Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Woman in chains

The other day I had reason to do a little research on what life was like for women in Britain in the 1920s.  It really made me think.  It was such an important era for my gender, perhaps the most significant moment being when the right to vote was finally extended to all women over the age of twenty-one in 1928.  In the same decade, female students were first allowed to receive university degrees, having previously been able to pass examinations with the same honours as their male counterparts but without any entitlement to the educational qualification.  Hard to imagine that now.

Largely due to the knock-on effects of WWI, fewer women were forced into domestic service and there were more opportunities for paid / better paid work in respected professions. Technological development (e.g. electric steam irons and upright vacuum cleaners!) also helped reduce time spent on housework and enabled greater independence.  Whilst there was still a long way to go, it must have been quite a momentous time in the lives of many, and it must have felt as if at least some of the prior shackles of sexism had been irreversibly loosened.  No wonder it was the era of the Flapper, and a time when women's fashions also liberated them from all those restrictive laces and hoops.

From 'Costume Through The Ages'  James Laver

But you knew all that, didn’t you, so why am I mentioning it?  It’s just that after I’d been reading about it, I was contemplating how far we’ve come and how fortunate I am to be female in the 21st century when I saw this young woman in town - just one fairly typical example of a certain demographic.  It was the middle of the day but she was hobbling along in very high heels, clearly having difficulty with anything faster or greater than tiny, wobbly, tiptoe steps, and she kept stroking and checking her glossy but obvious hair extensions which I imagine must have taken some time to glue in.  She reached into her handbag in such a way you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a highly venomous snake lurking in there.  I realised when I saw her nails why she'd been so tentative – they were very long and each one, meticulously painted, was embedded with tiny gems.  Obviously she didn’t want to risk damaging them by having to actually use her fingers. 

If caring about how you look is a crime then I'm guilty too, with my love of make-up, addiction to haircuts and a jacket fetish, and I know I obsessed about my image terribly when I was younger, but hopefully never to the point where I was actually physically restricted to any significant extent.  (Although... I hated going out in the rain because it made my carefully crafted spiky hair go curly and yes, that really bugged me...)  But if it ever really impinges on your freedom then surely something must be wrong?  I can't help questioning whether that young woman I saw exemplifies a current breed of female so imprisoned by their compulsion to look a certain way that they're in danger of turning into fragile, overly self-conscious mannequins - barely able to walk, barely able to use their hands, barely daring to move their heads for fear of snagging their false (and probably very expensive) locks. Pun intended.  Perhaps they're daily slaves to the razor (or the wax or the Veet) too, for there is no greater sin than having body hair these days is there?  And I can’t help but wonder if she or her friends ever peruse that other popular menu of Opportunities for the Modern Woman, with its à la carte breast implants (buy one get one free!), house botox and teeth whitening deals on the specials board.

I know there's plenty of pressure on men too, so this isn't meant to be some kind of feminist rant (I'd make a crap feminist, I like men far too much ;-) ).  Just an observation.

We've never been so free... ?


  1. There's no pressure when you roll outta bed lookin this good.

    1. You can't help being a natural beauty, e.f. :-)

  2. I see this with some of my daughters friends. Your description of them as mannequins is very apt ... I mean who'd want a conversation with a mannequin? ;-)

    I was speaking with a friend the other day - she is "back on the dating scene" (her phrase) and we were talking about guitar playing and I asked how she was getting on with a piece I knew she was trying to learn. She waves her bright elongated nails in my face "Derrrr! I can't play with these, have to wait until I've snared the next Mr Right"... So the bloke she'll end up with (temporarily in my humble expectation) places fake nails as a value over a woman who can play classical guitar... I feel so terribly and utterly out of touch with the world at times you know!

    1. I'm not gon lie...I like the red polish and a little bit of nail on the right hand goes a long way but, those advantages are severely undercut if they're so delicate they can't stand up to some g'tar pickin'.


    2. Furtheron - you and me both re. feeling out of touch at times - not with music, or culture, or even some technology, but with those certain priorities that just seem so twisted. But hey, I guess that's how we're supposed to feel?!

      E.f. - just your right hand? What about your left hand? I've been visualising you all this time with those long red nails on both ;-)

  3. My daughter wears badly applied eyeliner. It drives me nuts, which will probably certainly be one of the reasons she wears it.

    When I take a step back really is her decision. If you extend the logic to high heals and various extensions (nails, hair, tits etc)these choices are freely made in our liberal society. They seem strange to those that are not attuned to current trends.

    Two random observations.

    My mothers (82)finds it increasingly hard to relate to those out of her age group. The values , circumstances and attitudes of the generations that followed I think have become one made jumble of noise which is beyond her.

    Strangely the generation gap has reduced in recent decades. In terms of appearance at least, young folks of the era's between 1966 to 1984 were so radically attired that their cardigan wearing parent's had no reference point. Think about it...skinheads, punks, hippies, new romantics, rockers, mods and goths. Today many middle aged parents dress similarly to their progeny.Where are raged news reports on the appearance of the latest yoof cult. There are none.

    1. I know just what you're saying about the generation gap - part of the deal of being a teenager for me was that we did/wore/liked everything that our parents and their generation DIDN'T. I've found it interesting the way that has changed and that parents and their offspring share so many tastes these days! (I don't think either is right or wrong btw, it's just different! But I s'pose I did rather appreciate the mutual disapproval as a form of proof that I was becoming my 'own' person? There was something to rebel against.)

      I spent disproportionate amounts of money and time on achieving my desired appearance then too and did things I wouldn't do now like bleaching my hair white on an almost weekly basis... so I remember how it felt to put all that effort in, and I didn't imagine that principle would ever change in following generations...

      BUT - I just think there's something wrong with society that we think it's 'ok' to disfigure ourselves to the degree it's getting. Hair, nails, that's pretty frivolous and temporary and really the observation of the young woman in question who seemed almost paralysed by her superficial accoutrements was just enhanced by the juxtaposition in my mind of the struggle that women had to be freed from the political and social ones of the 1920s. It all just seemed so ironic somehow - but at least she can take all those things off when she just wants to slob around!

      When it comes to going voluntarily under the surgeon's knife (and other invasive treatements)though, I readily admit I can't get my head around why a healthy young person could consider it all so casually, like it's a normal thing to do to your body. It actually makes me sad. And I hope that just because I'm old, that doesn't automatically mean I'm wrong to think that, if you see what I mean. It's so easy to dismiss the views of one's elders as simply being out of step and old-fashioned and thus no longer valid, but I still hope we never lose sight of some perennially healthy, balanced values for ourselves and the generations to come.

      Whew... what have I started?! :-O

      (Plus, false tits give me the creeps, all hard-looking and shiny and they don't flop to the sides when their owners lie down! That's just plain freaky if you ask me ;-))

    2. I understand there are times when a woman may need reconstructive breast cancer (there's my sensitive bit) but, I am no fan of the phony boobs either.

      We have a friend...she is a right mess. So funny. She raised her daughter by herself, while editing a swanky magazine and helping to run the family business affairs (which are rather large). I've never known her to give a damn about what anybody thought.

      She's just vain..that's all and in recent years her face has taken on a feline quality that every knife and needle seems to produce. Of course, no one who knows has ever thought she needed to alter her appearance. Who knows?

    3. Oh god yes, reconstructive surgery is a completely different issue I think... A friend's daughter is a medical plastic surgeon and she spends her time helping people whose bodies have been messed up by accidents, fires, cancer surgery, also deformity, etc. Admirable stuff.

      Humans are so afraid of looking old and being unattractive (and I'm no exception) but the more 'we' give in to the pressure the greater the pressure becomes, and it's so slow and subtle we don't realise it's happening half the time... And then you get to the point when you see pretty twenty-year-olds paying money to get their perfectly lovely young breasts cut open and filled with silicon to make them "feel better about themselves"? It's not their fault - it's the very fact that we could even think this should be a viable solution for making ourselves "feel better", and the increasingly casual acceptance of it as a normal thing to do, that just seems so skewed to me.

      I hadn't meant this to turn heavy! But I realise now how much it seems to disturb me - I should just stop being so bloody sensitive!

    4. Don't you dare.

      This is one problem that cannot be blamed on straight males. We talked about this on Flimsy Cups. Give the fashion industry to a red neck like me for a couple of years.

      Yes there would be blue eye shadow and a lotta hot pants but each purchase would come with a chocolate cupcake.

      We want full grown women!!! With freckles.


  4. Oops sorry the battery is going on my keyboard.

    Piercing's get me. Women have had their ear's pierced for generations. One of mine was/is. Then the target area changed. In the right navel I find it quite attractive but lips, noses and elswhere..give me a break.Objectively they are merely spikes of metal inserted through skin ...subjectively there is a huge difference to me.

    1. My friend's teenage daughter got addicted to being pierced! She had piercings in unexpected places - like on her hip! Must admit I have no inclination for any of that, though I did have four holes in one earlobe... It seemed quite unusual at the time but I realise it wouldn't be now. (They've pretty much closed up now too!)

  5. I'm sure this is ALSO something every generation says as they get older, but I really wouldn't want to be a young woman now. The pressure to conform to an incredibly rigid, unforgiving and yet generic aesthetic (partly informed by porn; how will we look back on the living contradiction of unfeasibly large artificial breasts combined with bald, mock-prepubescent genitals?) is horrifying and regressive. Of course I was as obsessed with my appearance as the next 17-year old New Romantic when I was young, but there was at least some room for genuine individuality back then, rather than an overwhelming pressure to adopt one particular 'norm'.

    I've had beautiful sixteen-year olds sobbing in my consulting room because they believe themselves to be 'consigned to unpopularity' (now a fate worse than death, it seems) because their bodies won't oblige them by turning into facsimiles of Katie Price's. It breaks my heart, every time.

    On a happier note, here's a local poet to give you his own brilliant rendition of The 1920s. A lot went on, you know..

    1. My thoughts exactly. I'm just so relieved I don't have to personally worry about it, nor even have a daughter to make me think about it any more than I already do. For some reason it still gets to me, though, and I feel saddened... Nobody should have to go through their precious youth feeling inadequate to some sexualised android ideal! (It was hard enough thinking we were supposed to look like Farrah Fawcett Majors - and then a pleasure to be able to reject it!)

      Hey that Speech Painter is a clever chappie! Thanks for that. And I never realised there were so many verbs ending in '...ate'.


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