The New Woman was born in the United States, but in a world that was becoming increasingly smaller thanks to the new mass media, her ideal soon crossed those borders. Forms of new women emerged all over the world.
We tend to think of the New Woman as the American flapper or the British suffragette. While these were indeed very powerful images of the New Woman, the concept spread far beyond these borders. The 1910s, 1920s and partly the 1930s were indeed fertile ground for a change in women’s role on a global scale.#AtoZChallenge The New Woman was certainly born in the U.S., but manifestations of her appeared worldwide. And everywhere, she was a harbinger of modernity #WomenHistory Click To Tweet
Everywhere the New Woman manifested, she took up very local meaning and characteristics, but she also had many striking similarities.
She always incarnated modernity. She embodied a break with the past and a new way of understanding the world around her. Everywhere, New Women sought equality and new opportunities in a world that was changing fast. They wanted that change to involve them too.
Women had been restricted by tradition for a long time, but modernisation called for a new way. The great majority of the nations where a form of New Woman emerged had been involved in the First World War. Everywhere, this event had created a caesura with the past, and especially young people were eager to forget and create the world anew.
The New Woman was a manifestation of this new world in America as well as in Japan. Despite the many different characteristics, New Women in these nations sought the same thing: independence through work, education, more freedom of expression and freer sexuality.
It’s also interesting to see how these very different cultures reacted very similarly to their women’s demand for freedom. They feared women would become masculinised. Because they seemed to move away from the house, it was assumed that women didn’t want to be wives or mothers anymore. There was a creeping fear that women were trying to take the place of men – which, by the way, they certainly were not capable of doing, therefore society must be on the verge of collapse. You know…
The anxiety didn’t just belong to men. Many women, too, didn’t like the way the New Woman acted or the demands she was making. Because the New Woman criticised the past, even other women felt she was trying to turn the world upside-down, which – they thought – was not going to change it, but to destroy it.
The New Woman and the global mass media
Mass media had a huge impact on disseminating the New Woman ideal. These modern girls would appear heavily in magazines, books, novels, and films. These media were all increasingly exported.
Louse Brooks was equally popular in the US, Mexico, and Europe. In fact, for many years, she worked in Berlin. The silent film was particularly important in spreading the image because cards were a lot easier to translate than translating talkies was going to be. Besides, films were among the primary media where New Women appeared.
Novels had a very great impact too. Hugely popular authors like Francis Scott Fitzgerald often depicted flappers in his stories.
The new advertisement capitalised on the image of the New Woman, particularly of the 1920s flapper. Mail catalogues often depicted flappers – or anyway, New Women – modelling on their pages.
But the image was often idealised. If the American flapper tried her best to look exotic by adopting fashion that often echoed the Orient, Japanese mogas did their best to take up a Westernised look. Neither of those looks reflected any real cultural image and was more about the beholder’s desires than the behold authenticity.
Yet the image of the New Woman talks of the power of imagination and the possibility of change. In all the societies she appeared in, the New Woman was an image of the future.
ProQuest – Japanese women and modanizumu: The emergence of a new women’s culture in the 1920’s
Unicersity of Michigan Press eBook Collection – The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s
NGV – Moga: the audacity of being a modern girl