Gender & Sexuality shifts in the 1920s-1940s


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Societal conceptualisation of gender and sexuality altered dramatically in the early part of the 20th Century. Strongly influenced by the First and Second World Wars ideas of masculinity and femininity began to change from Victorian values. Women began to gain more independence and the first wave of the feminist movement meant women also began demanding more rights. Famous suffragettes of this time include: Emmeline Pankhurst and Ethyl Smyth. Over this period more women groups formed, some concerned with feminist values, others about maintaining young girls’ chastity in a time of greater freedom.
During the Second World War more and more women were employed into the work force due to the drafting of men into the military. Women became responsible for work which was traditionally viewed as for men, eg. factory work, faming, driving ambulances and other emergency vehicles, train conducting etc. After the war was over, and after the need for women to maintain these roles was gone, many women continued to work and the surge in women travelling to major cities for work continued to increase.
During this period, though still socially condemned, lesbian and gay secret groups and bars began to emerge. Women were enjoying more traditionally masculine things like independent finances, and even wearing trousers! From the early 20th Century ideas of sexologists and ‘inverts’ this led some to equate female masculinity with lesbianism. Popular Lesbian pulp fiction later began to circulate however, lesbian, gay and bisexual sexualities (amongst other sexual ‘deviancies’) continued to be viewed as perverse.

The 1920s to the 1940s was therefore a pivotal point in which ideas around gender and sexuality began to shift. In some ways these feminist attempts were put on hold during the 1950s due to governmental efforts to ensure men continued to have jobs and security and that in some ways women were put ‘back into the home’.