The Role of Women in the 1920s
A time when women broke out of their shells of modesty and were not afraid to bare a little skin or wear a bit of makeup; when women finally gained some control; when jazz music, drinking and partying were what society lived for; when flappers danced the night away. The 1920s was an era of great change in society’s attitude toward many different aspects of life. For instance, what was considered acceptable behavior for women and the way men treated their wives drastically changed.
During World War I, women had to take up many responsibilities of the men fighting in war such as earning money for the family, leaving women no choice other than to get a job alongside of single-handedly raising their families. With men being gone and nobody to control their lives, women took advantage of their new-found freedom. Women now became a part of the night scene, partying and drinking more as well as dressing and acting more promiscuously. When the men came back from war, they had the same mindset about women as they did when they left, but were taken by surprise when they saw the drastic changes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel set in the 1920s that exposes the dark layers of the twenties’ glamour. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald depicts the known and hidden lives and roles of women in the 1920s. Men always expected women to be under their control, doing only what they were told to do. “… [Women] had been expected to remain behind the scenes, caring for homes and children and allowing men to take charge of society. ” (Howes 19). In a man’s eyes, the only thing a woman was good for was to be a good house wife.
It would be thought of as absurd and socially unacceptable for a woman to go outside of society’s N Selim 2 social norms by disobeying her husband’s word. Even getting a job would be unthinkable, until it was a necessity. Women were estimated to, in essence, worship their husbands. “… [Women] were expected to be the guardians of morality and innocence; they were to obey their husbands, bear and raise children, and run their homes efficiently. Sex was a duty, the price they paid for the privilege of marriage and having babies, not something pleasurable. (Howes 19).
To be married was thought of as an obligation, as opposed to getting married out of love because you wanted to. Along with the obligated marriage, sex was a woman’s duty; that married woman was to give her husband what he wanted and demanded. Essentially, wives were the slaves of their husbands. Women had no say in any major decision, so anything the husband decided would be the final word. In The Great Gatsby, when talking about the birth of her daughter Daisy says, ‘“I’m glad it’s a girl.
And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald 17). Fitzgerald, through Daisy’s sarcasm, is presenting the views of society about women. Daisy realizes that women are oppressed and men had all control. Daisy clearly does not want to have a daughter and would rather have a son. At least in this case, her daughter would not have to suffer, as she and most women of the 1920s have been. Eventually through time, women changed the way they perceived their own lives.
They were becoming less conservative, less modest and more untroubled. “Women broke free of the traditions and restraints of the Victorian era in favor of short dresses, short hairstyles, and carefree ways” (Pendergast 4). Women no longer wanted to dress the way their husbands or society chose for them. They adopted their own sense of style, N Selim 3 which spread like a wild fire. These new trends, though were still thought of as scandalous, were the new rage.
Women now began to think for themselves and live their own way. … young women called flappers wore their hair in short bobs and their hemlines above the knees; they wore makeup and high heels and smoked and drank with the men. Both their “modern” behavior and their looks were considered scandalous at the time. ” (Pendergast 4). Women cut their hair short to show their equality to men and wore short dresses to express their freedom. Along with their new looks, women began to go to large, wild parties. ‘“.. he gives large parties…And I like large parties. They’re so intimate.
At small parties there isn’t any privacy. ”’ (Fitzgerald, 49, 50). At this part of The Great Gatsby, Jordan is expressing her preferences about parties, thus explaining the fact that women attend parties. In the novel, Jordan is seen as one of the most independent women who did what she wanted. She is the more notable female character who acts like a flapper. Women also gained the sensibility to become more independent from their husbands. They were breaking free of the restrictions given to them by men and were beginning to take charge of their lives.
Women finally gained rights and powers they have been waiting for, such as the right for women to vote as well as powers over men. Women were going out and shopping more than usual. If there was some extra money, they would spend the day time shopping, while they partied at night. “…people had a little extra money to spend and more leisure time than ever before, as technology and industry gave them automobiles and household appliances…Popular women’s magazines featured articles on how a woman could raise her family and still have time for herself. ” N Selim 4 (Baker 5).
Though still taking care of their families, women were making more time for themselves. They were treating themselves now instead of pampering their husbands’ every need. Over time, women became so used to working, that they were not yet ready to let go of their new lives. “Over the four years of the war, women had become adept at earning a living outside the home. They did not want to leave their jobs when soldiers came back. And with the death of so many men during the war, some women were forced to continue supporting their families without the help of a man.
The struggle to decide whether women would return to their old ways of life or to keep on with their newfound independence was another battle in the long campaign for women’s rights. ” (Baker 5). Though men were back and ready to take back their positions, women had already replaced themselves in society. At this point, women were taking over and there was very little men could do about it. As far as they could help it, women had no intentions of allowing life to go back to how it used to be. “…I knew that except for the half-hour she’d be alone with Gatsby, she wasn’t having a good time. ” (Fitzgerald 107).
Tom is talking about Daisy being with Gatsby. Before now, the thought of a women being alone with another man who is not her husband was absolutely unacceptable, let alone a women having an affair or multiple affairs. This shows that Daisy and Gatsby’s affair was known and most-likely accepted by those who knew. Now women were going out with whoever they wanted to, doing whatever they wanted to. Women were having affairs and sex became more of a casual activity, as opposed to an intimate activity, or furthermore an obligation to their husbands. Women were taking a 180 degree turn in the roles they had in society.
N Selim 5 Before World War I, every aspect of women’s lives were controlled by their husbands. Once men went away to war, women gained a new sense of independence from their husbands and began living more care-free. Women were forced to get jobs, which lead to their new identification in society. When the war was over and the men returned, women had no plan of giving up their new rights and independence. To display their new independence, women opted to wear shorter dresses and heavier makeup. Also, women decided to take advantage of the little rules they had.
Women now drank, partied and have affairs. F. Scott Fitzgerald reflects the actions of women in the 1920s in his novel The Great Gatsby. Through the female characters in the novel, such as Daisy, Jordan and Myrtle, Fitzgerald portrays the freedom and power women gained in the 1920s. He depicts the changing views of society towards women and acceptability of scandalous actions and activities of women in the 1920s.