapper lifestyle and look disappeared in America after the Wall Street Crash and the following Great Depression. The high-spirited attitude and hedonism were less acceptable during the economic hardships of the 1930s.

When the affluence disappears, so does feminism.  Flappers were just a preview of modern feminism, interrupted by economic depression and war.  We would have to wait 20 years for affluence to return and 30 for feminism rear it’s ugly head once again.

Although it is hard to complain too much about the behavior of the Flappers when compared to today’s feminists, it is interesting to note the turning point and the beginning of social feminism.  One of the amazing things about feminism is it’s ability to slowly get worse and worse.  Men are like a slowly boiling frog, unable to escape from this feminist pot.

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