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Bruce Bliven: Flapper Jane, The New Republic (1925)

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Jane's a flapper. This Jane, being !, is a flapper, though she urgently denies that she is
a member of the younger generation. The younger generation, she "ill tell you, is aged
# to $% and she professes to be decidedly shocked at the things they do and say. That is
a fact "hich "ould interest her minister, if he kne" it&&poor man, he kno"s so little' (or
he regards Jane as a perfectly horrible e)ample of "ild youth&&paint, cigarettes, cocktails,
petting parties&&oooh' *et if the younger generation shocks her as she says, +uery: ho"
"ild is Jane,
-efore "e come to this e)citing +uestion, let us take a look at the young person as she
strolls across the la"n of her parents' suburban home, just put the car a"ay after si)ty miles in t"o hours. /he is, for one thing, a .ery pretty girl. -eauty is the
fashion in !0#. /he is frankly, hea.ily made up, not to imitate nature, but for an
altogether artificial effect&&pallor mortis, poisonously scarlet lips, richly ringed eyes&&the
latter looking not so much debauched 1"hich is the intention2 as diabetic. 3er "alk
duplicates the s"agger supposed by innocent 4merica to go "ith the female half of a
5aris 4pache dance. 4nd there are, finally, her clothes.
These "ere estimated the other day by some statistician to "eigh t"o pounds. 5robably a
libel% 6 doubt they come "ithin half a pound of such bulk. Jane isn't "earing much, this
summer. 6f you'd like to kno" e)actly, it is: one dress, one step&in, t"o stockings, t"o
4 step&in, if you are !! and 77/88ths percent ignorant, is under"ear&&one piece, light,
e)ceedingly brief but roomy. 3er dress, as you can't possibly help kno"ing if you ha.e
e.en one good eye, and get around at all outside the 8ld 5eople's 3ome, is also brief. 6t is
cut lo" "here it might be high, and .ice .ersa. The skirt comes just an inch belo" her
knees, o.erlapping by a faint fraction her rolled and t"isted stockings. The idea is that
"hen she "alks in a bit of a bree9e, you shall no" and then obser.e the knee 1"hich is
not rouged&&that's just ne"spaper talk2 but al"ays in an accidental, :enus&surprised&at&
the&bath sort of "ay. This is a bit of coyness "hich hardly fits in "ith Jane general
Jane's haircut is also abbre.iated. /he "ears of course the .ery ne"est thing in bobs, e.en
closer than last year's shingle. 6t her just about no hair at all in the back, and 0;
percent more than that in the front&&about as much as is being "orn this season by a
cellist 1male2% less than a pianist% and much, much less than a .iolinist. -ecause of this
ne" style, one can confirm a rumor heard last year: Jane has ears.
<ot since =0; has feminine apparel been so frankly abbre.iated as at present% and,
on this side of the 4tlantic, until you go back to the little summer frocks of 5ocahontas.
This year's styles ha.e gone +uite a long step to"ard genuine nudity. <or is this merely
the sensible half of the population dressing as e.eryone ought to, in hot "eather. >ast
"inter's styles "eren't so dissimilar, e)cept that they "ere co.ered up by fur coats and
you got the full effect only indoors. 4nd improper costumes ha.e their full force
unless "orn on the street. <e)t year's styles, from all one hears, "ill be, as they already
are on the continent, e.en ?ore /o.
@here "ill it all end, do you ask, thumbing the page ahead in an effort to kno" the
"orst. 4pologetically 6 reply that no one can say "here it "ill end. <udity has been the
custom of many countries and long periods of time. <o one "ho has read history
can be .ery firm in saying that 6t < Aan 3appen 4gain. @e may of course mutter, in
feeble tones of hope, that our climate is not propitious.
*ou can get a rough measure of our mo.ement if you look at the history of the theatre
and see ho" the tidemark of tolerance has risen. (or instance:
!;7&&5erformance of ?rs. @arren's 5rofession is halted by police.
!!&&?rs. @arren 8.B. To"n roused to fren9y by 4phrodite, in "hich one chorus girl is
e)posed for one minute in dim light and a union suit.
!0C&&Dnion suit 8.B. /elf&appointed censors ha.e conniption fits chorus girls
naked from the "aist up.
!0#&&<udity from "aist up taken for granted. E)citement caused by sho" in "hich girls
"ear only fig
5lotting the cur.e of tolerance and projecting it into the future, it is thus easy to see that
complete nudity in the theatre "ill be reached on ?arch 0, !0$. Just "hat "ill the
appalling conse+uences be,
5erhaps about "hat they ha.e been in the theatres of se.eral European capitals, "here
such displays ha.e long been familiar. Those "ho are interested in that sort of thing "ill
go. 8thers "ill abstain.
4t this point -illy /unday, discussing this theme, "ould certainly drop into anecdotage.
@ere "e to do the same, "e might see Jane on the sun porch talking to a mi)ed group of
her mother's "eek&end guests. FJane,F says one, F6 hear you cut yourself in bathing.F
F6'll say 6 did,F comes crisply back. F>ook'F /he lifts her skirt three or four inches,
re.ealing both bro"n knees, and abo.e one of them a half&healed deep scratch. 5roper
murmurs of sympathy. (rom one +uarter a chilly silence "hich dra"s our attention to the
enpurpled countenance of a lady guest in the throes of "hat Eddie Aantor calls Fthe se)
comple).F Jane's knees ha.e thro"n her all a&t"itter% and mistaking the character of her
emotion she thinks it is justified indignation. /he is glad to display it openly for the
reproof thereby administered.
F@ell, damn it,F says Jane, in a subse+uent pri.ate moment, Fanybody "ho can't stand a
knee or t"o, no"adays, might as "ell +uit. 4nd besides, she goes to the beaches and turns a hair.F
3ere is a real point. The recent history of the Great Hisrobing ?o.ement can be checked
up in another "ay by looking at the bathing costumes "hich ha.e been accepted "ithout
+uestion at successi.e inter.als. There are still a fe" beaches near <e" *ork Aity "hich
insist on more clothes than anyone can safely s"im in, and thereby help to dro"n se.eral
young "omen each year. -ut in most places& &uni.ersally in the @est&&a girl is no"
compelled to "ear no more than is a man. The enpurpled one, to be consistent, ought to
ha.e apople)y e.ery time she goes to the shore. -ut as Jane, she doesn't.
FJane,F say 6, F6 am a reporter representing 4merican in+uisiti.eness. @hy do all of you
dress the "ay you do,F
F6 don't kno",F says Jane. This reply means nothing: it is just the by "hich the
younger generation gains time to think. 4lmost at once she adds:
FThe old girls are doing it because youth is in. E.erybody "ants to be young, no"&&
though they "ant all us young people to be something else. (unny, isn't it,
F6n a "ay,F says Jane, Fit's just honesty. @omen ha.e come do"n off the pedestal lately.
They are tired of this mysterious&feminine&charm stuff. ?aybe it goes "ith independence,
earning your o"n and .oting and all that. There "as al"ays a bit of the harem in
that up&your&arms&and&legs business, don't you think,
F@omen still "ant to be lo.ed,F goes on Jane, "arming to her theme, Fbut they "ant it on
a #;&#; basis, "hich includes being admired for the +ualities they really possess.
Hragging in this strange&allurement stuff doesn't seem sporting. 6t's like cheating in
games, or lying.F
F4sk me, did the @ar start all this,F says Jane helpfully.
FThe ans"er is, ho" do 6 kno" , 3o" does anybody kno",
F6 read this book "haddaya&call&it by Iose ?acaulay, and she sho"ed "here they'd been
e)cited about "ild youth for three generations anyho"&&since =$;. 6 ha.e a hunch
maybe they'.e al"ays been e)cited.
F/omebody "rote in a maga9ine ho" the @ar had upset the balance of the se)es in
Europe and the girls there "ere "earing the ne" styles as part of the competition for
husbands. /ounds like the bunk to me. 6f you "anted to nail a man for life 6 think you'd
do better to go in for the old&fashioned line: '?arch' me to the altar, esteemed sir, before
you learn "hether 6 ha.e limbs or not.'
F8f course, not so many girls are looking for a life meal ticket no"adays. >ots of them
prefer to earn their o"n and omit the home&and&baby act. @ell, anyho", postpone
it years and years. They think a bachelor girl can and should do e.erything a bachelor
man does.F
Ho the morals go "ith the clothes, 8r the clothes "ith the morals, 8r are they
independent, These are +uestions 6 ha.e not .entured to put to Jane, kno"ing that her
ans"er "ould be Fso's your old man.F Generally speaking, ho", it is safe to say that
as regards the "ildness of youth there is a good deal more smoke than fire. 4nyho", the
ne" Era of Dndressing, as already suggested, has spread far beyond the boundaries of
Jane's group. The fashion is follo"ed by hordes of un+uestionably monogamous matrons,
including many "ho join heartily in the general ululations as to "hat young people are
coming to. 4ttempts to link the ne" freedom "ith prohibition, "ith the automobile, the
decline of (undamentalism, are certainly "ithout foundation. These may be accessory,
and indeed almost certainly are, but only after the fact.
That fact is, as Jane says, that "omen to&day are shaking off the shreds and patches of
their age&old ser.itude. F(eminismF has "on a .ictory so nearly complete that "e ha.e
e.en forgotten the fierce challenge "hich once inhered in the .ery "ord. @omen ha.e
highly resol.ed that they are just as good as men, and intend to be treated so. They don't
mean to ha.e any more un"anted children. They don't intend to be debarred from any
profession or occupation "hich they choose to enter. They clearly mean 1e.en though not
all of them yet reali9e it2 that in the great game of se)ual selection they shall no longer be
forced to play the role, simulated or real, of helpless +uarry. 6f they "ant to "ear their
heads sha.en, as a symbol of defiance against the former fate "hich for three millennia
forced them to dress their hea.y locks according to male decrees, they "ill ha.e their
"ay. 6f they should elect to go naked nothing is more certain than that naked they "ill go,
"hile from the sidelines to "hich he has been relegated mere man is .ouchsafed
permission only to pipe a feeble 3urrah'