Flapperdom, Feminism, and Internet Culture
Are you a woman, do you believe in using fashion as an outlet for self-expression, are you enjoying your life on your terms? If yes, chances are that you would be labeled as a Flapper Girl in the 1920s - reduced to a derogatory term that flouts the conventions of patriarchy, which in other words, was the way of the world.
The 1920s are memorialized in history for the Great Economic Depression primarily, but something else was brimming in the corners of the world around the same period as well, something that would change the course of gender as we know it. With an emphasis on a consumer-oriented society, mass media entertainment, and economic freedom - the 1920s saw a cultural shift in the dynamic between men and women - while it displeased society during that period, it revolutionized feminism for us. It would not be an exaggeration to call this the turn of the decade - a turn of autonomy and liberation.
The Suffrage Movement, assumed to be synonymous with the suffering of women, was derived from the Latin term ‘Suffragium’ which referred to the well-deserved right to vote. To vote was to have a voice in the matters of the state, and to be considered as more than simply second-class citizens, or properties that can be claimed and molded as per the male desire. In 1919, the Suffrage Movement received enough coverage and political mobilization to be acknowledged by Congress - and women thus were recognized as first-class citizens, at least in theory. Women technically had the right to vote - on paper, not so much in realistic scenarios. It is pertinent to realize that the rights that applied to the average white woman, did not extend to the rest of womanhood. As has been said by Churchill, “That which was true for white women was not necessarily true for black women.”
The Flapper Movement was also a consequence of the First World War, which washed away the values of goodness and sacrifice - and faced the wrath of the working class citizens, who were forced into the battlefield against their wishes - to further a political agenda. Women learned to prioritize and respect their individuality, and put their needs above those of others. A concept that was previously unseen, or even heard of.
The sexually liberated, and sometimes promiscuous Flapper girl was more of a cultural stereotype to define and confine women to labels - an ancient day Manic Pixie Dream Girl if I may. She presented a paradox of ideas - both offensive to men, and terrifying for older women. Short dresses, red lipstick, cigarettes, and vivacity - a woman that cannot be controlled is a threat, and a woman that refuses to conform to the norms is a disgrace. The focus on pleasure - both sexual and spiritual, was seen as a direct negligence to all that Feminism stood for, but what is Feminism - if not an ideology that advocates for the ability to make your own choices?
The Flapper movement is a significant cornerstone in our history - through it, women found the encouragement to express their sexuality and femininity - on their terms, not those dictated and dispersed through the reins of patriarchy. For the first time in our grueling archive, the woman was a subject - and not simply an object. She no longer existed to simply propel the male narrative forward, but rather to navigate her autonomy. Although the political and economic liberation, in some part, is indebted to the war crisis and the growing consumerism in America, it cannot take away from the value this movement brought to the table.
Women were taught to be the shiniest, prettiest object of desire in the room - to find value, not in themselves, but in the reaction, they incite from the men around them. This, to no one’s surprise, led women to pit themselves against one another, and use appearances as battlefields to fight baseless wars. Audre Lorde, following this, stated that “Instead of joining together to fight for more (freedom), we quarrel between ourselves over men, instead of pursuing and using who we are and our strengths for lasting change…”
We are in the second edition of the Roaring Twenties right now, and yet - not much has changed concerning how we treat one another -with comments and actions that are often below the belt. With the onset of social media, our collective unison has been overpowered by the need to be at the top, with individual desires superseding the ideology itself. We have walked a long road, but there is more to look out for. Mobilizing women across cultures, boundaries, and ages to assemble and congregate for a common cause is easier said than done, but internet culture widens this gap when so much good could come out of social media platforms. We rally for the cause on our online personas, and yet in our real lives - it holds little to no significance. Consumerism has become deadly and insidious, and in an attempt to stand out and defy norms - we are giving into what patriarchy expects of us. Our culture persists because it tactfully pushes us to fight one another - in a world where beauty is currency, and the constructs of beauty are willed into existence by what men find attractive - there is no winning. Media dynamics are framed in a way that we buy into whatever is preached to us, and hyperfocus on what we are supposed to be, rather than who we are.
The Roaring Twenties are reminiscent of their reflection - it was of a decade of learning, unlearning, and exploring. The 1920s brought back life, after a pandemic - and should we not aspire to do the same? The Flapper Movement embodied self-expression, and defiance against the rules far too outdated. If we are to recreate this movement or even learn from it, we need to seek acceptance from within - not around. The internet is an inherently kind place, but only if we treat it as such.