We hear a lot of talk about how technology messes with our privacy – our social lives and our sex lives.
Last week we discussed courtly love in the middle ages and saw how nobles had private affairs – famously played out for the ages.
But what of courtship in the 20th century? How did big inventions like the car affect us?… At the time, many said this ‘brothel on wheels’ was terrible for our much loved privacy and social segregation.
Even the very idea of privacy didn’t really appear until the 1800’s. But by the 1890’s it had worked its way into American culture, when it was fashionable for courting men to call on the family home where its badge of honor – privacy – could be found. Meanwhile, despite the illusion of privacy, bourgeois parents hovered over their children sitting in the front parlor even more, using their veto power to preserve the family honor.
Check out some of the styles of the Mauve decade.
All this honor-preserving led to some serious boredom. In the Gay Nineties, the new bohemians ventured out into the city, just like the poor folks, discovering and establishing their own private spaces on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. They felt more privacy among strangers from other classes than in their own parents’ homes – and the leisure class played on in the ‘mauve’ decade, literally inventing the idea of the date. This not only meant escaping all of that chaperoning but also getting away from the watchful female sphere and out into the male sphere. Bourgeois mothers lost control over the whole thing.
Then came the tipping point – the automobile.
In the Jazz Age, going out on dates in an expensive car turned courtship into dating – driven by cash. For hipsters in the 1920s, the car had actually become a ‘brothel on wheels’ as women became more and more commodified. And while Americans have certainly had a lot of backseat sex in the 20th century, the car can’t be targeted as purely negative technology. It is a private space for social change. The leisure class had already been dodging their parents for years, sneaking out at night and hooking up with working-class youth out on the prowl. Their cars just gave them a little privacy to do it.
Learn more on HistoryToday about sex and the automobile in the jazz age.