Women's Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War

Women's Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War

by Susan R. Grayzel

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There are few moments in history when the division between the sexes seems as "natural" as during wartime: men go off to the "war front," while women stay behind on the "home front." But the very notion of the home front was an invention of the First World War, when, for the first time, "home" and "domestic" became adjectives that modified the military term "front." Such an innovation acknowledged the significant and presumably new contributions of civilians, especially women, to the war effort.

Yet, as Susan Grayzel argues, throughout the war, traditional notions of masculinity and femininity survived, primarily through the maintenance of--and indeed reemphasis on--soldiering and mothering as the core of gender and national identities. Drawing on sources that range from popular fiction and war memorials to newspapers and legislative debates, Grayzel analyzes the effects of World War I on ideas about civic participation, national service, morality, sexuality, and identity in wartime Britain and France. Despite the appearance of enormous challenges to gender roles due to the upheavals of war, the forces of stability prevailed, she says, demonstrating the Western European gender system's remarkable resilience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469620817
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/19/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 822,878
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Susan R. Grayzel is associate professor of history at the University of Mississippi.

Table of Contents


Brief Chronology of the First World War
Introduction: Women's Identities and Modern War
Chapter 1. Defining the Geography of War: Configuring the Boundaries between the Fronts
Chapter 2. The Maternal Body as Battlefield: Rape, Gender, and National Identity
Chapter 3. Promoting Motherhood and Regulating Women: Women's Labor and the Nation
Chapter 4. Women's Wild Oats: Sexuality and the Social Order
Chapter 5. Feminism on Trial: Women's Dissent and the Politics of Peace
Chapter 6. National Service and National Sacrifice: Civic Participation, Gender, and National Identity
Chapter 7. Public Spaces and Private Grief: Assessing the Legacy of War
Selected Bibliography


The cover illustration from Jeanne Landre's L'école des marraines (1917)
Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster issued after the Scarborough Air Raids
"To the Women of Britain," Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster
"Women of Britain Say—'Go!'" Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster
"The French Woman during the War," poster
"To Return to Us Entirely the Gentle Earth of France," poster
Photo of Hélène Brion that appeared on the front page of Le Matin
Two different versions of "militancy" that appeared in The Bystander
Photo of a woman in uniform giving up her seat on a bus that appeared in the 6 February 1918 edition of The Bystander
Port Sunlight War Memorial, Liverpool
Memorial at St. Annes-on-the-Sea
Mother and child on the memorial at St. Annes-on-the-Sea
Péronne War Memorial

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

This book will be essential reading in the social and cultural history of the First World War. Grayzel has made us think again about fundamental questions of the links between front and home front, about women's work, and about the trajectories of mourning in a society devastated by the first total war in history. Refreshingly comparative in scope, the book shows how the Great War was inscribed on the bodies and the lives of millions of ordinary people in France and Britain.—Jay Winter, Cambridge University

Grayzel has entered into the fray with a genuinely fresh and original volume which should be required reading for teachers and students considering the impact of war on 'society' in general, and on gender roles in particular. . . . This is an excellent, well-argued text, and an immensely valuable contribution to the continuing debate about war and society.—History: Journal of the Historical Association

With great sensitivity, Grayzel uncovers how women's emotions as well as their bodies were mobilized and deployed in an era of total war. Pathbreaking in its recognition of the intensity of many women's patriotism, this is cultural history on a high level.—Susan Pedersen, Harvard University

This engaging book questions how the experience of World War I reshaped women's identities in Britain and France.—Iris

This complex study. . . . is one of the few comparative studies of gender and war. . . . A provocative and worthwhile [book] and a welcome addition to the growing literature on women and war.—Journal of Military History

A wide-ranging cultural history of women in Britain and France during the first world war. . . . One of the most compelling aspects of Grayzel's wide-ranging work is the comparative aspect, the dual focus drawing out some fascinating similarities and differences between construction of a feminine identity in occupied and non-occupied nations.—Journal of Contemporary History

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