Negotiating modernity and tradition: newspaper debates on the ‘modern girl’ in the Irish Free State

Ryan, Louise (1998) Negotiating modernity and tradition: newspaper debates on the ‘modern girl’ in the Irish Free State. Journal of Gender Studies, 7 (2) . pp. 181-197. ISSN 0958-9236 [Article] (doi:10.1080/09589236.1998.9960711)


In the newly created Irish Free State the role of women Provoked concerns among politicians, priests and the press, lit particular, the 'modern girl' with her knee-length dresses and shingled hair came to epitomise the extremes of modern living. This paper examines the debates about the Irish modern girl in the context of nation-building in the aftermath of colonialism. While nationalist discourses frequently represent women as symbols of idealised motherhood, I argue that it is equally important to consider nationalist representations of 'evil', 'deviant' women. Such negative representations necessitate male control and authority over women, not only to 'protect' the nation but also to 'protect' women from their own base instincts. Although locating my analysis within the specificity of the Irish context, I suggest that rather than merely seeing the Irish case as unique or idiosyncratic it may be useful to draw on feminist analyses cross culturally.
My discussion focuses on a case study of the three main newspapers in the Irish Free State during the mid-1920s, the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Cork Examiner. These newspapers are useful in offering a 'narrative of the nation' and contributing to the definition of an appropriate post-colonial national identity.
The 'modern girl' appears as a contested symbol. For some she represented freedom, independence and modern lifestyles, while for others the modern girl represented a threat to tradition, morality and the virtues of Irish women and the Irish nation. The Irish newspapers illustrate the various negotiations around this apparent dichotomy of modernity vs tradition.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Law
A. > School of Law > Criminology and Sociology
A. > School of Law > Social Policy Research Centre
ISI Impact: 8
Item ID: 3627
Depositing User: Repository team
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2010 10:29
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2017 15:44

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