Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Every Head Was Bobbed": Anti-Tourism, the Identity Market, and Women on the Road in the 1920s

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

"Every Head Was Bobbed": Anti-Tourism, the Identity Market, and Women on the Road in the 1920s

Article excerpt

In the years following World War I, America's preoccupation with individuality and self-definition became increasingly powerful as the nation became increasingly standardized with the transition to a modern consumer society As technology and geographic accessibility grew, opportunities for authentic adventure appeared to contract. The effects of these shifts can be seen in the leisure practices, lifestyles, and social attitudes of the time, including in travel culture. Travel was a particularly important activity for many women who sought release from the confines of socially legitimated spaces and activities. Travel, more than any of the other opportunities offered to the modern woman, promised to free her not only from the literal home and hearth, but also from the very prescriptive identities that they ensured. Travel offered the modern woman opportunities for escape from the identity options marketed to women in modern America. At the same time, "traveler" easily became just one more such identity option for women, and one that was inextricably bound up with relations of production and consumption. Furthermore, many people in the United States were finding exactly this same appeal in the journey, and the discerning woman who hoped to define herself as an adventurer had to find a way to distinguish herself from these masses as well.

In this essay I explore the contradictory pressures on the female subject during this period and consider the ways that women used travel and writing to cope with the untenable prospects for achieving coherent identities and agency within their culture. I argue that at points these texts demonstrate partial awareness of the relationships between production, consumption, and the peculiarities of American subject formation. In addition, I examine the ways these travelers made sense of and resisted the performance of specific identity options for women of this new era, including the homemaker; the citizen-consumer; the feminist; and most important for this study the tourist. They sought instead to premise their agency on mobility and their identities on established Western traditions of the adventurer.

The three primary texts considered here narrate domestic journeys: specifically they are early transcontinental road narratives undertaken by groups of single female friends. Winifred Hawkridge Dixons Westward Hoboes (1930) narrates the journey of a 1921 trip from the East Coast through the Southwest taken with her female companion, Toby. Dixon describes the culture and history of the locales that they move through, largely focusing on the rural and wild regions of the West. Maria Letitia Stocketts America: First, Fast, and Furious (1930) is an irreverent and entertaining road narrative that tells the story of three college "girls" leaving Wellesley in pursuit of beachy Santa Barbara in 1928. The self-assured tone of Stockett s narrative offers a particularly interesting opportunity to consider one formulation of the white, educated, modern-woman identity. Beth O 'Shea s A Long Way from Boston (1946) follows two young, white travelers, Beth and Kit, as they work their way across the country in 1922 doing odd jobs ranging from grape picking to movie-magazine writing.

All these women clearly resist the consumer-traveler identity that the blossoming tourism industry marketed to them and instead attempt to rewrite the modern female traveling subject within traditional narratives of spiritual, intellectual, and personal development trajectories. They are all middle-class white women who lived in eastern cities. Their narratives clearly reflect their dissatisfactions with the conventions of gender that were dominant within those cities, even as these cities were themselves spaces undergoing significant cultural transformation that provided a fuller range of socially recognized identity options for respectable women than ever before. As these narratives suggest, the "new" options were not without their problems, including the new forms of surveillance and regulation they brought with them. …

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