Monday, May 13, 2013

The Great Gatsby's Flappers

Literally an hour before seeing The Great Gatsby I came across an article discussing the women in the film and how they are a misrepresentation of what 1920's flapper ladies were. They weren't just ladies with short haircuts, who smoked ciggys out of those long holders and wore bedazzled clothes.

For those that can't recall The Great Gatsby from their middle school years (all of us) it's the story of a man (Nick) from the Midwest who moves to New York City in pursuit of opportunity. He befriends his rich neighbor (Gatsby) while unbeknownst to him, Nick is a pawn in Gatsby's game to reunite him with his married cousin (Daisy) who Gatsby has been in love with for years. Long story short: Gatsby and Daisy rekindle their love, shit goes down, Daisy chooses her husband, Gatsby is killed, Nick hates everything.

The 1920's were a decade of change in the views of women. The women's rights movement was settling in. Women were becoming more open and outgoing in terms of their rights and sexuality. They smoked, drank, danced, dated freely and held careers. Flappers went against the ideals of women at the time and are attributed to introducing the modern woman which promoted gender equality through their lifestyle.

The times they are a-changin'. In 1917 women entered the workforce during World War I. In 1920 women were allowed to vote. It was now possible for women to go out and enjoy freedom and rebellion in a way they never had before. They were in no hurry to settle down, as they were working and able to provide for themselves.

The problem that people seem to have with F. Scott Fitzgerald's representation of flappers is that he portrays these liberated women through the eyes of himself, Gatsby, Nick, Daisy's husband...and that problem is that they are all men.

Fitzgerald's own wife, Zelda, is attributed as "the first American flapper." She had wild antics, jumped into public fountains, stole a car...but Fitzgerald depicts a more dire view of flappers. The story is said to warn against this new type of woman and instead of intelligent, independent women telling their own stories of rebelling and rejecting past values, you have males telling stories about how women wrecked their lives. 

Here's a perspective about the women of Gatsby from A Feminist Reading of the Great Gatsby:

The novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful. For example, at Gatsby’s parties we see insincere, ‘enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names,’ as well as numerous narcissistic attention-seekers in various stages of drunken hysteria. We meet, for example, a young woman who ‘dumps’ down a cocktail ‘for courage’ and ‘dances out alone on the canvass to perform’; ‘a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter’; … a drunken young girl who has her ‘head stuck in the pool’ to stop her from screaming; and two drunken young wives who refuse to leave the party until their husbands, tired of the women’s verbal abuse, ‘lifted [them] kicking into the night.’

Now, I don't look at The Great Gatsby as a realistic representation of the 1920's. It's just a story. And the women and men are both portrayed as bad, weak people. These vain, manipulative characters are not true flappers, only posers.

P.S. I liked the movie. And I thought I would HATE Jay-Z scoring the movie, but I didn't. Rapper to flapper.

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