The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties

The Role of Women in the Roaring Twenties
The Roaring Twenties was the birth of a new woman. A woman who defied society’s
standards of what it is women were supposed to do, say, wear, act like and be. She gained
political power by gaining the right to vote. She broke out of her domestic shell. She wore
shorter skirts, more dramatic makeup, and cut her hair. She flaunted her sexuality. She
drank, smoked, and danced in clubs. She was a flapper.
She was Jordan Baker, Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson.
The flapper stands as one of the most enduring images of youth in the twentieth century.
Many people in America found them incredibly threatening because they represented a
new moral order and class. Although they were the daughters and wives of the middle class,
they disregarded middle-class values. Flappers chose style over substance, novelty over
tradition, and pleasure over virtue.
In other words, these new women embodied the triumphs and dangers of the modern age.
Through her unconventional femininity, and rebellious approach to life, Jordan epitomized a
breed of young women who threatened the traditional roles and expectations of their
gender. She is harsh and self-sufficient, proving that she doesn’t need a man to lead her
through life. She is also a professional golfer; few women chose sport as a career option and
even fewer chose to have any career at all.
From her elegantly playful clothing to her personality, brimming with self-confidence and
mystique, Daisy embodies the ideal of an independent woman of the 1920's. Her lack of
shame regarding her infidelity to Tom and affairs with Gatsby is a clear challenge to the
patriarchal society in which she lives in. However, Daisy cannot be fully classified as a
flapper as she does not completely follow the persona of a “new woman”.
Myrtle Wilson portrays some qualities of a “new woman”, however she cannot be fully
characterized as a flapper, rather she aspires to be one. Although she drinks and has an
affair with Tom, her lack of confidence and as well as her need for a man to get her
somewhere in the world, defy the ideal role of a 1920’s flapper.
Before World War I, before the age of the flappers, women were expected to stay home to
cook, clean and take care of the children. Women would not work or hold independent or
strong roles in the family. They would not commonly deal with money, make political
decisions or defy their husband’s ideas. Men would be the breadwinners of the family, own
the land and make the political decisions.
These male and female stereotypes are prominent in the marriages of Daisy and Tom and
Myrtle and George.
Tom, the brute of a man, uses his physical strength to assert control over his wife, Daisy. He
is the dominant one in the relationship. Knowing the ideals of a flapper and the
stereotypical roles of women before the war, one can clearly see that although Daisy follows
certain flapper qualities, she also personifies the typical female who lives to fulfil her
husband's needs instead of getting a degree and making a living.
Myrtle is also a victim of this co called submissive role. She relies on George and later Tom
to try reach her end goal of an upper class woman instead of getting a job and trying to
achieve it herself.
I'm sure you all remember the following line Daisy says in the novel. " All right...I'm glad it's
a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful
little fool" (Fitzgerald 21). She explains how she thinks there is really no hope for women to
actually make a difference in society. When I first read this line, I was a bit confused so I
reread it to make sense of it. The first thing I thought was "Daisy can't be that much of a fool
if she recognizes that women in her society do not have a prevelant role and that she herself
is stuck in a patriarchal world". I was also a bit annoyed at her for accepting that she could
not challenge her society and at least try to elevate herself amidst the stereotypes. Granted,
it wasn't easy to seek independence as a women of that time, but she could have at least
I think Fitzgerald uses this quote to portray a common ideal that was spread all over
The ideal that Women in this novel and in reality are simply represented as a play thing for
their husbands. In today's society one could call them a “trophy wife”. Someone to just
stand there and look pretty.
Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby as a mirror; he places it in the front of the American
people to show them the cause and effects of their actions. Men and women do not have to
be defined by traditional standards and that is what Fitzgerald is trying to get across. Tom
oozes typical male personality traits and Daisy drips stereotypical womanly traits. There is
little leeway from each stereotype. Fitzgerald does, however, slip in a little ray of hope for
the future. The ray of hopes name is Jordan Baker. Jordan, although she is a woman does
not exactly fit the mode. She plays sports, lies, cheats and has a deep voice, all qualities that
are not typically lady like. Fitzgerald includes Jordan to show that possibly, one day people
will not be trapped by traditional beliefs. Perhaps one day men will be known only as the
sex that produces sperm and women will be known as the sex capable of producing eggs.