Traditionally, society encouraged women to follow specific paths in their lives, and they were simple. They entailed getting married and having children while maintaining their homes while the men went about their duties. However, due to women’s growing desire to discover more, engage in different opportunities, and self-discovery, they slowly became defiant and rebellious to the traditional norms (Gorsuch, 2008, p.176). Accordingly, the need to find a new role in the patriarchal dominated society defines the concept of the ‘modern woman.’ Often, the term is associated with a western based mindset that the ‘modern woman’ is career minded and courageous to go against the social and moral norms of the society with endless possibilities. However, little is known about the ‘contemporary woman’ concept from a global perspective. Women have evolved in different ways, and there is a need to articulate these trends. Accordingly, the analysis aims to discover and determine the differences in modern women based on the norms of gender roles, the girl, and transnational history.
Background on Evolution of the ‘Modern Woman’
A modern woman can be described as the one that goes against the tide, is willing, and courageous to indulge in different norms. It entails diverging from the social norms that women are molded into homemakers and child bearers while the men are conjured to be the breadwinners. Based on a larger lens, the divergence of women into modern-based women is observed to be a convergent ideology around the world (Poiger, 2008, p.318). However, there are ambiguities in the description of the modern woman. For instance, in Africa, a contemporary woman was one who engaged in western-based actions, including fashion shows. Conversely, the west epitomized the ideology of the modern woman as one who wore shorter dresses and maintained curly hair whereas, in the north, such as Germany, women wore hats. The east had similar sentiments, including Japan and China, whereby women adopted the westernized mode of dressing such as adorning hats. It is clear, therefore, that the concept of modern woman was merged but in different forms.
Concerning the evolution of the modern woman, the nature of the contemporary girl was necessary and needs to be addressed. Accordingly, a girl is defined as an individual who is not married and a relatively young woman. Traditionally, a girl was regarded as a person who maintained and followed the customary laws of a society. For instance, in China, women were not allowed to speak in an indirect language and adorned in long dresses. The period was marked before the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, in Africa, for example, women of diverse backgrounds were seen to adorn in traditional attire (Poiger, 2008, p.319). In Senegal, women wore like men only covering their reproductive or sexual areas. However, with the entry of colonizers, women began adorning complete and covered clothing to suit their masters. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the 20th century, they started engaging in controversial actions, including seeking liberation, freedom, and individuality.
The Modern Girl
The modern girl was defined based on the change in mannerisms, behavior, and defiance to social norms. These entailed changes in dress codes, conversation markers, and social attitude. The West depicted women as wearing curly hair and short dresses. In the past, women only wore long dresses that covered their legs, but with the modern girl, that was not the same. According to Poiger (2008, p. 317), American women were recognized based on their signature style even in Germany. U.S advertisements depicted the modern girl as an individual who loved cosmetics, make-up, and would cut their hair in bob-style. The modernization of cities signified the early and late 1900s whereby cosmopolitan’ concepts were being adopted as depicted in Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) by Pabst. Countless advertisements portrayed the way women were elegant and possessed vanity. However, it was not the case with Germany. The modern girl, also known as Neue Frauen was a woman painted as an abstract object and not actual human to showcase the difference in contemporary girls and traditional ones. For example, according to Poiger (2008, p.318), a Vogue poster showed women as more abstract and in angular forms. Their bodies were more elongated and had alluring features, including almond-shaped eyes and brown bobs.
Women in China and Japan experienced a similar evolution. The modern girls in Japan, for instance, wore shorter dresses, short bob-cut hairstyles, and hats. It was similar to what American and German women wore. in China, women have been documented to adorn in shorter dresses, which were considered more perverse than old suits. In summary, women’s dress code changed when the world adopted the westernized form of dressing and haircuts. It was the same in Africa, whereby documentaries of women in South Africa competing in beauty pageants wore western based clothes and hairstyles. These showed that women had a synchronized change in the modernization of their mannerisms and social ways.
Objectification of Women
The modern girl evolved into the contemporary woman depicted as a source of sexual perverseness by men. According to a statement by a journalist known as Kitamura, he indicates that society did away with old social norms and introduced new social models. The modern morals disregarded chastity virtues and did not establish the boundary of how society would treat women. It only epitomized the physical aspects of working women who had a nomadic way of life different from the old forms. As a result, factors of fashion became the center towards defining the modern woman. The seemingly liberated woman became an object of satisfaction, and she had to respect the man.
In China, according to Dong (2008, p.196), women’s elevated status was defined in two aspects: the highly elegant and high-class women and the rest, the low-class and undignified women. About a magazine on the modern woman, Dong (2008, p.199) indicates that the social conditions deteriorated, and women’s psychical beauty became a distorted illusion. From high schoolers to working women, the producers used publications on nudity and less perverse dressings. Editors observed that the modern woman presented a mentality that men acknowledged. The Chinese saw two types of women: those of the high society and low society according to Sisters of Gion (136) by Keji. The high society woman formed a perfect modern woman who had the following features: permed hair, makeup, bright smile, and formal-floral fitting of clothing. In effect, the contemporary woman in China was not only observed as an intelligent being but also one that epitomized the concept of sexual perverseness.
In the Soviet Union, according to Gorsuch (2008, p.176), he describes the dress code that girls in Russia adopted from the west. Similar to the way Japanese and Chinese, as well as German women dressed, the modern women in Russia relied on western-influence and evolved to use other forms of luxury and dress codes that only suited their body types. Gorsuch (2008, p.180) defines that at one point the dress code and culture of modern women had a political significance, especially the rebellion of the political crisis that people underwent in the Soviet Union in the 20th century. The popular concept in Russia and other areas were only pivotal to the sharing of political, economic, and social agenda.
Political and Social Concept: Nationalism
Society considered the modern woman as the symbol of political and social reform within which her portrayal of what she wanted was evident. At one point, according to Weinbaum (2008, p. 121), society began seeing the contemporary woman as a symbol of superiority between and among races. For instance, Weinbaum (2008, p. 122) explains how in Japanese culture, women would wear different masks to show the diversity in class and political structure. Similarly, in America, as determined by Weinbaum (2008, p. 122), the racial masquerade depicting variations in women showed a difference in their social status. Some plays involved characters who would mock and praise certain races. For example, the modern American whiteness was shown to have more control over other races, including the African race. Performances by Al Jolson, the infamous blackface actor, was a depiction of the immigration of the African race (Weinbaum 2008, p. 123). It was perceived and demonstrated to be inferior.
On the other hand, the ‘Nipponese’ mask was used to depict the modern Japanese woman who could mimic the American modernity. The oriental proposition of the society represented races among the modern woman showed one race, the American race as superior and of national symbolism. On the contrary, the mocking of other races indicated the lack of authenticity in borrowing a leaf from the contemporary American woman.
Far from the U.S, the nationalism of the modern girl and the contemporary woman was taken much more seriously. It was proven as a state of displeasure, rebellion, and debauchery of the wa governments treated their people. In Russia, for example, Gorsuch (2008, p.178) indicates that Russians observed cultural revolution both in men and women as a symbol of national rebellion. The revolt was against the government regime totalitarianism and theocracy in dictating the way women dressed, what they learned, and how they lived their lives. It entailed the American-based influence on movies, actors and actresses, advertisements, and magazines. In the early 1920s, according to Gorsuch (2008, p.179), Russia’s ruler, Putin, was against any U.S involvement at a time when hate and world division were apparent.
However, with the modern girl, the need to dress like movie stars in the U.S. who were seen with short haircuts (bob-hairstyles), shorter dresses, and make-up were guaranteed sources of revolution (Gorsuch, 2008, p.180). Magazines from the United States were smuggled into Russia, and the popular magazines included Mody (fashion-based) and Mody Sezona (Fashion of the Seasons) whereby fashions on models and how women and men appeared based on femininity and masculinity were popular among the youth. The consequence was that the adventurous young woman who intended to be independent wore boyish figures and close-fitting cossets with ribbons (Gorsuch 2008, p.180). The girl of the modern era, therefore, was adamant in proving that she was no longer submissive to oppressive regimes and governments.
The modern girl’s appearance was also a symbol of nationalism which was used for political goodwill and commitment. According to the Sisters of Gion (1936) by Keji, the US observed a political movement where women were involved. It included women rebelling against the conventional and traditional dress codes, their willingness to be independent, seek employment, and change their conversation dialect from formal to informal. The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) by Pabst determined that women were considered modern or traditional. For a long time, the conventional woman was revered probably due to her difference in opinions. However, the contemporary woman transversed all the misconceptions. The film shows that the modern woman was not hysterical, used direct and informal language, scoffed at chastity, and accosted men when she needed. Moreover, she had freedom of expression considered a taboo in most cultures, including Japan and China. Inherently, it is clear that the consequence of the evolution of the modern woman ran parallel to the issues of political and economic independence and acceptance.
The paper has fully explained a modern woman and determined that she is an evolutionary principle, whereby women around the world have enjoyed certain rights previously not present. Moreover, it has presented different aspects that defined the modern woman, including fashion, dressing, conversation markers, political, and economic agenda. The phases from traditional woman to the modern girl to a mature contemporary woman have been ambiguous around the world. In certain societies, the modern woman was revered while at the same time mocked and considered a sexual tool for men. It goes to show that despite the efforts by women to seek independence, a seat at the table, and the desire to be liberated, the negativity that runs parallel was imminent. Nonetheless, the parody is that the modern woman has gained status in contemporary society.
Weinbaum, A. E. (2008). Racial Masquerade: Consumption and Contestation of American Modernity. The Modern Girl Around the World, 120.
Poiger, U. G. (2008). Fantasies of Universality? Neue Frauen, Race, and Nation in Weimar and Nazi Germany. The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, 317-346.
Dong, M. Y. (2008). Who is afraid of the Chinese modern girl?. The Modern Girl Around the World: consumption, modernity, and globalization, 194-219.
Gorsuch, A. E. (2008). The Dance Class or the Working Class: The Soviet Modern Girl. The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, 174-93.
Sisters of Gion (1936), directed by Mizoguchi Kenji
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