Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Shameless, Selfish and Honest: the new breed of woman who dominated the XX Century by Sarah Zama

Welcome to another of Sarah Zama’s posts from her archives. This week a post from a series that she wrote in 2015 about the start of a new era for women. Apart from the evolving women’s movement for equality, it was also a time for women to adopt a new freer style and fashion. Meet the women of the Flapper era… pioneers.

Shameless, Selfish and Honest: the new breed of woman who dominated the XX Century by Sarah Zama

New Woman New Look 1 - Shameless Selfish and Honest

In many respect, the XX century started with WWI. It was a time that brought so much change in life and society and it can be said that WWI (the Great War, as it was called throughout the first half of the century) truly destroyed many ways of thinking and behaving that still belonged to the XIX century.

From its ashes, a new way of living and thinking was born and the 1920s – The Roaring Twenties as they were known in the US – was the first place where that change became apparent. Nowhere more so than on people’s personal life.

Gibson Girl

A Gibson Girl of the 1910s

Julia James, 1913 (British actress)Les Modes (Paris) November 1909The Way of a Woman (1919), Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff-Gordon was a leading British fashion designer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, best known as "Lucile", her professional name

A New Era

It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen during the four years of war. The way people perceived themselves and their lives had already started to change in the XIX century. People had long tried to gain control over their lives so to mould it in the way that most satisfied them. Middle class family were particularly sensitive to this matter. Already in the XIX century, these families had started using birth control (whatever it was available at the time) to become smaller units and to gain the time necessary to pursue personal goals. But at that time effective birth control was very limited, so couples had to resort to avoidance in order to limit births. This accounts for both the wide-spread practice of late marriages in the middle class and the Victorian obsession with avoiding any sexual thought or hint.

At the beginning of the XX century, contraception became more reliable, more common, and especially more widely accepted. Couples now had the means to decide when they wanted to have children and how many of them they wanted. This produced the hoped-for obligation-free time necessary to pursue personal aspirations. It also produced an unexpected effect, one that proved to be the biggest social earthquake the Western World had ever known.

The New Youth

The Squires family 1910.

The family, this most important staple of society, changed completely. Because families became smaller, all their members had more maneuvering space inside it, more quality time to spend with each other. Where the Victorian family – numerous as it tended to be – needed to be managed and so every member had – first and foremost – a role to perform, the new smaller family would afford to care about its few members. Relationships inside it hinged not on roles but on affection. And this cause an epochal change in the relationship between husband and wife and between parents and children.

Freed of the preoccupation of having children when they were still not ready for it, and given the possibility to plan when to have their children, couples could get together at a younger age, create a companionable relationship, get in the desired economical position and even finish pursuing an education before they actually build a family.
Having time for themselves allowed these couples to give more attention to the partner’s personality and desires, and when they had the children they wanted (rarely more than three), they could give these children the same kind of attention and affection.

Klotz Podolsky family formal portrait 1920s

Klotz Podolsky family formal portrait 1920s

These parents, who had sought their own personal fulfillment, were just as willing to give their children a chance to get their fulfillment before life started becoming demanding. They were willing to sustain the cost of child-rearing longer than any generation before them, thus affording their children to be young and free of adult responsibility for a longer time.
On the other hand, these children – who came of age in the 1920s – were willing to remain dependent from their parents for a longer time, which was a result of the desire to pursue their own desires as well as of the new affectionate family.

This is how the concept of youth as we conceive it today was born.

The New Woman

Where She Came From (The New Woman’s New Look Series)The new, affectionate family who planned their life and when to have their children brought about a huge changed especially in the life of women.

Up to this moment, intercourse with a man was likely to get a woman pregnant even when she (or they) didn’t want to. Especially in the Victorian Age, when the need to plan a family became relevant but the means to do it were still few and ineffective, a woman’s sexuality had simply been denied. Women were seen as pure and free from the sexual impulses that characterised men and were even expected not to take pleasure from sex.

When reliable contraception gave couples the possibility to have intercourse without a pregnancy, if they so decided, it was women who were liberated first and foremost. Now they could live their sexuality in a freer, more joyous way, not unlike men. Physical attraction as well as spiritual affinity became very important in the formation of couples.

Women were no more expected to be merely mothers, but companions, lovers, wives and mothers. The search for the perfect partner who would be a mate, but also a life companion, led to the practice of dating, that brought men and women together for a time without the pressure of marriage. This is where personal attraction became most important. On the part of women, this meant displaying their sexuality and sex-appeal in a free way that was – for the first time – socially acceptable.

In response to this, her social position also changed. Becoming a companion for her man, the New Woman needed to gain all the characteristics a shared life demanded, in everyday life as well as couple life. Men no more looked merely for a mother for their children, they also wanted a companion to share their life experience and women were ready to be just that.

Because the change was so shocking on the women’s side, we tend to think that’s the only change that happened.

We should remember that the shift in thinking and accepted social behaviour that allowed the New Woman to be born actually started with her parents. That the inner drive that moved the New Woman was the same for her male counterpart: expressing themselves freely, be free to do their own choices.

We should also remember that in spite of the great, sometimes loud controversy surrounding the New Woman, some of her behaviour were accepted by all women, including their mothers, and that their male counterparts accepted they behaviour because it matched young men’s behaviour and desires.

The New Woman wanted to be free to express herself, to choose a partner for her life, to pursue her desires both in terms of personal and career life. These were the same things young men wanted.

Anita PageFlapper Jane of the 1920s

Madge Bellamy in Summer Bachelors (1926) - Madge Bellamy was an American stage and film actress who was a popular leading lady in the 1920s and early 1930s. Her career declined in the sound era, and ended following a romantic scandal in the 1940s.Evelyn Brent - Born Mary Elizabeth Riggs in Tampa and known as Betty, she was a child of 10 when her mother Eleanor died, leaving her father Arthur to raise her alone. After moving to New York City as a teenager, her good looks brought modeling jobs that led to an opportunity to become involved in the still relatively new business of making motion pictures. She originally studied to be a teacher.Clara Bow - American motion-picture actress Clare Bow was a major box-office draw during the silent-film era, having starred in dozens of projectsBebe Daniels in Lovers in Quarantine (1925) - Bebe Daniels (January 14, 1901 – March 16, 1971) was an American actress, singer, dancer, writer and producer. She began her career in Hollywood during the silent film era as a child actress, became a star in musicals such as 42nd Street, and later gained further fame on radio and television in Britain. In a long career, Bebe Daniels appeared in 230 films.

Madge Bellamy, Evelyn Brent,Clara Bow and Bebe Daniels.

The New Look

The New Woman’s new look isn’t just the expression of a woman’s newfound freedom and it certainly isn’t just a matter of fashion. It’s the expression of a change that involved an entire society, regardless of gender and age.

In the way the body of the New Woman changed and the ways she used that body, we can trace values and behaviour of an entire society and age.

The New Woman's New Look Logo

Post Scriptum

I’m so excited! I’ve been promising this series for months, I know, but now here it is! It wasn’t an easy job and I’m still not done writing, but I so hope you people will enjoy the ride and find the wait worthwhile.

I really enjoyed researching this subject. It’s a lot more complex than people normally seem to think. I hope I’ll be able to pass on at least a hint of that complexity and of how what happened nearly one hundred years ago has shaped society as we know it today.

Enjoy the ride!

Other posts in the series.

The new woman appropriates the new makeup.

Flapper Jane goes shopping for makeup

Cut it and Bob it

The boyish look of the sexy vamp

©Sarah Zama 2015.

About Sarah Zama

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.

Books by Sarah Zama available from Smashwords.

About Give in to the Feeling


When Susie comes to Jazz Age America, she knows her life will change. Back in China, spirits mingle in the mists of the rice fields and trick humans into believing they’re men so to steal their soul, and the expectations of a daughter are unimportant and ignore. Here in Chicago, Simon gives her the carefree life of the New American Woman, the freedom to dress daringly and do things once only reserved for men–drinking, smoking and dancing with strangers. It’s an exciting life and she considers the loyalty Simon demands of her a small price to pay.

Until she meets Blood.

Blood lets Susie speak her mind and listen to her heart. He commits himself to her and asks nothing in return. Through his eyes, Susie begins to see her loyalty to Simon as the bars around her “freedom”. But she knows Simon will never let her go.

Here in Chicago spirits can mingle in the smoke and jazz of speakeasies and trick humans into believing they’re men. They can still steal their soul. And if Susie doesn’t see the spirit behind the mask of the men fighting for her, she might lose much more than her freedom.

Buy the book from Smashwords:

About The Frozen Maze – Free from Smashwords.

A historical short story with magic.

Germany, 1924. Ingeborg goes back to the family estate for the first time after her father died at war. She doesn’t think she still care for the place, but when the maze where she used to wander with her father is threatened to be taken down, she starts wondering whether the place is really evil, as her stepmother says, or if it’s the place of magic, as her father always told her

Download the book from Smashwords:

Connect to Sarah


My thanks to Sarah for sharing this post about the fascinating era of the Flapper… I do suggest that you head over and check out other posts in this series. Thanks for dropping in and we would love your feedback Thanks Sally