Women and Sex in the 1920’s
The 20’s had to have been an interesting era to live in. The 20's were glamorous and sexy, full of intrigue, and scandal. The 20’s also brought the original bad boys, the mobsters and bootleggers into the spotlight because of prohibition. Prohibition started Al Capone’s, Lucky Luciana’s and other mobsters’ careers as bootleggers and rumrunners, then they became the bosses that controlled all the bootleg liquor. They put Chicago in the spotlight with organized crime. Tommy guns, mobsters, molls, speakeasies, and flappers all were part of the 1920’s.
The 1920’s was an era of change in American society. The Victorian era was coming to an end. The youth of the 20’s were rebelling against the prudish reign that had controlled society for so long. World War I had just ended and a horrible flu epidemic had just passed. People feared their own mortality and wanted to enjoy life without restriction. Yet the government still wanted to control morality and passed the prohibition law which forbid the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol. Prohibition just increased crime and gave birth to a whole new era of scandal and organized crime.
The most important part of the 20’s for any woman was the fact that women now had the right to vote. Along with their new found right to vote, women were also declaring freedom and independence in other areas of their lives. A new, freer sex code was emerging and women began to flaunt and use their sexuality openly. These women were called flappers. Flappers had short bobbed hair and wore short knee length skirts (that was really short back then), they smoked openly, danced to jazz and drank bootleg liquor. These women were wild and had fun. They embraced their newfound sense of freedom to the fullest.
Many say the 1920’s was the first step toward a sexual revolution. Some even say there was a sexual revolution, though mostly it was just in urban areas. One major player in the U.S. sexual revolution was Margaret Sanger. Margaret Sanger was founder of the Birth Control League, which later became the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is now simply known as Planned Parenthood. She promoted birth control so women could have "unlimited sexual gratification without the burden of unwanted children." The flappers of the 20’s personified the “loose set of morals” and enjoyed the newfound sexual freedom. Women openly pursued men and really enjoyed chasing the dangerous bad boys of the era (the mobsters and bootleggers). Flappers even enjoyed sex before marriage which was completely unheard of before.
Hollywood glamorized the sexuality of the 20’s and advertising picked up on it, using it to sell anything and everything. I think the 1920’s gave birth to modern culture by using sex to draw interest and sell things. It started the golden age of Hollywood with movie stars and starlets becoming American “royalty”. Everyone wanted to be like the sexy stars they saw in the movies.
The flapper was a liberated woman, young and old wanted to be like her. To be free and have fun. Most women changed their appearance to look like a flapper even if they did not follow her way of life. Flappers lived life to the fullest without worrying about outdated morals or what the future had in store. The excessive and extravagant living of the 1920’s soon came to an end with the beginning of the depression in 1929. The depression lasted well into the 40’s.
The next image we have of the American woman is the housewife of the 1950’s. The June Cleaver type housewife who cooked and cleaned in high heals and pearls (nightmarish images of The Stepford Wives flash through my mind).
The 20’s were just one small stepping stone on the long staircase leading to women’s independence, equality and sexual freedom. Even today in the 21st century, over 85 years since women earned the right to vote, we still have not reached the top of that staircase. We are still fighting for our equality and sexual rights and freedom.