One American Dream- FIRST LOOK

One American Dream

 

Chapter 6

 

pg. 52-55

 

The election that year was the first in which women had the right to vote in all 48 states. There was new and revolutionary thinking in almost every sphere of human activity. The national feeling of relief that had swept the country at the end of the Great War had dipped, but was now about to evolve into unbridled optimism. The stock market was poised to soar, and despite the strife, there was a growing sense of confidence in the country. The restraints of Elizabethan morality that had dominated the country for the previous century were relaxed, and as women entered the workforce and earned the right to vote, fashion trends became more accessible, masculine, and practical.   Many women believed that since they were now the political equals of men, they now had the right to pursue more personal freedoms. They began engaging publicly in typical "male" activities like smoking and drinking (which was still ostensibly prohibited). They worked toward attaining sexual freedom by trying to combat the historic double-standard, which treated men who had taken many lovers as healthy, but women who had many as evil or flawed.   Skirt hemlines rose and were less constraining of women's movements. For the first time in centuries, a woman's natural body shape was now exposed as dresses became more fitted and revealing, and the constrictive corset, which had been an essential undergarment to make the waist thinner and the breasts and hips more pronounced, became a thing of the past. A more masculine look became popular - including shirtwaist dresses, short hairstyles, flat breasts, and natural hips. "Bobbed" hair and exposed legs became the new symbol of freedom.   Although society matrons of a certain age continued to wear conservative dresses, the most impressive social trend of the "Roaring Twenties" was undoubtedly "the flapper." Flappers were a "new breed" of young women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, smoking, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.   This new freedom spilled over into the world of art and home decor, where surrealism and art deco forced a transition from the lush, curvilinear abstractions of Victoriana and art nouveau decoration to more mechanized, smooth, and geometric forms.   Jazz became the most popular music in America, and orchestras led by Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, and Duke Ellington, among others, played in the most fashionable cafes and concert halls.   To me, it was as if sex had just been invented. There was a freedom in the air that boasted new colors, new styles, new music, and new literature, and as an adventurous, post-pubescent girl, I was not about to miss any of it. My friends from the neighborhood were too timid, so I sought out new, more adventurous friends, but my parents were cautiously restrictive about whom I spent my free time with. I was bright and breezed through my schoolwork. I read constantly, insatiably, and I was bored... all the time.   Sundays were especially painful for me. My parents tried to schedule appropriate outings for the family, but they were always too juvenile or too old-fashioned. They were reluctant to leave me alone at home, but when they dragged me along, I hated it. So they encouraged me to take along a book to read, which was what I enjoyed most. And so, at nearly every outing, while the rest of the group would participate in an activity, I would sit by myself and read. In all fairness, my mother did try to find activities that would interest me, but, as a rule, whatever we did as a family, I hated.   I thought of myself as a “liberated” woman. I yearned to live a liberated, bohemian life, and I felt trapped in the stifling Jewish “upper” (as my mother frequently reminded me) class. I wanted to go to jazz concerts, art openings, “meet-the-authors” cocktail parties, and poetry readings. But I was only permitted the vicarious experience of reading about them in the gossip pages. I longed to sit in some exotic, little-known downtown coffee shop or café and absorb the atmosphere, but my parents kept reminding me that I was just a child—and a Jewish child at that—and that proper Jewish children did not hang around in cafes.   I hated being a proper Jewish child, but what could I do?   Consequently, my bohemian experiences were all secondhand. I read about them in the gossip columns of the newspapers and magazines, but I was not permitted to go to any of them, and I bitterly fought the restrictions. I devoured the art section of the newspaper, studied every literary magazine, and read every avant-garde book as soon as I could get my hands on it. I yearned to be an adult and free of restrictions, but all I ever heard from my parents was a long list of things that proper Jewish girls didn’t do. I didn’t want to be a proper Jewish girl, but I had no choice.   In those years, at the start of the Roaring Twenties, New York City was alive with stimulation and a pretty young girl could get anything she wanted—I was a pretty, young girl, and I wanted to breathe and taste and hear and experience everything. I hated my parents’ Victorian house with its formal rooms and its dark furniture and drapes. I wanted to live.   As if it was a source of life-giving oxygen, I read. In fact, all of my experiences, social, intellectual, sexual, and emotional came through my reading. I was a fast and insatiable reader, and I read an eclectic variety of material ranging from the literary masterpieces that I got from the library, to the pulp magazines which I bought on a daily basis on my way home from school.