16 January 2013

Myths and Misconceptions about the Roaring Twenties: It Wasn’t All One Big Party

Chances are that when you think of the 1920’s you think of wild liquor-soaked parties in speakeasies, incendiary Jazz music, and flappers wearing feather headbands dancing the Charleston. Consumers embraced new gadgets and inventions, the stock market was soaring and a Renaissance broke out in Harlem.

All of these things are a true reflection of the time, but they’re only part of the picture. Underneath the glitz and glam, a turbulent culture war took place in the country--one we’re still fighting, in many ways, today.

The Roaring Twenties were a time of sexual liberation, experimentation and exploration. Having just won the vote, women were at the forefront of social causes and societal change. In spite of—or perhaps because of—Prohibition, the Twenties were boom times. Young women attended college, flocked to major cities to find work and lived on their own in numbers never before seen in the history of the nation. Homosexuality was more public and more tolerated. Rules for dating changed. Non-marital sex became common and women began to demand and use birth control.

Flappers changed the world of business, fashion, politics and popular entertainment. The Hays Code wouldn’t be adopted and enforced until 1930, which meant major Hollywood films pushed the boundaries of propriety and gave the country some of its sexiest stars, including Clara Bow.

In short, the Twenties were a period of social transition—one of those pivotal times in history when women took one step forward, before being shoved two steps back. People from all walks of life came together to agitate for progressive change in the Twenties and, in many instances, African Americans led the way.

At the same time, the era was marked by the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, inspired by D. W. Griffith’s race-baiting incendiary film of 1915, The Birth of a Nation. Immigration was suppressed and racial tensions rose. Even the nascent birth control movement was caught up in it, with Margaret Sanger arguing on behalf of eugenics. The suspicion of foreigners helped lead to the execution of two Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti, under suspicious circumstances. And the general fervor led to a red scare against suspected communists.

Much of the liberation of women in the twenties came about as a rebellion and reaction against the mores of previous generations. Whereas the women of the 1910's fought for the right to vote, the women in the 1920's had it--and didn’t do terribly much with it. The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1923, but was never passed. And while women entered the workforce in great numbers, most of them left it upon marriage.

Another thing that harshed the buzz of the 1920's was the mob. Mob violence rose dramatically with Prohibition and organized crime used the ban on liquor sales to create criminal empires.

Of course, all this social turmoil makes the era not entirely unlike our own--and a perfect backdrop for fiction!

STEPHANIE DRAVEN is a bestselling, award-winning and RITA-nominated author of historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Her new 1920's historical erotic romances celebrate sex, women, and the Jazz Age. Stephanie is currently a denizen of Baltimore, that city of ravens and purple night skies. She lives there with her favorite nocturnal creatures–three scheming cats and a deliciously wicked husband. And when she is not busy with dark domestic rituals, she writes her books. StephanieDraven.com


Saba said...

I liked reading this, especially since it delves deeper into the 1920s than what I used to think about that decade. I'm always happy to see more books set in the 20s. I can't wait to read your new romances Stephanie - they sound so exciting.

Tara said...

I've got to mark this to read. Love the 20s and Prohibition.

Anonymous said...

One thing to add re: feathered headbands. They went out of fashion when short skirts came in in 1925. Women still wearing them after skirts got short apparently hadn't got the memo.

Check out the the iconic John Held flappers on Life magazine covers 1925 to '28- 100% headband free.

The later (anachronistic) flapper caricature of course is never without one.