Contemporary European History

Article excerpt

(Theme Issue: Gender and War in Europe c. 1918-1949), Vol. 10, Part 3, November 2001.

Gender and War in Europe c. 1918-1949

"Certain things go inevitably with war and are war. The main thing is fighting, winning, killing and being killed, being masculine and aggressive and abnormally vigorous, violent and physical." (p. 346) Thus Mary Vincent, one of the editors of this journal, begins her introduction to a special theme issue devoted to gender and war in the 20th Century. This anonymous comment by a member of Britain's Mass Observation team, April 1940, demonstrates the degree to which theorists and the general public perceived war as a masculine domain. So accordingly, peace must be feminine. But it is quite clear that the path of patriotic service appealed to more women that that of pacifism. The articles in this collection show that there exists no common wartime experience for women, or men for that matter, by revealing the diversity of individual experience in wartime.

Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining in From Camp Follower to Lady in Uniform: Women, Social Class, and Military Institutions before 1920 argue that uniforms served as visible statements of their patriotism and national pride in the United States. While still serving in traditional roles, through the wearing of uniforms as members of voluntary organizations women could be identified with the same principles of military order and discipline as men. Jo Vellacott looks at aspirations and achievements of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919-1929. Vellacott considers how these women saw their pacifism as integral to their feminism, although it frequently took them our of gender stereotypes, particularly in their insistence on moving into that most exclusive male domain, international relations. Michael Richards focuses on defeated women during the Spanish Civil War and their treatment by male psychiatrists. He suggests that the entire process of crime and punishment was gendered as well as politicized. Certain types of offences were associated with women, while some punishments were reserved for them. Both medical science and Catholic doctrine were exploited in declaring the indissolubility of gendered morality. Luc Capdevila in The Quest for Masculinity in a Defeated France, 1940-1945 provides a psychologically sophisticated analysis of the individuals who joined Vichy fighting units at the end of the German occupation. While anti-communism may have played a role the author argues that their behaviour was shaped by an image of masculinity rooted in the memory of the First World War and fascist and Nazi ideologies: a manhood based upon strength, the violence of warfare and the image of the soldier. But the extreme fragility of this masculine identity led to the male backlash and reassertion of control over women's bodies as reflected in the harsh shaving of the heads of thousands of women accused of being collaborators. …