European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview

9
Feminism Under Fire

World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Great Backlash, 1914-1930s

When war broke out on the European continent in early August 1914, it halted the momentum of the burgeoning international women's movement, just as it derailed the now betterknown socialist workers' movement. Most feminists in France, England, and other European countries placed their suffrage efforts on hold. Few remained as intransigent as the women of the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL), who resisted strenuously: 1

The European war has done nothing to alter our condition of slavery. It has only served to make us realise more deeply and poignantly than ever the utter helplessness and defenselessness of our position as political outcasts in attempting to stem the tide of masculine aggression and brute force.


FEMINIST DILEMMAS: LOYALTY TO THE NATION? OR OPPOSITION TO THE WAR?

At the outset of the war, when it was a question of rallying round the flag, individuals who identified with their countries found it exceedingly difficult to resist the enthusiasm for war. Patriotic outrage and eagerness for decisive action even infected many feminists, who devoted themselves conspicuously to the patriotic effort, perhaps with an eye to "earning" or "being rewarded by" the vote. This was initially true for women in Belgium and France, the countries invaded by the German army, and for their British allies. In parallel with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and Millicent Garrett Fawcett in England, Cécile Brunschvicg and Marguerite Durand (the latter closely associated with the French prime minister René Viviani) called on feminists in France to support the Allied war effort. Gertrud Bäumer, president of the BDF ( Fed

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