Feminist Sundays & Jazz Age January

This Feminist Sunday is a very special one. I love working with Leah from Books Speak Volumes and since I loved her Jazz Age January so much, I thought we could do a cross-over post: a Feminist Sunday post with a Jazz Age theme. And as lovely as she is, she agreed. So, Leah is posting here and I’ll be posting on her blog. This is one of the reasons I love blogging so much! You can read my post on Zelda here.

I’m Leah from Books Speak Volumes, and I’m excited to be sharing a post that overlaps Jazz Age January with Feminist Sundays!

After decades of hard work and campaigning, American women won the right to vote with the 19th Amendment’s ratification in 1920. With this victory, women shifted their focus from politics to gender roles. They now held jobs, rejected Victorian morality, drastically changed fashion, smoked cigarettes, drank with men in public, and drove cars. The 1920s were a decade of great change for women’s social equality with men.

Employment:

With many men deployed during WWI, women entered the workforce for the first time — and when the war ended, many were unwilling to return to their former domestic roles. After the war, female employment continued to rise as women took jobs as secretaries, saleswomen, and telephone operators. Although they still faced discrimination and earned smaller salaries than their male counterparts, women had their own money to spend for the first time. This shift enabled women to become consumers with spending power. Earning their own income also meant that women could provide for themselves; they no longer needed to get married for economic reasons.

Relationships with men:

The way women courted men changed drastically during this decade. During the Victorian Era, men and women courted, mostly in the home, with courting nearly always being the predecessor to marriage. In the 1920s, courting shifted to dating in public places. Now that women didn’t have to marry for financial security, they were able to date more casually; dating wasn’t expected to lead to marriage. The ’20s also saw an increase in sexual activity, including premarital sex. Although women were able to work white-collar jobs, they still struggled economically, and “treating” became a feature of dating. In return for a man “treating” a woman to drinks, jewelry, or clothing, a woman would repay him with anything from flirting to sexual deeds.

Sexual liberation:

In their rebellion against Victorian morality, young women of the ’20s became educated about sex and freely engaged in sexual activity. With the right to vote and the possibility of economic independence, women saw sex as another freedom they could finally grasp in their quest for social equality with men.

Fashion:

With their newfound freedom, young women began rebelling against Victorian notions of femininity. They rejected the long hair and corseted figures prized by their mothers, bobbing their hair and donning short, loose-fitting dresses. The short hairstyles and androgynously cut dresses made them appear more boyish. This change in style signified the blurring gender roles of the time, as women shed traditional female roles and took on more “masculine” ones.

In contrast to the natural complexions their mothers favored, flappers painted their faces with makeup — a practice formerly associated with prostitution. They rouged their cheeks, applied lipstick, and powdered their knees. Have you ever watched the musical Chicago and been super confused by the line, “I’m gonna rouge my knees and role my stockings down,” in “All That Jazz?” Being the rebels that they were, flappers applied rouge to their knees to draw attention to them in their scandalously short dresses.

Feminism:

Serious pre-war feminists dedicated to causes such as suffrage and equal employment opportunities were frustrated by the new carefree, consumption-obsessed flappers. The bright young things, in turn, viewed the elder feminists as bitter old maids as they strove for freedom, excitement, and social equality.

Suddenly, in the 1920s, women were handed freedoms they had never experienced before; they could now vote, drink with men, show their skin, and cast off Victorian moral codes. Unsure what to do with their newfound freedom, they ran with it, wild and free, determined to live life to the fullest.

Sources and further reading:

  1. “Flappers and the New Feminism”. Wandering Mind: Flappers and the New Feminism
  2. “Flapper Girls: Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s”. Gender Forum: Flapper Girls: Feminism and Consumer Society in the 1920s
  3. “Sophisticated Ladies: Women of the 1920s”. Arena Stage: Sophisticated Ladies: Women of the 1920s
  4. “Historically Speaking: Rouge Your Knees”. “Historically Speaking: Rouge Your Knees

2 thoughts on “Feminist Sundays & Jazz Age January

  1. Once again, Elena and Leah, this is the perfect duo!

    Leah, your post is well written and succinctly highlights the lifestyle women were caught in during this time period. And, as we all know, it didn’t end here. Enjoyed this look back! But want to keep stepping forward. 🙂

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