The Modern Girl Around the World

Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization

The Modern Girl Around the World

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

More about this series

Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 132 illustrations Published: December 2008

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > World History

During the 1920s and 1930s, in cities from Beijing to Bombay, Tokyo to Berlin, Johannesburg to New York, the Modern Girl made her sometimes flashy, always fashionable appearance in city streets and cafes, in films, advertisements, and illustrated magazines. Modern Girls wore sexy clothes and high heels; they applied lipstick and other cosmetics. Dressed in provocative attire and in hot pursuit of romantic love, Modern Girls appeared on the surface to disregard the prescribed roles of dutiful daughter, wife, and mother. Contemporaries debated whether the Modern Girl was looking for sexual, economic, or political emancipation, or whether she was little more than an image, a hollow product of the emerging global commodity culture. The contributors to this collection track the Modern Girl as she emerged as a global phenomenon in the interwar period.

Scholars of history, women’s studies, literature, and cultural studies follow the Modern Girl around the world, analyzing her manifestations in Germany, Australia, China, Japan, France, India, the United States, Russia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Along the way, they demonstrate how the economic structures and cultural flows that shaped a particular form of modern femininity crossed national and imperial boundaries. In so doing, they highlight the gendered dynamics of interwar processes of racial formation, showing how images and ideas of the Modern Girl were used to shore up or critique nationalist and imperial agendas. A mix of collaborative and individually authored chapters, the volume concludes with commentaries by Kathy Peiss, Miriam Silverberg, and Timothy Burke.

Contributors: Davarian L. Baldwin, Tani E. Barlow, Timothy Burke, Liz Conor, Madeleine Yue Dong, Anne E. Gorsuch, Ruri Ito, Kathy Peiss, Uta G. Poiger, Priti Ramamurthy, Mary Louise Roberts, Barbara Sato, Miriam Silverberg, Lynn M. Thomas, Alys Eve Weinbaum


The Modern Girl Around the World provides a brilliant application of connective comparison to a field of study saturated with feminist readings and marginalized histories. . . . This sophisticated study provides not only an insightful reading into the image of the ‘modern girl’ in a global discourse, but also provides a valuable framework for future application to similar microhistorical approaches.” — Colleen Reilly, Journal of Popular Culture

The Modern Girl around the World, with its transnational and transdisciplinary approach and focus on representations of the Modern Girl and her related commodity flows, offers an important intervention in studies of gender and world history. As such, it is a valuable resource for use in the classroom and research. It will also interest scholars of fashion, visual and material culture, and mass media.” — Sonja Kim, Journal of World History

“[A] simply fabulous academic conjunction of history and cultural criticism. The trans-disciplinary reach of the historical analyses and the sustained intellectual dynamic informing and connecting each chapter makes this an enormously significant and fascinating body of work.” — Jonathan Zilberg, Leonardo Reviews

“Every essay in the book is of considerable value and quality . . . [and] are readable enough that any or all of them could be usefully incorporated into the classroom in upper-level undergraduate courses. . . . The Modern Girl around the World is certain to become an indispensable tool for researchers.” — Adam C. Stanley, H-German, H-Net Reviews

“[T]his is an innovative volume which demonstrates the benefits of collaboration and whose sophisticated global analyses will pose important challenges to scholars in the field.” — Adrian Bingham, Gender & History

“[W]onderfully accessible, and should be of interest to anyone interested in sociology, fashion, sexuality, and the development of the public image of women. . . . 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.” — Claire Burrows, Feminist Review blog

“Most of the different selections are extremely impressive in how they weave detailed source materials with original conceptual arguments. . . . All and all, this is a very important and entertaining work.” — Jeremy Rich, Canadian Journal of History

“The contribution that this fascinating volume makes is not, however, confined to producing evidence about the many ways in which women have been encouraged to think of themselves (and their bodies) in terms of highly prescriptive aspirations. The various essays about particular countries, as well as the more general essays that open and conclude the volume, demonstrate that the relationship between modernity and women and femininity is not just important, but essential.” — Mary Evans, Times Higher Education

“The culmination of collaborative work by the Modern Girl Around the World Research Group based at the University of Washington in Seattle and its Tokyo-based sister group, the Modern Girl and Colonial Modernity in East Asia, this volume offers the first comparative study of the Modern Girl that not only spans the globe, as indicated by its title (countries of study include the United States, France, South Africa, India, Soviet Russia, China, Australia, Japan, Germany), but also academic disciplines (literature, history, cultural studies, gender studies, political economy), As such, it is a valuable resource for use in the classroom and in research.” — Sonja Kim, Journal of World History

“The major contribution of this edited volume is the discovery of the modern girl as a global phenomenon. . . . The study provides nuanced analysis of how global commodity and cultural flows shaped modern femininity across geopolitical locations.” — Neelu Kang, Journal of Intercultural Studies

“The Modern Girl Around the World is its strongest when it helps to reveal the peculiar constitutiveness of modernity as both the opening of possibility (of agency, of new forms of womanhood) while simultaneously creating categories (such as the ruse of pure races) that misrepresent or render unrepresentable.” — Marites L. Mendoza, Frontiers of History in China

“This is an exceptional collection of essays and a fine example of the value of taking an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach. . . . In addition to the illustrations, the collection also has an extremely impressive bibliography which provides a valuable resource for students of the period. The bibliography also highlights the connections between the chapters, the thread pulling everything together, which makes this collection so unique and so ground-breaking. As a researcher of interwar culture myself, I know that this collection has added a great deal to my perspective and I cannot praise it highly enough.” — Fiona Irwin, Journal of Gender Studies

“This volume's eclectic collection of ‘modern girl’ types showcases that the modern girls were not simply frivolous consumers. . . . Alongside the emergence of a global consumer culture, it is likely this perspective that will intrigue teachers and practitioners of world history and validate the important contribution this volume makes to world history methods. For such a conclusion—that the modern girl was both aesthetic and political, signaling a new way of identifying the self—could only be drawn when placing the works of so many scholars on so many places alongside one another, as this volume does.”

— Kate Merkel-Hess, World History Connected

“Rarely do collections offer both a compelling object of study and a sophisticated, portable method emanating out of concrete historical particulars. In doing so, the Modern Girl Around the World Research Group models collective feminist critique even as it illuminates new intellectual pathways and raises questions about the uneven terrain of the global and the analytical power of ‘connective comparison’ that will find interlocutors across an array of scholarly projects.” — Antoinette Burton, author of The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau

“The study of the Modern Girl exemplified by this groundbreaking collection and research project will reconfigure the ways we understand modernity, globalization, gender, and consumption. This book is sorely needed.” — Caren Kaplan, co-editor of Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State

“This is a truly revelatory work of international scope. The authors' innovative collaborative method and their theory of ‘multidirectional citation’ provide exciting new points of departure for the global history of gender formation and of everything else besides.” — Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alys Eve Weinbaum is an Assistant Professor of English, University of Washington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. The Modern Girl as Heuristic Device: Collaboration, Connective Comparison, Multidirectional Citation / The Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (Alys Eve Weinbaum, Lynn M. Thomas, Priti Ramamurthy, Uta G. Poiger, Madeleine Y. Dong, and Tani E. Barlow) 1

2. The Modern Girl Around the World: Cosmetics Advertising and the Politics of Race and Style/ The Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (Alys Eve Weinbaum, Lynn M. Thomas, Priti Ramamurthy, Uta G. Poiger, Madeleine Y. Dong, and Tani E. Barlow) 25

3. From the Washtub to the World: Madam C. J. Walker and the "Re-creation" of Race Womanhood, 1900-1935 / Davarian L. Baldwin 55

4. Making the Modern Girl French: From New Woman to Éclaireuse / Mary Louise Roberts 77

5. The Modern Girl and Racial Respectability in 1930s South Africa / Lynn M. Thomas 96

6. Racial Masquerade: Consumption and Contestation of American Modernity / Alys Eve Weinbaum 120

7. All-Consuming Nationalism: The Indian Modern Girl in the 1920s and 1930s / Priti Ramamurthy 147

8. The Dance Class or the Working Class: The Soviet Modern Girl / Anne E. Gorsuch 174

9. Who Is Afraid of the Chinese Modern Girl? / Madeleine Y. Dong 194

10. "Blackfella Missus Too Much Proud": Techniques of Appearing, Femininity, and Race in Australian Modernity / Liz Conor 220

11. The "Modern Girl" Question in the Periphery of Empire: Colonial Modernity and Mobility among Okinawan Women in the 1920s and 1930s / Ruri Ito 240

12. Contesting Consumerisms in Mass Women's Magazines / Barbara Sato 263

13. Buying In: Advertising and the Sexy Modern Girl Icon in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s / Tani E. Barlow 288

14. Fantasies of Universality? Neue Frauen, Race, and Nation in Weimer and Nazi Germany / Uta G. Poiger 317

Concluding Commentaries

15. Girls Lean Back Everywhere / Kathy Peiss 347

16. After the Grand Tour: The Modern Girl, the New Woman, and the Colonial Maiden / Miriam Silverberg 354

17. The Modern Girl and Commodity Culture / Timothy Burke 362

Bibliography 371

Contributors 405

Index 409
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4305-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4299-1
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