Challenging the Norm: Feminism & Smoking Cigars

Challenging the Norm: Feminism & Smoking Cigars

FREEDOM. LIBERATION. EQUALITY. 

It comes as no surprise that smoking Cuban cigars have long been associated with men. With famous male figures such as Fidel Castro and Winston Churchill, it's no wonder the connection between women and smoking has been considered quite precarious. But it hasn't always been that way. The original Mayan people who called it the 'sikar' allowed both males and females to enjoy the pleasure of smoking. So, how come when it arrived on European shores – did it become taboo? To pay homage to International Women's History Month, this article will narrate the significant history between feminism and smoking cigars.

"AN UNACCEPTABLE CUSTOM"

Though the practice of smoking was acceptable for ancient Mayan women, it did not translate over to Western society. From the 15th to the 19th century, smoking was seen as an immoral and inappropriate activity for women, to the point that many people associated tobacco as a prop for prostitutes. Smoking was so widely unacceptable that some U.S. states enforced laws to prevent women from smoking, as far as banishing women from cigar parlours. Notably, in 1904,  Jennie Lasher was sentenced to thirty days in jail for smoking in the presence of her children, and therefore, "putting her child's morals at risk". It wasn't long before in 1908; New York City passed an ordinance that forbade women smoking in public. As you would imagine, this led to many women to smoke in the privacy of their own homes or secret clubs. For many women smokers today, it simply seems unimaginable not being to whip out a Cohiba Panetelas or Trinidad Fundadores Cigar in public, that demonstrates how far gender equality has come.

Left: A member of the Young Women's Republican Club; Top Right: George Sands wearing a masculine outfit; Bottom Right: Illustration of what a reverse-role society would look like (By Harry Grant Dart)

 

"IF MEN CAN TAKE IT, SO CAN WE"

During the 19th-20th century, a time of conflict and changing perceptions, there were many women who fought for equality of the gender – whether that's obtaining the right to vote or being able to smoke in public. These individuals brought the very first wave of feminists, who bravely fought for their political and social rights.

GEORGE SAND – One of the most significant women that fought against gender inequality was the famous 19th Century French author George Sand or Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupine. Sand famously took a man's name to get her work published in a male-dominated world. She would also often wear men's trousers, trench coats and neckties, all while smoking several Cuban cigars within a day. She wasn't afraid to display her smoking habit in front of people, despite any shock reactions she would receive. Sand is such an iconic figure for female smokers that her name was perpetuated by the largest women's cigar-smoking society in the United States.

TORCHES OF FREEDOM –  There were groups of women, at around the early 20th century, who decided enough was enough. Keep in mind, at this time, women could not vote for elections, nor were they seen as equals to men. Edward Bernays, also known as the 'Father of Public Relations' was an ally to these women who desired to smoke. He encouraged women to fight against these views and smoke in public despite social taboos. So, in 1929, he famously hired women to march during the Easter Sunday Parade, all while smoking their 'torches of freedom', or in other words, their cigars. Smoking was suddenly a liberating activity that fought against the social norm.

YOUNG WOMEN'S REPUBLICAN CLUB – On the evening of May 20 1941, the members of the Young Women's Republican of Milford, Connecticut gathered to indulge in "masculine enjoyments' '. The young women gathered to enjoy games of poker, wrestling matches and of course, indulge themselves in an evening smoking countless amounts of tobacco. Men were left confused by this event, but nevertheless, left a lasting impression. The reasoning for the event, as one woman quotes "If men can take it, so can we" as the room engulfed in a cloud of thick smoke. This event was held just before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, when the world was thrown into a World War and roles shifted dramatically. Women were suddenly expected to enter the labour workforce and help out with the conflict.

YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY BABY – In the 60s, one of the most prominent ads for tobacco was that of Virginia Slims – a cigarette brand that emphasised the liberating rhetoric that women have "come along" way. This company made significantly changed the perceptions of smoking on women and had led many of them to try smoking themselves. Viewed as empowering, it featured anecdotes about women in the early 20th century who were punished for being caught smoking, usually by their husbands or other men.

Thanks to the shamelessness of these groups and individuals, it has helped paved the way for the modern female aficionados to smoke as freely as they wish, without the judgements of men and society. For more fascinating cigar-related articles, head over to our Cigar Blog: