Edwardians Imagining a World in Which Women Voted… And Are Free to Act Like Men in Bars?

In November, while scrolling through Tumblr, I ran across this fascinating Edwardian image:

This 1908 image of women smoking and drinking was intended to be a horrifying glimpse of a post-suffrage future. Now it just looks like an awesome bar.” – Tumblr Caption

This artist has turned what would be a typical male scene in a typically masculine environment – men hanging about a bar – and inserted women in the place of men, replicating it down to their “masculine” attitudes, postures, and mannerisms. The idea was that women entering a traditionally male public sphere by voting would become masculine in other respects: a terrifying prospect for many. Women, smoking and gambling! Children being ignored! Men relegated to the “gentlemen’s parlor!”

Women’s rights activists in the nineteenth century and even into the twentieth had to contest popular misogynistic ideas that stated that any women in public spaces – making speeches to advocate for the vote, for instance – were sexually suspect (putting herself on display) or trying to take on a masculine role for which their frail female bodies weren’t suited. Women taking on masculine mannerisms were often mocked, which was likely the intention of this anti-suffragette image.

(Though that being said, women who did something praiseworthy, like exhibit bravery, were also often said to have favorable male attributes. Make up your mind, misogynists!)

What is it about this picture that resonates with me?  Perhaps it is the postures of these women: lounging against the bar, twisting in their seats, smoking with disgusted looks on their faces, ignoring the children who have somehow made it into the pub… But I especially like the confidence evident in their countenances. They look comfortable in this setting and with each other. This picture spoke to the societal fears of gender roles in upheaval: notice the “gentlemen’s parlor”? The artist was warning about the dangers of women getting the vote and overturning gender norms, but as a twenty-first century gal with an approving interest in Edwardian fashion, I can’t help but smile at these cool, confident women in a space of their own. (While I appreciate the rejection of popular Edwardian ideas about race, sex, and class, we in the twentieth century certainly need to bring Edwardian hats back into vogue!)

Note that they aren’t all young beautiful women; there are matronly types, older women, and what may even be a widow (wearing black with the veil on the left). These women are well-dressed and put together, fashionable,  and probably middle-class. This range of ages and body types would be expected of men in a bar, but to our modern eyes looks, well, odd. We are acculturated by, say, beer ads to thinking of bars as being replete with sexy young people, particularly young, slender women, but why shouldn’t matronly types equally enjoy this space?

One of my favourite figures is woman in the blue jacket smoking a cigar on the right. She appears to be examining a slip of paper coming from a (telegraph?) machine – possibly the “racing reports” described on the sign in the right hand corner of the image. Gambling ladies? How gauche! Note, too, the poster of the half-dressed boxer on the wall. I love these details – even more so because the artist likely held anti-suffrage views himself. (I’m assuming it’s a he, and I don’t think I’m wrong.)  I can just imagine him trying to think of shocking things for these masculine women to do.

What would have the world looked like had women held the “dominant” role in 1908? According to this picture: there would have been more free fudge and almonds in bars, certainly.

Edit: For interest’s sake and because my curiosity is never satisfied, I used this Googling technique to try to track down further information on the image, including the original artist Harry Grant Dart. This image may have first been uploaded on Reddit (click for on-point snarky commentary!) and reblogged on Tumblr from there.

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