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Women (Living the Twenties #AtoZChallenge 2020)

In many respect, the 1920s was the decade of the woman. Women’s behaviour and opportunities changed and advanced, but also, more importantly, the perception of women and what they could and should do changed in the mind of both men and women. 

In many respects, the 1920s were the decade of the #women #history Click To Tweet

Flapper: The New Woman

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks

The flapper is one of the icons of the 1920s. The young, modern girl who challenged all the traditional roles of women, who dressed daringly, wore makeup, dated boys, and even dared to work and dream of a professional career. 

The phenomenon of the flapper is quite interesting. They were indeed real girls who challenged traditional roles often unintentionally. By this, I mean that they were not trying to make any social statement. They were just girls who wanted to have fun in all ways their world made available to them. 

But they were in numbers sufficient to attract the attention of social commentators, who appeared to be quite alarmed by the flapper’s attitude. The flapper sought fun. With her inclination to male attention outside of marriage, and her obvious interest in sex-appeal, she disregarded (or appeared to disregard) the marital life,. Not to mention her excessive interest in professional life, and her involvement in activities that previously only engaged men. 

A lot of elders thought flappers would cause the ruined of the entire society.

Les Modes (Paris) November 1927
Les Modes (Paris) November 1927

The number of girls living a new, freer life was probably too few to endanger society. These girls tried to create and enjoy new social possibilities. But alongside them, a far greater number of girls were not flappers but aspired to the same freedom. Even today, we tend to think that all girls were flappers in the 1920s. This was certainly not the case, but it is certainly what the marketers wanted 1920s girls to believe, and what 1920s commentators feared it was. This made the idea of the flapper more powerful and allowed it to reach a lot further than it may have done on its own. 

Magazines talked about flappers. Commentators criticised them. Ads addressed and featured them. Soon, entertainment caught up the trend and started featuring flappers in novels and films, making them glamorous. And ubiquitous. 

All these media coverage gave the impression that flappers were far more numerous than they actually were. It also allowed the new ideas about the flapper to have a far greater reach. Indeed more and more girls, even those who could not afford to be real flappers, started to try and adhere to that idea with their own means. 

Flappers may not have been numerous, but their idea of freedom of expression and new life expectation did change the mind of a lot of people. 

The Atarashii Onna: the Japanese New Woman

Japanese moga girl in the 1920s

In the same years after WWI, a similar phenomenon to the flapper was happening in Japan. 

Japan had isolated itself for a long time, but in the 1860s, during the Edo Period, the US forced it to open up to the world. The Meiji Era (1868-1912) was one of great innovation, which came to fruition in the Taisho Era (1912-26), the Jazz Age of Japan. As Europe bent under the weight of the aftermath of WWI, Japan rose, looking to fill the gaps left by Europe in the world economy. At that time, many Japanese took up the American way of life, at least in the big cities. 

It was in this time that the mobo and his sister (or more likely, lover) moga — modern boy and modern girl respectively — came into their own. They dressed in Western fashion, frequented Western places, like the European-style cafes that were springing up everywhere and especially in the Ginza, Tokyo’s European quarter. They wanted to have fun and explored their sexuality unashamedly. And like their western counterparts, they didn’t seem to care much for the future. 

Women once again rose the more concern. They cut their hair, dressed in Western clothes, read Western authors. They were consumers, especially of magazines, which taught them how to use their time to make some money on the side and dream about a professional career. 

Like the flappers, they were dubbed as superficial and pleasure-seekers. Like the German garçons, they were considered unpatriotic. 

And like their Western counterparts, they would disappear in the dark times of the 1930s.

The New Woman in Russia

Alexandra Kollontai, russian revolutionary, social theorist and stateswoman
Alexandra Kollontai, russian revolutionary,
social theorist and stateswoman (in 1910)

In Russia, the idea of the New Woman also emerged in the 1920s, especially because of the ideas of Aleksandra Kollontaj, a Russian revolutionary and later, a diplomat.

Kollontaj thought that the new nation should take care of most of the education of children. It should take care of collective housing and of foster care. In this way, it would take on itself the traditional work of a woman and effectively liberate her. Free love should be the norm, with civil partnership supplanting the traditional marriage. 

For a time, the Bolsheviks built their policy about family in such a progressive way that wouldn’t be seen in the Western countries for a few decades. But it didn’t last long. 

In the 1930s, the Russian government started to introduce more and more limitation to the life and education of women, wanting them to go back to their traditional role of mothers and wives. At that point, the free New Russian Woman disappeared from the country for a long, long time. 


Historic UK – Bright Young Things
Striking Women | Women and Word – The inter-war years: 1918-1939
The Japan Times – The Taisho Era: When modernity ruled Japan’s masses
Russia Beyond – How sexual revolution exploded (and imploded) across 1920s Russia

Harvard Library – Consumption, Consumerism, and Japanese Modernity by Andrew Gordon (PDF)
Washington Library – Girls Just Want To Have Fun: American and Japanese Evaluations of the Japanese Moga During the Interwar Years by Lauren C. Bruce (PDF)

Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful. American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, New York, 1977

Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002

Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992


  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 27, 2020 at 09:00

    Interesting! Once again, I was a lot less familiar with the Japanese history. Also, important point that not all girls were flappers. And the ones that were not also wished for other things, just in different ways…

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2020 at 18:36

      I really enjoyed researching the Japanese excperience because it isn’t something we normally think about when we think about flapper. Still it was as revolutionary in Japan as it was in the Western World.
      That’s something I see all the time: people generally think that all girls were flappers in the 1920s. But that is really a generalisation.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 27, 2020 at 16:28

    I can see from my family photos that the women took some of the styles we associate with flapper, although they weren’t flappers.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 27, 2020 at 18:10

    The post-World War I era really was a flourishing of increased education and opportunities for women, as tame as it might seem today. It’s such a shame women were pushed back into the role of full-time housewives and mothers in the wake of World War II.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2020 at 18:58

      History is truly weird, don’t yo think? One would expect that once achieved, any advancement woudl remain. It is not alwasy so. The 1920s were time far ahead of themselves, I’m temped to think. For women, after WWI, it was a couple of decades before they reached the same level of freedom.

  • Frédérique
    Posted April 27, 2020 at 20:04

    Pretty women 😉

  • msjadeli
    Posted April 28, 2020 at 01:18

    Very interesting how these movements rose independently with females across cultures then just as rapidly subsided. It’s too bad, as we still have a long way to go.

  • Anne Nydam
    Posted April 28, 2020 at 17:55

    I appreciated your take on parallel movements in different countries.
    (Click the Blog link on the second row) : W is for Whey

    • Post Author
      Posted May 19, 2020 at 07:23

      It’s interesting to see how the Twenties were lived around the world.
      Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the very late replly.

  • Shweta Suresh
    Posted April 28, 2020 at 20:04

    It was very interesting to change how much things had changed after the war. If only we had been able to keep the curve from dipping.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 19, 2020 at 07:24

      WWI cause a lot of change, including a lot of advancement. I wonder whther the Corona pandemic will do the same.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 30, 2020 at 17:02

    Interesting how women from different parts of the world felt freedom at the same time in varying degrees.

    An A-Z of Faerie: Witches

    • Post Author
      Posted May 19, 2020 at 07:25

      True, eh? But I suppose that the world was already globalised, more than we think, and so what happened in one part reflected also in othe rparts.

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