WHEN, years ago, I first heard the picturesque word ‘Flapper’ applied to a girl, I thought of a loose sail flapping in whatever wind may blow, and liable to upset the craft it is meant to impel. There was also in my mind the flitting and yet cruder mental imagery of a wash, just hung out to dry in the light and breeze, before it is starched and ironed for use. I was a little ashamed of this when the dictionary set me right by defining the word as a fledgling, yet in the nest, and vainly attempting to fly while its wings have only pinfeathers; and I recognized that thus the genius of ‘slanguage’ had made the squab the symbol of budding girlhood. This, too, had the advantage of a moral, implying what would happen if the young bird really ventured to trust itself to its pinions prematurely.
The Germans were a century ahead of us in naming this fascinating stage of human life; but their designation of it is most unpoet ic, not to say culinary. To them the flapper is a fish all prepared for baking, but not yet subjected to that process. Indeed, h and k are so much alike that I cannot but wonder if the dull Teutonic lexicographers have not mistaken Backfisch for Backfisch. If so, she was meant to he named in that country from those piscene forms which, having been hatched far inland near the source of great rivers, have migrated, or been carried downstream, as they grew, and are found disporting in a broad estuary and adapt ing themselves to the boundless sea where they are henceforth to live. Perhaps the German who first applied this epithet did not mean to be so much unromantic and ungallant to the sex, as fundamental; for all know that, fish not only long preceded birds, in the order of evolution, but were their direct progenitors. On this line of conjecture the French tendron is still more fundamental, for it, goes back to the vegetable kingdom and dubs girls shoots, scions ready for grafting, buds, or perhaps organs yet undifferentiated and in the gristle stage. Had girls been themselves consulted, they might have hesitated between bird and bud, but surely never would have accepted fish. The angler at the other end of the tackle might possibly have been considered.
We must, then, admit at the outset that the world has not yet found the right, designation for this unique product of civilization, the girl in the early teens, who is just now undergoing such a marvelous development. But why bother about names?
As a lifelong student of human nature, I long ago realized that of all the stages of human life this was terra incognita. We now know much of children, of adults, and of old age, while the pubescent. boy has become an open book. So I began months ago to forage in libraries, and was surprised to find how sentimental, imaginative, and altogether unscientific most of the few books, and the scores of articles, about girls in the early teens really were. Very persistent is the tendency to treat, this grave and serious theme flippantly—to invoke Puck, Ariel, or Momus as the only muses who can help us in threading the labyrinthine mazes of feminine pubescence. Moreover, since the war, the kind of girl whom most ante-bellum authors depict has become as extinct as the dodo, if indeed she ever existed at all. So we must turn from literature, and come down from the roseate heights, whereon we thought she dwelt, to the street and home, and be as objective and concrete as possible.
First, the street. The other day I found myself walking a few rods behind a girl who must have been approaching sweet sixteen. She held to the middle of the broad sidewalk. It was just after four, and she was apparently on her way home from high school. We were on a long block that passed a college campus, where the students were foregathering for afternoon sports. She was not chewing gum, but was occasionally bringing some tidbit from her pocket to her mouth, taking in everything in sight, and her gait was swagger and superior. ‘Howdy, Billy,’ she called to a youth whom I fancied a classmate; and ‘Hello, boys,’was her greeting to three more a little later.
Soon she turned on her heel and wandered back, so that I had to meet her. A glance at her comely, happy, innocent, and vividly tinted face, as I swerved to one side that she might keep the middle of the walk, almost made me feel that it would not surprise her overmuch if I stepped to the very edge of the gutter, and removed my hat, as if apologizing for trespassing on preserves that belonged to her. Had I done so, however, it might have made no difference; for I suspect that she would have remained unconscious of my very existence, although just then we were almost the only ones on the block. If I had been twenty and attractive, she would have been able to describe me to a nicety without for an instant having me in the direct focus of her vision; for we must never forget that, at this very peculiar age, nature gives to the other sex quite as great sensitiveness of indirect as of direct vision, so that they know fully as much of what falls on ihe periphery of their retina, as of what strikes their fovea — if not, sometimes, more.
I now felt at liberty to look at her a little more carefully. She wore a knitted hat, with hardly any brim, of a flame or bonfire hue; a henna scarf; two strings of Betty beads, of different colors, twisted together; an open short coat, with ample pockets; a skirt with vertical stripes so pleated that, at the waist, it, seemed very dark, but the alternate stripes of white showed progressively downward, so that, as she walked, it gave something of what physiological psychologists call a flicker effect. On her right wrist were several bangles; on her left, of course, a wrist watch. Her shoes were oxfords, with a low broad heel. Her stockings were woolen and of brilliant hue. But most noticeable of all were her high overshoes, or galoshes. One seemed to be turned down at the top and entirely unbuckled, while the other was fastened below and flapped about her trim ankle in a way that compelled attention. This was in January, 1922, as should be particularly noted because, by the time this screed meets the reader’s eye, flapperdom, to be really chic and up-to-date, will be quite different in some of these details. She was out to see the world and, incidentally, to be seen of it; and as I lingered at the campus block to see the students frolic, she passed me three times, still on her devious way home, I presume, from school.
Sheer accident, had thus brought me within the range of the very specimen I sought, and perhaps a rare and extreme type; therefore, all the more interesting.
But a deep instinct told me that I could never by any possible means hope to get into any kind of personal rapport with her or even with her like. I might have been her grandfather, and in all the world of man there is no wider and more unbridgeable gulf than that which yawns between me and those of my granddaughter’s age. If I should try to cultivate her, she would draw back into her shell; and to cultivate me would be the very last of all her desires. Hence, as was only fair to her, I turned to a third source of information about her, namely, her teachers.
They told me a large notebook full — far more than I can, and, alas! some that I would not, repeat; so that it is puzzling to know what to omit, or even where to begin, in the tangle of incidents, traits, and judgments.
Let us start, at random, with dancing, on which the flapper dotes as probably never before, in all the history of the terpsichorean art, made up of crazes as it has been, has anyone begun to do.
A good dance is as near heaven as the flapper can get and live. She dances at noon and at recess in the school gymnasium; and, if not in the school, at the restaurants between courses, or in the recreation and rest-rooms in factories and stores. She knows all the latest variations of the perennial fox-trot, the ungainly contortions of the camel walk; yields with abandon to the fascination of the tango; and if the floor is crowded, there is always room for the languorous and infantile toddle; and the cheek-tocheek close formation — which one writer ascribes to the high cost of rent nowadays, which necessitates the maximum of motion in the minimum of space—has a lure of its own, for partners must sometimes cling together in order to move at all Verticality of motion and, at least, the vibrations of the ‘shimmy,’ are always possible.
High-school girls told my informant that they ‘ park’ their corsets when they go to dances, because they have been taught, by their instructors in hygiene and physiology that to wear them is unfavorable to deep breathing, and that this is as necessary for freedom of motion as the gymnastic costume or the bath-suit at the seaside; and also that, to get the best out of the exercises of the ballroom, they must not be too much or too heavily clad to be able to keep cool. To her intimates she may confess that she dispenses with corsets (a growing fashion which manufacturers of these articles already regard with alarm) lest she be dubbed ‘ironsides,’ or left a wallflower. Alas for the popularity of teachers who would limit any of these innovations, however much they may be supported by anxious and bewildered mothers, who know only the old-fashioned steps! Despite the decline of the ballet, theatrical managers who advertise for corps of stagedancers report that they are overwhelmed by crowds of applicants.
The flapper, too, has developed very decided musical tastes. If she more rarely ‘takes lessons’ of any kind, she has many choice disks for the phonograph, and has a humming acquaintance with the most popular ditties; and if she rarely indulges in the cakewalk, she has a keen sense of ragtime and ‘syncopation to the thirty-second note,’ and her nerves are uniquely toned to jazz, with its shocks, discords, blariness, siren effects, animal and all other noises, and its heterogeneous tempos, in which every possible liberty is taken with rhythm.
Those who sell candies, ices, sodas, or ‘sweetened wind,’ are unanimous that flappers are their best customers. It somehow seems as if they could almost live on sweets; and their mothers complain that it interferes with the normality of their appetites, digestion, and nutrition generally. A girl may have acidulous tastes and love even pickles; but this is only a counterfoil. She discriminates flavors as acutely as do winetasters. She not only no longer chews gum, as she used to do, but eschews chewers of it, and even ‘cuts’ them — for on just, this point I have cases. But she may munch sweetmeats at theatre, school, or even on the street. Thus the late sugar shortage was hardest on her; and how she throve so well with so short a ration of it in ‘ the good old times’ is a puzzling mystery.
If she loves sweetmeats for their own sake, why this new love of perfumery so characteristic of her age? Is her own olfactory sense suddenly much more acute, or is she now like the flowers attracting insects — but human ones? Is there a correspondingly augmented acuity in this sense in the young man? Possibly, in thus making herself fragrant. she is not thinking of him at all. If she is, and he has no flair for it, she has made a monumental mistake. This most interesting and very important problem must be left to future investigation. At any rate, all those who sell perfumery, who were interviewed, agreed that, here, too, young girls are the best customers.
Girls whose dress indicates straitened resources often lavish money upon expensive perfumes which, curiously enough nowadays, they generally prefer not pure, but mixed; so that they sometimes radiate an aura of delicate odors on the street, the components of which it would puzzle an expert to identify. The German physiologist, Jager, finding olfaction the subtlest of all our senses, wrote two bulky volumes to prove that the soul was really a smell, and concluded that love and aversion were based on emanations too subtle to reach consciousness, but which really mediated attraction and repugnance. If this is so, the soul of the young girl is far sweeter and more irradiant than it ever was before.
She dotes on jewelry, too, and her heart goes out to the rings, bracelets, bangles, beads, wrist watches, pendants, earrings, that she sees in shop-windows or on some friend or stranger. Her dream is of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and gold; but imitations will go far to fill the aching void in her heart; and so in recent years she has made a great run on this market, as those who sell them testify.
The hair, which the Good Book calls a woman’s ‘crown of glory,’ of which amorists in prose and poetry have had so much to say, and which, outside the Mongolian and Negroid races, has always been one of the chief marks of distinction between the sexes, is no longer always so. The old-fashioned, demure braids once so characteristic of the budding girl are gone. Nor is the hair coiled, either high or low, at the back of the head. This medullary region long so protected is now exposed to wind and weather, either by puffs on either side, or, still more, by the Dutch cut which leaves the hair shortest here. Indeed, my barber tells me that he nowshaves a space below the occiput for girls more frequently than when, in Italy, he used to freshen the tonsure of young priests above it. It is now more nearly immodest, I am told, to expose an ear than a knee, and special attention is given to the ear-lock. It is very chic to part the hair on one side, to keep it very smooth, as if it were plastered down on top; but on all sides of the head it must be kept tousled or combed backward à la Hottentot, and the more disordered it is here, the better. In all such matters, as in so many others, the girl imitates, consciously or unconsciously, her favorite movie actresses.
At least, half the movie films seem almost to have been made for the flapper; and her tastes and style, if not her very code of honor, are fashioned on them. Librarians report, that she reads much less since the movies came. No home or other authority can keep her away; the only amelioration is to have reels more befitting her stage of life.
I even interviewed the head of a city traffic squad, who said, as nearly as I can quote him; ‘When a fella speeds or breaks the rules and gets pinched, it’s more than a fifty-fifty proposition he had a girl alongside, and was showin’ off to her or attendin’ to her, and forgettin’ his machine. Some of them think it’s smart to step up to Judge —, pull their roll, and peel it to pay a fine, with the girl lookin’ on, or to tell her after. She sure likes joy-ridin’; and say, there was an old song about a bicycle made for two, and that’s t he way she wants the auto. She loves the back seat empty — no one lookin’ on. They ought to have some of us out on the country roads, where they slow down and stop.’
At this point the traffic became congested and took his attention, and I left him.
But I ant forgetting the curriculum. In college, some subjects attract girls, and others boys, each sex sometimes monopolizing certain courses. But in high school, wherever the elective system permits choice, most girls are usually found in classes where there are most boys. Girls, too, seem fonder of cultural subjects, and less, or at least later, addicted to those that are immediately vocational. They do far better in their studies with teachers whom they like; and I have heard of an attractive unmarried male teacher who was accused by his colleagues of marking the girls in his classes too high, but whose principal had the sagacity to see that the girls did far better work for him than for any other teacher and to realize the reason why.
In the secondary school the girl finds herself the intellectual equal of her male classmate, and far more mature at the same age in all social insights. Hence coeducation at this stage has brought her some slight disillusionment. Her boy classmates are not her ideal of the other sex, and so real lasting attachments, dating from this period, are rare. Perhaps associations and surroundings here bring also some disenchantment with her home environment, and even with her parents. But docile as she is, her heart of hearts is not in her textbooks or recitations, but always in life and persons; and she learns and adjusts herself to both with a facility and rapidity that are amazing. It is things outside her studies which seem to her, if indeed they are not, in fact, far more important for her life.
If any or all of the above seems extravagant, let the reader remember that I am writing so far only of the novissima variety of the species, which fairly burst upon the world like an insect suddenly breaking from its cocoon m full imago form; so that she is more or less a product, of movies, the auto, woman suffrage, and, especially, of the war. During the latter she completed her emancipation from the chaperon, and it became good patriotic form to address, give flaglels, badges, and dainties, to young men in the street, and, perhaps, sometimes, to strike up acquaintance with them if they were in uniform. Her manners have grown a bit free-and-easy, and every vestige of certain old restraints is gone. In school, she treats her male classmates almost as if sex differences did not exist. Toward him she may sometimes even seem almost aggressive. She goes to shows and walks with him evenings, and in school corridors may pat him familiarly on the back, hold him by the lapel, and elbow him in a familiar and even de-haut-enbas way, her teachers tell us; and they add that there is hardly a girl in the high school who does not have facepowder, comb, mirror, and perhaps rouge, in her locker, for use between sessions.
Never since civilization began has the girl in the early teens seemed so selfsufficient and sure of herself, or made such a break with the rigid traditions of propriety and convention which have hedged her in. From this, too, it follows that the tension which always exists between mothers and daughters has greatly increased, and there now sometimes seems to be almost a chasm between successive generations. If a note of loudness in dress or boisterousness in manner has crept in, and if she seems to know, or pretends to know, all that, she needs, to become captain of her own soul, these are really only the gestures of shaking off old fetters. Perhaps her soul has long been ripening for such a revolt, and anxious to dissipate the mystery which seemed to others to envelop it. Let us hope that she is really more innocent and healthier in mind and body because she now knows and does earlier so much that was once admissible only later, if at all.
So it is ‘high time’ to be serious, and to realize that all the above are only surface phenomena, and that the real girl beneath them is, after all, but little changed; or that, if she is changed, it is, on the whole, for the better. Beneath all this new self-revelation, she still remains a mystery. She is so insecure in all her new assurance that it may be shattered by a slight which others do not notice; or some uncomplimentary remark by a mate may humble her pride in the dust. The sublime selfishness, of which the flapper is so often accused, which makes her accept service and demand to be served by parents and all about her whom she can subject; her careless irresponsibilities, which render her unconscious of all the trouble she makes, or the worries which others feel for her present and future: and the fact that she never seems to realize what, it means to clean up after herself, easily alternate with the extreme desire to serve, herself, and to lavish attention upon those whom she really likes. Despite her mien of independence, she is tinglingly sensitive to every breath of goodand ill-will; and if she has shattered old conventions, she has not gone wrong; and if she knows about many things of which she must still often pretend to be ignorant, she is thereby only the more fortified against temptation.
The flapper, too, can be cruel, and often is so, to other girls. She ought not to be, and, it would seem, does not want to be, for she knows full well from her own experience how slights and innuendoes sting and burn. Perhaps she feels deep down in her soul that she is thus helping to toughen the fibre of her mates, to enable them to meet better the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which they will encounter later in life.
The metamorphosis of boys into maturity is easy to observe, for nature hangs out signs that all may read — the first thistle-down of a beard, the mutation of the voice, very ostensive declarations of independence in thought and action, etc. Every known race of primitive man initiates its pubescent youth, often by very elaborate rites, — usually significant of a new birth, — into manhood and the life of the tribe; but there are relatively few such rites for girls at the corresponding physiological ago; although the changes they undergo are perhaps yet more transforming, and beset with more dangers, both of arrest and of perversion.
There are a few buds in the past who have let themselves go with abandon into print, like Marie Bashkirtseff and poor Mary MacLane; while other few have remembered and written voluminously of this stage in their own life, like George Sand and the author of Una Mary; and the inmost movings of the soul of a few more have been overheard by accident, as in A Young Girl’s Diary, Some of these revealers of femininity in its callow ephebic stages have been called traitors to their sex, betraying what should be its most guarded secrets in a way likely to tarnish its glamour for the other sex. But the mental and moral abnormalities here met with have been far more fully explored in ways that, show that, at this coming-out stage, the modern female ephebe comes nearer than any human being ever did before to being ‘all mankind’s epitome.’ She has not yet entirely laid aside certain boyish, and even childish, traits, but the floodgates of heredity arc open again, and instincts from the immemorial past are surging up. Of course, she seems a bundle of inconsistencies, although there is a fundamental unity underneath them all. She is simply like a climbing vine in the stages of circutnnutation, before it has found the support by which it can raise itself toward the sun. Curiously enough, we have had several statistical surveys which show that, the vast majority of adult women look back upon the early teens as the richest stage of all their life, especially in the feelings, which are the voice of extinct generations, while the intellect is a more personal acquisition.
One of the flapper’s chief traits is a passion for secrecy, and this is one reason why her teachers, parents, pastor, doctor, really know so very little about her, for she has developed a modus vivendi with each that often disarms suspicion of concealment. Her real inner life is being evolved far beyond their ken. Her very anatomy and physiological development suggest involution, and her crepuscular soul is in an ingrowing stage. With her intimates she always has secrets, which it is treason to friendship to betray. A little younger, she invents, or even pretends, secrets as bonds of intimacy, or gives words an esoteric meaning, and has signs anil badges which no one but her chosen few understands. So, too, she may come to believe that others have secrets which they try to keep from her, particularly about vital themes, which she feels she has a right to know. Thus, if too much baulked, she may listen, or imagine hidden meanings which do not exist.
The demure miss who sits silently at our table and in our drawing-room while we talk, who goes through all the paces of schoolwork and social observances set for her, is not the real girl, and she knows it; for her true self is all the more securely masked by conforming to what we expect of her. Her imagination is in the most, active stages of creative evolution, although its activities are often so submerged beneath the threshold of consciousness, that she is herself not aware of its fecund spontaneity. She is all the while developing swift aperçus, full of insight and judgments about persons; and she is taking attitudes, for she is in the springtide of sentiment and her ideality, to which the world owes so much, could not attain its goal if it were not more or less veiled.
Thus she is not what she seems, and with but a slight, tincture of pathology, the passion to deceive may become dominant. The Fox sisters, who gave the first impulse to spiritism in this country, and the five Creery sisters, seances with whom filled the early proceedings of the English Society for Psychic Research, were in the early teens, and there have been scores of such masked hystericals, who fooled everybody. The Watseka Wonder was too much for even the astute and detective mind of the late Professor Hodgson; and in reviewing the merry dances which budding girls have led psychiatrists, especially in France a few decades ago, I concluded that, wherever a brand new theory of hysteria, epilepsy, or telepathy was promulgated by any of them, we should first of all follow the maxim, Cherchez le tendron. This vast disparity between her inner and outer life really compels the girl to feign what is not, and to dissimulate what is.
She is in the most interesting stage of the long and complex process of getting ready to love and be loved. It is already several years since all boys ceased to seem crude, oafish, and altogether inconvenient, and began — at least, one or two of them — to be interesting. She has also pretty well passed the stage of amatory fetish isms, when she was prone to dote on some single feature, trait, or act, and feel a degree of aversion for others for which nothing could compensate. She is just learning to perform her supreme selective function of passing judgment on personalities as a whole, with all their ensemble of qualities. A small but rather constant percentage of girls of high-school age evolve, more or less unconsciously, an ideal hero, or make one of some older youth; and this sometimes seems to serve as a defense against ‘falling for’ even the best specimen of the other sex among her acquaintances of her own age. George Eliot rather crassly says that for some years a girl’s every act may tend to provoke proposals. But, if she wants attention, she flees from it, if she detects serious signs of intention. She has no idea of marrying till she has had her innocent fling, or perhaps tried her hand at self-support. Intuition warns her of the danger of loving or being loved with abandon.
A few years before she was pryingly curious. Eight ninth-grade girls signed their names, round-robin-wise, to a request to be told ‘truly where we come from.’ The teacher in her perplexity took the petition to the principal, who passed it on to the superintendent; and the latter referred it to the school board, where it rested. This was some years ago, and these girls have long since found some answer.
Eager as she is to know, however, she is really repelled if knowledge comes in an improper form. How she hates those who offend! And if she feels the least vestige of real fascination, how she reproaches, and perhaps even fears for, herself. If she becomes aware of the tender passion burgeoning in her own soul, she guards it as the most sacred of all her secrets; and toward the object of it she may affect indifference, or even rudeness, perhaps repulsing common courtesies as if they were meant to be advances.
If, despite all these instinctive reluctances which kind old mother nature inspires, she loses her moorings and is swept precociously into a great love, the death-thought is always near; for in the primer of virginity Eros and Thanatos are mystic twins. The supreme affirmation of life, if precocious, brings a compensating thought of its negation. She may even dream of going to heaven by water, which statistics show is the favorite route at this age. She may imagine herself a beautiful corpse, laid out with flowers, while mourning friends weep and praise her, realizing at last that she was not appreciated while he, the most inconsolable of them all, is dissolved in tears, vowing to devote his life henceforth to the memory of her.
Girls often idealize one candidate for their affections after another, in rapid succession. One frankly told me that she had been in love with a different one every school term, but none had survived the long vacation. How little a generally desirable young man suspects the havoc he may wreak between a pair of girl soul-mates by partiality to the one and ever so little neglect of the other! Indeed, so t inglingly sensitive are girls, that even the changing feelings toward mates to whom they are relatively indifferent contribute their quota to the fluctuations of mood, which seem so unaccountable to onlookers, when, in fact, all such alternations have a very real and sufficient reason.
Thrice happy the girl who, through these years of seething and ferment, has a father whom she can make the embodiment of her ideals; for he is, all unconsciously, the pattern to which her future lover and husband must conform. But even here there are dangers; for if her fondness for her father is too intense, or unduly prolonged, this may make it impossible for her ever to be happy if mated to a man not in the father image. She may even be a little motherly toward her parents, although her attitude toward her mother is infinitely complex. While we almost never find any of the jealousy toward her which Freudians stress, there is, especially in these days of sudden emancipation from the conventions in vogue a generation ago, an unprecedented tension between mother and daughter, which may be reinforced if the former has failed to give certain instruction in life-problems. Thus, occasionally a girl’s devotion to her mother, if it is excessive, may be due to a blind instinct to compensate for thoughts and feelings toward her that she deems not truly filial; and if she has caught herself in a mood of hostility, she may overwhelm her mother with attentions that are embarrassing.
The outburst of growth in the earliest teens, which makes the average girl, for a very brief period, slightly taller and heavier than the boy (an increment which, in its maximal year, amounts to nearly three inches in height and ten or twelve pounds in weight), involves many sudden changes. The sudden upthrust that brings her to the level of grown-ups, and sometimes enables the girl of fifteen or sixteen (she will never be a third of an inch taller than she is on her seventeenth birthday) to look down upon her mother, causes her to be taken for older than she is, and may give her some sense of insufficiency in the new relationships to adults thus thrust upon her. She feels her height , perhaps awkwardly, and must affect the ways of young womanhood when she is yet a child in heart and mind. Perhaps she does not assert her height, and tends to stoop a little, impairing the development of vital organs. It is curious, by the way, to note that, like plants, she grows tall fastest in the spring, and gains in weight and thickness most in the autumn, and that growth in the latter dimension, which comes a trifle later, is not infrequently lost in this country and England, giving us the slender Gibson type.
At the same time, her mental development is by leaps and bounds. She matures more now in one year than she will in five during the twenties, or in ten in later years. In this development she still further distances boys. This has the curious result of narrowing the agescale of her intimacies. She has little use for girls of less psychological age, and is never less sympathetic with young children and babies; and on entering high school, she not only lays aside many former interests, but even ‘cuts’ those who persist in certain games and occupations quite permissible for eighthand ninth-graders. As she draws more closely to those in her own stage, she lessens vital contact with those a little older, unless she has a ‘crush’ for some upper-class individual. Hence the sharp demarcations through secondary and academic grades.
Thus despite the uniformitizing effect of fashions, the contagion of fads, and the intense imitativeness of this stage, individuality is being developed, and the new and ostensive assertiveness has in it the promise and potency of a new and truer womanhood. In all the long struggle for emancipation, sometimes called the war of sex against sex, woman has, and perhaps necessarily, laid aside for the time some of her most distinctive traits, and competed with man along his own lines, and has perhaps grown thereby a trifle masculine. But true progress demands that sex-distinctions be pushed to the uttermost, and that women become more feminine and men more virile. This need modem feminism has failed to recognize; but it is just this which flapperdom is now asserting. These girls not only accept, but glory in, their sex as such, and are giving free course to its native impulses. They may be the leaders in the complete emancipation of woman from the standards man has made for her. Up to this age our Binet-Simon tests can grade and mark, at least for intelligence, but here they baulk, stammer, and diverge.
The flapper’s new sophistication is thus superficial. Her new self-consciousness is really naive, and in her affectations she is simply trying out all the assortments of temperamental types, dispositions, and traits of character, as she often tries out styles of handwriting before she settles upon one. This is all because hers is the most vital and most rapidly developing psyche in all the world. The evolutionary stages of flapperdom are so many, and they succeed each other so fast, and are so telescoped together that we cannot yet determine the order of their sequence, and all my glimpses are only random snapshots of the wonderful quadrennium, the first four teens.
She accepts the confirmation, and perhaps even the conversion, that the church prescribes; but her heart is set on this world and not on the next. She conforms with more interest to the ‘coming-out’ customs of society; but these are now much belated, for in all essentials she came out unaided, and the age of her legal majority she deems too late. Once it was commonly held that, those who were precocious would become blase later; but if there ever was danger here, it exists no longer. In fact., civilization itself, and all our hope that, mankind may at tain superhumanity, depends on the prolongat ion, enrichment, and safeguarding of the interval between pubescence and ripe nubility.
What, a reversal of ancient and traditional mores it would be if the flapper, long repressed by so many taboos, were now to become the pioneer and leader of her sex to a new dispensation, and to give to the world its very best illustration of the trite but pregnant slogan. Das ewig Weibliche sieht uns hinan. She has already set fashions in attire, and even in manners, some of which her elders have copied, and have found not. only sensible, but rejuvenating. Underneath the mannish ways which she sometimes affects, she really vaunts her femininity, and her exuberance gives it a new charm. The new liberties she takes with life are contagious, and make us wonder anew whether we have not all been servile to precedent, and slaves to institutions that need to be refitted to human nature, and whether the flapper may not, after all, be the bud of a new and better womanhood.