My mother, on her 21st birthday, was not allowed to drink in public—alcohol, I mean. She went to a nice dinner, I’m sure she was offered an adult beverage by the server, but she was not allowed to partake in such even while she was legally able to do such. This was by decision of my great-grandmother. My mother had decided to do a college internship in sunny Florida during what would otherwise be a cold, snowy winter term in State College, PA (FYI—that’s Penn State). This, in theory, sounds fantastic. She did not, however, take into account that meant living with her grandparents (my great-grandparents, who lived, incidentally, into my late teenage years).
Living with her grandparents enabled things like this: on her 21st birthday MumMum put the kibosh on her ordering a cocktail, saying, “Ladies don’t drink in public.” For the record, nobody said this to me on my 21st birthday…at the bar…where I spent a significant portion of my 21st birthday. Oops. Sorry, MumMum.
Also, for the record, I’m going to go ahead and say my mother probably, like me (I can admit things now that I can’t be charged), had in fact imbibed some alcohol before the T-one day (sorry, Mom).
The once piece of advice I was given about going to the bar and drinking was this: “Do not be THAT GIRL—you know, the sloppiest one in the whole place.” Noted. This may sound degrading and gender-role-specific, but frankly, I just think it’s good life decision making. My MumMum took it a bit further than this.
My great-grandmother, a woman coming of her age during Prohibition, had quite a lot of ideas about what women should and shouldn’t be doing in public. There’s a bunch of other stories about things that she is famous among our family for not allowing in public, and being angry when it was, but I know it comes from a place of wanting our best presentation to the world. Honestly, I’m not even sure if my great-grandmother did any drinking at home either. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve heard some good stories about her mother drinking—but then again, my great-grandmother’s mother was a phenomenal free-spirit with a head full of things she knew she was able to do even if she had two X chromosomes. So, I think she was entitled to a beer and fried egg for breakfast every morning.
Ladies drinking in public seems like it was a bit “hush hush” for about the time in between when water became clean enough in human history to drink and women were (allegedly) burning their bras a few decades ago. Before Prohibition, when ladies had their very own secret, side entrance to saloons. Probably, you still didn’t want to be seen there if you wanted your name kept clean. Then, the 18th Amendment came and made it illegal for any of us—man, woman, or child—to keep drinking alcohol. Later, the 21st Amendment reversed all that—except for the children part, that’s good, I think. In between women got the right to vote (19th Amendment), and a 20th (and boring) Amendment was passed about term commencements.
The thing is, women were very active in the Temperance Movement. I have many conflicting feelings about this. I want to support other women—those contemporary with me, before me, after me—and their causes, even if I don’t agree with their causes. I believe women should be heard same as men. I believe the 14th Amendment already declares we should have been equal all along. I believe in the power of women to get things done, even if it is banning the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States of America (I can’t say I’m on board with this decision, but, well, ya know, I can support where you’re coming from without wanting it too).
The other side is this: I wonder if it didn’t take away a bit from Women’s Suffrage. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t really talk too much about it. I can’t understand, try as I might, what it was like to be a woman of previous generations. However, it feels to me that any time in history when people are trying to fight a war on two fronts, at least one is lacking in execution a bit. In my mind, getting voting rights seems a bit paramount. Besides, once you can participate in the legal process, and be actual constituents, doesn’t it make it even a slight easier? There are many, many reasons women need to vote. There are many, many things that concern an aware female population. But, I digress. I’m not a woman of pre-suffrage era.
I do understand some of the problem of alcohol. I’ve read many accounts of women being subjugated by the hands of abusive husbands on the bottle. However, I don’t think this is an alcohol-only problem. I’m all for women embracing their power before or after 1920, and if the banning of alcohol was going to fix this, I’d say go for it. (I do think, however, that Prohibition proved to be a giant failure for many reasons. I’m also a Libertarian…so there’s that to consider0. The early 20th century woman of the Temperance Movement was a force to be reckoned with, I’m sure.
And then, there’s the flapper. Ah. That not-too-distant archetype of feminist/anti-feminist juxtaposition. I have a warm spot in my heart and my head for flappers, much like pin-ups. I feel some kind of allegiance to them. I’m not sure why. I’m actually a very conservative dresser myself, who wishes, in my little head, that I was a bombshell pin-up. I think I’m very proper on the outside with the mind of a rule breaker, definition changer, do-what-I-want kind of a woman. That’s what I like about flappers. I like the irreverent spirit that goes along with these women. I like that they laugh at the “NO GIRL ALLOWED” club sign on the speakeasy. I like that they did what they wanted—even if it was breaking the law. I like the idea that they didn’t take any crap from anybody. (Rah! Rah! Yeah!)
Honestly, I’m not sure where the same feeling for pin-ups comes for me. Really, I don’t know why. I don’t know if images of pin-ups somehow morph into iconic “Rosie the Riveter” images in my head. I don’t know if because I know what it feels like to want to boost morale of men fighting a war it perhaps tugs on my heartstrings that way, maybe? I don’t know if maybe it’s just because these are beautifully done images and I like that there’s more imagination than plain nakedness. I don’t know. But somehow in my head I also feel these women are a strong independent force of their own. But I’m not sure why. Also, I would offer them a cocktail because I know I couldn’t spend hours upon hours in contorted poses while clothing or inanimate objects precariously covered my goods.
I think maybe it was as complicated to be a woman last century as it is this century. Maybe more. Maybe less. But I’d sure like to be able to have a single drink at the end of a hard day and not be thought of as less for it just because of my gender. Also, I’m glad I’ve never had to worry about whether I could go to the polls based on my gender. Really, this list could go on for quite a while, and I know you have things to do.
These are reasons that why I love old things and feel sometimes old-fashioned; I certainly do not wish to be a woman of anything but contemporary being. I like being a “modern” woman even if I do it in a swing dress and vintage stick-pin jewelry. I like that I can vote (I might not always like the choices, but that’s another problem). I like my Rights—all twenty-seven of the extra ones Amended, and all the ones in the original text, and all those inalienable ones too. But frankly, I like that I can drink in public too. Not because I like to drink so much, but because I would be furious if my brother was allowed and I wasn’t because I had the misfortune to be born the girl child. I also don’t want to be “that girl” at the bar—but that has nothing to do with my sense of what a woman should and shouldn’t do. My guess is I wouldn’t want to be some hot mess in the corner even if I was a feller instead. At least…I hope so.
Lastly, why that pin-up atop this column? Well, clearly that lady is wasted, BUT I like her style.