Women, War, and Revolution

Women, War, and Revolution

Women, War, and Revolution

Women, War, and Revolution

Excerpt

The three essays in this section deal neither with wartime heroics nor with women as individual contributors in national crises. In part, the decision not to focus on this type of women's activism reflects the maturation of our field of inquiry. For, after almost a decade of scholarship in women's history, the patriotic contribution of women in wars and revolutions is a twice-told tale. Such portraits of women martyrs, soldiers, propagandists, and patriots have often marked the birth of women's history within a national specialty. They served to rectify those sins of omission in traditional accounts of wars and revolutionary efforts, and, thus, to educate scholars and lay people alike. They raise consciousness, promote pride, and restore a fullness to the historical event. But such studies of activism and heroism are often descriptive rather than analytical, and valuable as they remain, they reinforce a sense that women deserve notice only when they are active and heroic. The implicit contrast is to a passive, nonpolitical, timid sex--and thus praise is built upon disdain.

The scholars contributing to this section approach women's mobilization and participation from a very different perspective, and a provocative one. Although their specific topics range from the French Revolution to World War II, they share a unifying theme: each asks what expectations were raised in women by the exigencies of war and revolution; what were the explicit promises made by the leadership who sought their cooperation, or by the ideology they were asked to embrace; and, finally, what were the implicit promises of the transformations at work during these national crises? Discovering, isolating, and clarifying these expectations and evaluating the extent to which they were realized are the tasks these scholars have set for themselves. Each essay documents the remarkable fluidity of circumstances and the innovative quality of the experience that characterized these national crises; yet each also attests to the resiliency of traditional roles and structures and to the fragility of egalitarian reform. It is within this contradiction between the promise of change and the restoration of tradition that the experience of women is to be located.

In Women of the Popular Classes in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1795, Levy andApplewhite trace the growing sophistication and institutionalization of political activism among the lower-class women of eighteenth-century Paris. The Revolution carries these women from a "subsistence mentality" to an identity as "participating citizens"; the former a political consciousness appropriate to the paternalism of monarchical France, the latter a response to the egalitarian possibilities in the years 1789-1795. Levy and Applewhite . . .

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