March is Women’s History Month. I recently asked my teenage daughter if she knew why it was important? She said no. I asked her if she knew when women got the right to vote. She said no. I asked her if she knew what flappers were? She crinkled her nose, gave me a strange look, and acted as though I had just pulled a made-up word out of thin air.
This column will be dedicated in part to her, because believe me, she will be required to read it – I will make sure by posting it on her Facebook page.
Let’s start with the last question. What is a flapper? A flapper was the new woman that emerged in the 1920s with her short dress, rouged face, and rolled stockings. The flapper rebelled against the restraint of Victorian womanhood. She embraced the growing consumer culture, with its emphasis on leisure and materialism.
I love the stories and the history of the flappers. It was a fantastic time in women’s history as we earned the right to vote, and started experimenting with our looks and transitioning from the home into the workforce.
While the flappers were about having fun and testing the limits, images of women as the 1930s rolled around weren’t so carefree.
During this era, the most powerful icon was Dorothea Lange’s photograph, “Migrant Mother,” who symbolized America’s dignified suffering as they weathered the devastating economic crisis of the 1930s.
The image of a “Migrant Mother” showed the effects of the Great Depression. The lines on the mother’s face outline worry, while her two children lean on her shoulders. The woman, 33, lived on frozen vegetables picked in nearby fields and birds her children killed. She sold the tires from her car to buy food.
As time went on, women were forced to work during the war because the men went off to fight for America. A series of campaign ads got women into the factories and warehouses. Many of the ads stressed it was the woman’s duty to work for her country.
One of my favorite images from that time is the “We can do it” photograph. The photograph, also known as “Rosie the Riveter,” was of a 17-year-old female with her hair put up into a handkerchief, wearing work clothes and sleeves pushed up where she was flexing her muscle.
The intent of the poster in 1942 was to keep production lines going. Little did the photographer know that it would become an iconic photo that women used for decades to come to stay in the workforce even when the men came home from war.
The iconic image is still used. Gov. Jan Brewer used it during her 2010 election campaign. The image was pasted on billboards and ads.
It is the women from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s that really put an imprint on our lives. Those achievements and accomplishments should be honored by all women as often as possible, and our teenagers should certainly know what those fights, those movements and those victories mean for us today.
When it comes to women, my heroes are not necessarily the politicians introducing and voting on bills every day. Instead, the women I look up to most are the ones who work, volunteer and are moms at the same time.
It is very difficult some days to balance the many roles most of us women do, but it is because we have the right that we have the opportunity to try.
— Thelma Grimes