The New Woman





The New Woman

            The “New Woman” was a social ideal that emerged in the 19th century. This period was characterized by a change in social perceptions concerning gender associations that was marked by a shift away from the trend of patriarchal male dominance and female dependence towards the contemporary trend of gender parity. A key demonstration of this movement is the development of the “New Woman” myth (Freedman 56). The phrase “New Woman” was created by the author Sarah Grand. It soon became an accepted slogan in literature. The “New Woman” was a significant cultural idol that drifted away from the conventional Victorian woman. This renewed woman was intellectual, educated, liberated, autonomous, and self-supporting. This type of woman occupied the middle-class, but a significant number were also working in factories and offices. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the New Woman ideology played a major role in complex social changes that contributed to changing gender roles. Lesbianism was one of the key manifestations of the liberal gender environment within the Western world. Some supporters of the New Woman movement chose to experiment in lesbian relationships. However, this created the “mannish lesbian”, a woman with manly tendencies. This defied the conventional sense of two women being in a relationship (Freedman 134).

            In the 1920’s, women’s fashion changed drastically because of the explicit rejection of the stifling Victorianism. The period was marked by an explosion of vitality, youthfulness, and frivolity. The characteristic woman wore a flapper, smoked a cigarette, drank alcohol, and sported a youthful look that attempted to bring back the look of the preadolescent girl while simultaneously being explicitly sexual (Freedman 26). Women changed their hairstyle as well. They took up styled short hair with the occasional curls and shingles. The women also embraced facial makeup including lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara. The clothing designs embraced large Peter Pan collars while the length of the skirts and dresses reduced considerably. Women also adopted new styles of footwear such as ankle-strap Cuban heels and wide brimmed hats. This wide variety of fashion was made available to women customers in department stores in the form of ready-to-wear clothing (Freedman 78). Robert argues that the adoption of the bob hairstyle and other modern fashion was instrumental in giving the women greater freedom. They were able to make their own choices concerning their wardrobe selections as well as their bodies. In this case, fashion does not change the course of history. It merely reflects the different trends that occur in the universe.

            Historically, women sported long hair and the few women in the 1920s who had short hair represented a small minority. Most of these women were deemed as bold and aggressive. In the public eye, the change in hairstyle was considered a shocking statement. Stakeholders in the fashion industry such as hairdressers became important people who facilitated the movement by trimming off long hair (Chadwick, and Latimer 89). In a way, the bob cut represented far more than a normal haircut for most women. It represented another way through which they could rebel against the male-dominated world. French women in particular lined up in barbershops to be shaved by male workers. This was an explicit confrontation as men were forced to share their fashion trends with women. The conservatives were particularly opposed to this change in hairstyles because it represented a cross over in gender preferences (Chadwick, and Latimer 12). Part of this fear was that the change in fashion would lead to a change in political and social perceptions. This would cause significant destabilization in the society.

Works Cited

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Chadwick, Whitney, and Tirza T. Latimer. The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris between the Wars. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Print.

Freedman, Estelle B. The Lesbian Issue: Essays from Signs. Chicago U.A: Univ. of Chicago Pr, 1987. Print.

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