Leading the life of a modern girl: representations of womanhood in Cuban popular culture Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Lotz, Lizabeth M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation looks at the central role the figure of the Modern Girl had on understandings of gender norms in 1920s Cuba. The international Modern Girl served as an embodiment of the varied challenges to the gender hierarchy. Within a generation, women throughout the island were cutting their hair, wearing short skirts, attending unchaperoned outings, and openly flirting with the opposite sex. Through her modern appearance, behavior, and attitude, the Modern Girl prompted debates over what it meant to be a Cuban woman, and moreover how the new version of womanhood related to notions of national identity. Popular magazines emanating from the Havana promoted the Modern Girl as the new model of ideal femininity. However, the outpouring of support for the Modern Girl did not indicate that Cubans had unconditionally embraced the changes in cultural practices. Rather, multiple versions of the archetype emerged, all varying in degrees of acceptability. Rather than voicing disapproval directly, most public censure surfaced through the more indirect means of mockery and sexualization. This reaction was most common among male commentators who tended to glamorize and praise the Modern Girl, but did so by typecasting her as frivolous, superficial, and materialistic. These methods of critique served to undermine women's accomplishments and opportunities, making them appear harmless and unimportant. But they also reflected social angst towards the sudden transformations affecting Cuban society. In contrast, most female journalists and readers took cultural changes much more seriously than men by noting how modern trends related to modern women's increased autonomy and practical needs. The figure of the Modern Girl thus provided women with an opening to contest, defy, and continuously redefine established gender norms. The lifestyle of the Modern Girl served as a means for women to express their new-found sense of freedom, while also making them more acutely aware of gender inequalities and providing them with a sense of empowerment to challenge the gender hierarchy.
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  • In Copyright
  • Pérez, Louis A.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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