Saturday, June 18, 2011

Changes in roles of women during 1920's

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The 10s ushered in an era of dramatic change in the role and image of women in America, through new attitudes and a significantly different way of life. It was said in The Household in January 1884 that, a really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy. While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen. This was the general consensus concerning the role of women up until the very end of the 1800s, but the turn of the century and the post World War I period was accompanied by drastic changes to this theory.


Thus the general attitudes of the entire population, men and women alike, were completely revolutionized from the provincial views before. Previously, women were expected to do nothing more � or less � than cooking, ironing, mending, laundry, cleaning the house, and taking care of the children. These tasks consumed most of their time, leaving little opportunity to consider the possibility of rest or other activities. The twentieth century, however, stimulated major changes in the picture of the “ideal” family. This ideal, called the ‘companionate family’, held that husbands and wives should be friends and lovers and that parents and children should be pals. With this in mind, women made a slow transformation from the subordinate laborer to more of an equal partner. This revolution was supplemented by innovations of the time period. Improved appliances and goods such as canned foods made taking care of the home tremendously easier and less time consuming. It was no longer necessary to spend all day in the kitchen making food from scrap. Superior sewing machines and irons made everyday household chores much easier, as well.


Circulated literature also began to reflect and promote the changing attitudes of the public. F. Scott Fitzgerald sparked the revolution with the publication of his first book, This Side of Paradise in 10, which won him both fame and fortune, as he was the first to anticipate the pleasure-seeking generation of the “Roaring Twenties.” A similar novel, The Beautiful and Damned (11), and two collections of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers (10) and Tales of the Jazz Age (1), heightened his popularity. Other authors soon followed with similarly entertaining and reality-based works such as Dancers in the Dark, The Plastic Age, and Flaming Youth. These books depicted promiscuous heroines to a society that was at first stunned, and then delighted by this new pleasure principle.


Sigmund Freud, a controversial psychologist, supplemented the idea of the pleasure principle with his radical ideas about psychoanalysis, the ‘unconscious,’ and ‘psychosexual development.’ His theories involved subconscious intentions and the existence of underlying sexual desires. These thoughts sparked curiosity - and skepticism � in many Americans and, though divisive, bore a remarkable influence on the attitudes of the general public. The previously accepted moral codes of the country were subsequently in grave danger. This code, as it concerned young people, “might have been roughly summarized as follows Women were the guardians of morality; they were made of finer stuff than men and were expected to act accordingly. Young girls must look forward in innocence…to a romantic love match which would lead them to the altar and to live happily-ever-after; and until the ‘right man’ came along they must allow no male to kiss them. It was expected that some men would succumb to the temptations of sex, but only with a special class of outlawed women; girls of respectable families were supposed to have no such temptations” (Oates, 170). The boys and girls that were growing up in this era were simply desecrating this code and there seemed to be no plausible way to stop it.


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As the popularity of rebellion increased, a new kind of woman, labeled the “flapper,” emerged to encompass the idea of the modern lady. First and most obviously, defiant fashion trends developed to reflect these newfound attitudes. But before any changes could be made to outerwear, it was necessary to abandon the corset. Both women and doctors began to cite emphatically the physical limitations and long-term negative effects of the corset. Evidence revealed that corsets put pressure on, and occasionally even burst, vital internal organs and were also damaging to the back and respiratory system. With these restrictive garments discarded, the dresses that many of the women wore were considered alarmingly scandalous. In July of 10, a fashion reporter for the New York Times exclaimed, “the American woman…has lifted her skirts far beyond any modest limitation,” which was another way of saying that the hems had been lifted to a shocking nine inches above the ground. It was predicted that the winter of 10-1 would see the skirts coming down again, but instead they climbed a few disgraceful inches higher, eventually shortening to just below the knee. The flappers wore thin, often beaded, dresses that were typically short sleeved or sleeveless for eveningwear. New rayon hose were supported by garter belts and some of the wilder young ones even dared to roll them to just above the knee. The new fashion centered around the “garçonne” or “little boy” look. Women cut their hair short and the ideal body type switched from voluptuous and curvy to almost prepubescent. The young, emaciated flappers challenged the mature female form by flattening the breasts, dropping waists to the hipline, and emphasizing the slender figure. Brassieres were used to flatten, not support, and calorie counting became an obsession for those who pursued the trends.


“Supposedly ‘nice girls’ were smoking cigarettes � openly and defiantly, if often rather awkwardly and self-consciously. They were drinking � somewhat less openly but often all too efficaciously” (Oates, 171). Even the most respected parents were appalled to hear stories of their daughters getting drunk on the contents of the hip flasks of the new prohibition regime. Worse yet, even at the most well-chaperoned dances, their daughters were inclined to retire to darkened corners or parked cars to join in the unspeakable practice of petting and necking. F. Scott Fitzgerald once commented that “none of the Victorian mothers � and most of the mothers were Victorian � had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed.” These parents often failed to realize the popularity of these trends and that necking had become a bit of an indoor sport. Their daughters were sneaking out of the house to go joyriding with boys at all hours of the morning only to retire for a culmination of elaborate necking right under their noses.


The new style of dancing created even more concern among respectable adults. The barbaric saxophone replaced the romantic violin and the fox trotters moved in what the editor of the Hobart College Herald called a “syncopated embrace.” There was no longer even an inch of space separating them � they danced pressed up against each other, body to body, cheek to cheek. The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati cried out with disgust, “The music is sensuous, the embracing of partners � the female only half dressed � is absolutely indecent; and the motions � they are such as may not be described in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that there are certain houses appropriate for such dances; but those houses have been closed by law” (Oates, 171).


Aside from her social “decline” in society, the woman of the 10s made enormous progress concerning civil rights and suffrage. Millions of American women marched and picketed in the streets exclaiming, “KAISER WILSON, HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN HOW YOU SYMPATHIZED WITH THE POOR GERMANS BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT SELF-GOVERNED? 0,000,000 AMERICAN WOMEN ARE NOT SELF-GOVERNED. TAKE THE BEAM OUT OF YOUR OWN EYE” (American Decades). Harry Burn, the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives at twenty-four, shouted “Hurrah! And vote for suffrage!” on August 18, 10 as he obeyed his mother and cast the final vote for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. Initially regarded as a panacea for women, activists were fairly disappointed to observe that women did not vote in alliances or unanimously support women’s issues, but voted according to race, social class, religious background, and geographic location. After 10, the suffrage movement divided into factions social feminists who sought reform of society in general, feminists who focused on expanded roles for women, women who were dedicated to pacifism, and women who campaigned for labor and professional reform. Nevertheless, women gained the political clout that they had been fighting for since the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848 and felt empowered by the progress they had made.


Women also campaigned for the legalization and acceptance of birth control. Margaret Sanger led this revolution, publishing a pamphlet, Woman and the New Race, in 10 promoting birth control in an attempt to “do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were as vast as the sky.” Sanger was determined to remove the taboo associated with contraception and to set up a nationwide network of advice centers on birth control for women. In 11 Sanger organized the American Birth Control League, which has been known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 14. In 1, she opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in New York City, the first doctor-staffed birth control clinic in the United States. This first clinic became a model for the network of over three hundred clinics established by Sanger across the country by 18. In 17, the mailing of contraceptive material became legal, and birth control was recognized as a legitimate medical service to be taught in medical schools.


In 10, women composed .6 percent of the labor force. World War I and the absence of so much of the male population served to considerably expand women’s employment. While the first generation of college educated women entered professions in the 10s, they found very few opportunities outside the nurturing “women’s professions” such as nursing, teaching, social work, and pediatrics. Women laborers worked long hours and earned significantly less pay than men. Unfortunately, society was still hesitant about combining the roles of wife and mother with those of worker and professional, but became more comfortable as the decade progressed and increasing numbers of women chose to establish themselves in the workforce. As a result, pioneering efforts were undertaken to further the education and training of women workers. The most notable of these endeavors was Bryn Mawr College’s Summer Schools for Women Workers in Industry. The school provided academic training, union-organization skills, and lessons in participatory democracy to women recruited by unions and the YMCA.


The attitude that we should “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” dominated post World War I America. Society could not return to past sentiments, and so instead moved onward to a social, sexual and political revolution that completely transformed the way women viewed the world as well as the way the world viewed them. Daisy Buchanan, the heroine in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, once said of her small daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool � that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” but the 10s and the changes that ensued allowed women to hope for more than that.





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