In her June 1922 piece for Metropolitan Magazinecalled “Eulogy on the Flapper,” 22-year-old Zelda only hints at the radical edge of the flapper movement.
“The Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair ofearringsand a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure, she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart. She had mostly masculine friends, but youth does not need friends—it needs only crowds.”
But in 1925’s “The Great Gatsby,” Scott depicted a more dire view of flappers. Narrated by a man, thecautionary tale seems to warn against the wiles of The New Woman—the feminist ideal of an educated and sexually liberated woman that emerged in the 1900s. So instead of intelligent, independent women telling their own stories of rebelling and rejecting their mother’s values, you have male war buddies sharing how vapid, spoiled socialites carelessly wrecked their lives. In “A Feminist Reading of the Great Gatsby,” Soheila Pirhadi Tavandashti points out the pattern:
“The novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful. For example, at Gatsby’s parties we see insincere, ‘enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names,’ as well as numerous narcissistic attention-seekers in various stages of drunken hysteria. We meet, for example, a young woman who ‘dumps’ down a cocktail ‘for courage’ and ‘dances out alone on the canvass to perform’; ‘a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter’; … a drunken young girl who has her ‘head stuck in the pool’ to stop her from screaming; and two drunken young wives who refuse to leave the party until their husbands, tired of the women’s verbal abuse, ‘lifted [them] kicking into the night.’”