Flapper Movement the Effect of the Flappers Essay

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Flapper Movement

The Effect of the Flappers on Today's Women

The 1920's in the U.S. And UK can be described as a period of great change, both socially and economically. During this period the image of the women completely changed and a "new women" emerged who appears to have impacted social changes occurring in future generations of both men and women. This new symbol of the women was the Flapper. The Flapper was a new type of young woman that was rebellious, fun, bold and outspoken (Zeitz, 2006). This research paper explains the rise and fall of the Flapper in the 1920's, explores its historical and current impact on women in terms of culture, work, gender and social behavior and reflects on its long-term impact of the position of today's women.

Evolution of the Flapper

Flappers, most often characterized as the "New Woman," originally emerged in the 1920s in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Flapper movement involved quite a shift in traditional women's values and how women presented themselves. The Flappers wore short skirts that went slightly above the knee, wore "excessive" makeup, bobbed their hair, smoked, drank alcohol, listened the jazz, drove cars instead of being driven by men, treated sex in a casual manner, and embraced other fashions and attitudes that violated what was then considered acceptable behavior for women (Evans, 1981). The origin of the Flappers began prior to the 1920s as a result of the political and social turbulence as well as an increased exchange of culture (which included the export of jazz to Europe and exchanges of fashions between the UK and U.S.) following the First World War. Nonetheless the Flappers did not just appear out of nowhere but represented a trend of separation with traditional values. There were several prior historical amounts that occurred prior to the Flapper movement that set the stage for the emergence of the radical changes that the Flappers embraced.

The Suffrage Movement

In the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century the Suffragettes consisted of members of women's right to vote groups that were opposed to the traditional male -- dominated notion of politics and participation in political matters that had previously been the dominant viewpoint in the UK and U.S. (Crawford, 2002). These activists, particularly the women members of these groups, challenged many of the traditional notions of male and female behavior, and many of the women were imprisoned or in some cases even died for this cause (Crawford, 2002). Women received the right to vote in the certain states in the United States starting in the late 1800s and this right was extended across the United States with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, whereas all women over the age of 21 were given the right to vote in 1928 in the UK following earlier legislation that allowed female property owners over the age of 30 to vote (Crawford, 2002). The Suffragettes or Suffrage Movement was a major force in challenging traditional gender roles and notions of "appropriate" gender behavior allowing women to more freely express themselves and be more assertive regarding their wants, needs and desires.

The Gibson Girl

The shift in the traditional notion of femininity can be observed by the drawings of the Charles Dana Gibson and the Gibson Girl prior to the First World War (Mazur, 1986). Gibson's drawings depicted a girl with long hair and long straight skirts with high collars. The Gibson Girl was considered to be the epitome of beauty; however, the drawings also transcended several traditional gender lines such as allowing for her participation in sports that were conventionally considered to be the domain of men in nature such as golf and bicycling. Some historians argue that the Gibson Girl was the first national beauty standard in America and it is this standard that set the tone for both conformity and later rebellion (Mazur, 1986).

World War I

The advent of the First World War resulted in a major attitude shift in younger people. The soldiers participating in combat took on the Shakespearean attitude of "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" as a result of the large casualties they witnessed in the trenches in Europe. The soldiers also begin to question the values of the older generation and the mindset and ethics of their leaders that led to the horrific conflict in Europe. Women had been indoctrinated into patriotic fever and had been aggressively used as workers to support both the war effort and the economies of the U.S. And UK. Following the war both men and women were expected to return to life as normal; however, given the changes that a conflict of this nature brings they found it very difficult to return to the old ways and settle down to traditional values as if nothing ever happened (Allen, 1957).

The values of the air of the Gibson Girl were such that a woman did not date until the "proper" man formerly expressed an interest in her. However, nearly an entire generation of young men had been wiped out by the war and there were fewer "proper" gentlemen for the taking. The attitude of the younger woman shifted from being one of passivity to one of more assertiveness and experimentation (Allen, 1957). Thus, the war also resulted in a further break from more traditional values in both men and women.

The Flappers

Some historians trace the etymology of the word "flapper" to the 17th century UK meaning, "a young bird that is flapping its wings as it learns to fly" (which in the current context might represent the struggle of women learning to be more independent and to express themselves; Spivack, 2013). Other older British uses of the word "flapper" or "flap" are noted to designate a prostitute or immoral woman, a flighty rebellious young woman, and even a woman who had refused to fasten her galoshes and the sound that the buckles made as she walked (Spivack, 2013). "Flapper" also appeared in the United Kingdom in print in 1903 to refer to an acrobatic woman (Zeitz, 2006). In the early 1900s a "flapper" referred to a young lady who had not yet wore the long frocks of her hair up as most women of the day did (Zeitz, 2006). However, the United States and Britain prior to the First World War the word appeared to undergo several changes from meaning a girl who is just came out (from being immature) to a term to describe women workers during the war (Zeitz, 2006). By 1920 the term "flapper" had taken on a meaning of a social butterfly or undisciplined type female (Zeitz, 2006).

According to Zeitz (2006) the word in the United States was first popularized in a film called The Flapper and referred to an attitude and fashion style of the rebellious young women who showed their contempt for Prohibition. This new woman smoked, drank gin, wore short skirts, danced the evening away in jazz clubs with a number of different male suitors, and flagrantly disobeyed the traditional values of the female including the previously defined values associated with the Gibson Girl. As expected there was a variety of reactions to this "new woman" ranging from blaming every social ill in America and the UK on this "Flapper" attitude and associating the rise of the Flapper movement with degeneration of "moral" values to embracing the new liberated woman (Bliven, 1925; Hooper, 1922; Zeitz, 2006). Certainly this new woman challenged the conventional expectations of thinking and behaving in both men and women.

The Flappers Challenge Tradition

Quite frankly and even though the behavior of the Flappers was considered to be quite revolutionary and drastic by traditional standards, the Flappers help to redefine fashion and women's roles beginning in the 1920s. In the media they were depicted as being somewhat reckless or unconventional, hedonistic, and promiscuous (Baughm, 1996). Nonetheless, the concept of the Flapper lifestyle endured for the decade of the 1920s and included other cultural developments such as a change in dance styles also considered shocking by traditionalists (e.g., the Charleston or the Bunny Hug), more women entering the workforce, women searching for meaning outside traditional expectations, and of course women acting in a manner frowned upon by many. The behavior of the Flappers was in direct contrast to stated traditional behavior for women. The rise of the Flapper movement/lifestyle can be attributed to the combination of women seeking equal rights with men and the changes in many perceived gender roles as a result of the conditions following the First World War.

An Identifying Language.

The Flappers engaged in many new and often "strange" behaviors for women. For one thing, Flapper behavior was associated with the use of a number of slang terms ranging from "necking" (kissing) and "jazz" (to mean anything" to terms such as "that's the bee's knees" (Baughm, 1996; Zeitz, 2006). This language helped to distinguish the Flappers as a specific group and made…

Sources Used in Document:


Allen, F.L. (1957). Only yesterday: An informal history of the nineteen-twenties. New York:

Harper and Row.

Baughm J.S. (1996). American decades: 1920-1929. New York: Manly.

Bliven, B. (1925, September 9).FlapperJane. New Republic, pp. 65-67.

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