The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization
The propagated image of the "modern woman" is usually White and lithely strutting the streets of New York or Paris. Hollywood films as well as vintage prints in hip clothing boutiques give us the familiar image of a short-cropped brunette in smart dress. The Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (comprised by the book's editors) has collected a group of essays suggesting that this fabulous 1920’s to 1930’s woman was an international phenomenon, and not merely a Western emulation. What we know as "flappers" were also labeled garconnes, moga, modeng xiaojie, kallege ladki, schoolgirls, vamps, and neue Frauen. In The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, "girls" are defined as "young women with the wherewithal and desire to define themselves in excess of conventional female roles and as transgressive of national, imperial, and racial boundaries." Here, we can understand the modern girl not only as a consumer or mannequin, but rather a woman challenging convention and limitations.
Although The Modern Girl Around the World is published by an academic press, it is wonderfully accessible, and should be of interest to anyone interested in sociology, fashion, sexuality, and the development of the public image of women. There are sixteen essays besides the Research Group's own chapter on methodology. Geographically, the essays look at France, South Africa, India, China, and beyond. Personally, my favorite essays are Liz Conor's "Blackfella Missus Too Much Proud: Techniques of Appearing, Femininity and Race in Australian Modernity" and Kathy Peiss' "Girls Lean Back Everywhere," but all the essays have something valuable to say. Overall, the authors demonstrate that modernity is not a Western creation with foreign copycats, but rather a simultaneous movement.
From a practical point of view, this is a Women's Studies student or professor’s dream. Finding all of these essays in one compilation and including an extensive bibliography opens up the possibilities for transnational study without relying on an archive. For readers who seek an in-depth history of these movements, it is wise to note that The Modern Girl Around the World focuses instead on commodity and cultural flows as they occur. This is not a study of underground political movements, but rather women pushing the public and visible limits of agency.
It’s a shame that a book on image only has pictures in black and white, but I’m so grateful that a compilation like this finds a publisher at all. As a woman, teacher, and reader, I find The Modern Girl Around the World to be interesting and provocative. We live in a global world, and this compilation recognizes transnational trends. Points of disagreements within the essays and overall project only instigate productive dialogue.