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The Consistency of War and Post-War Gendered Experiences, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1087

Essay

The gendered experiences of war can be said to have shaped interwar politics and society, insofar as the particular gender roles that were apparent during war-time remained in play in the post-war period. Typical gender identities, such as the role of women as mothers and bearers of children – a common motif in times of war – carried on into the post-war period, for example, in France. Whereas exceptions to this notion exist, most notably in the Soviet Union with its legalization of abortion, Western ideologies and discourses remained content with perpetuating the individual subjectivity of woman as mother. The fact that the Soviet Union moved away from such a conception of women demonstrates that the gendered identities of women, for example, in France, are wholly social constructs: it is the society that decides which roles “genders” shall perform in the post-war period and in the social arena in general.

The wartime conception of women as producers of children continued into the post-war period within France. The French public discourse maintained an explicit idea of what roles women should play and enacted policies that would help support this viewpoint. Hence, The French Decree Establishing Medals for Mothers of 1920 construed that the most valuable function women could play in society was to bear children. This task, moreover, was lucidly tied to notions of war, such as victory, such that it could be stated that the gender identities of the war were homogeneous with those of the post-war period. Hence, in the decree, it is explicitly stated that “the raising of the birthrate, which our country must undertake in order to retain the rank in which victory has placed us and to permit us to harvest all its fruits, is above all a moral questing.” (308) The victory of France in the First World War identifies, for the dominant French political class, a necessity to remain in this hegemonic position within Europe. The conclusion as to how to maintain this hegemony is closely tied to perpetuating gender roles. The decision to reward mothers with a medal – a traditional military honor – demonstrates the close connection between sexuality and the conception of war: the role of mother is a role that corresponds to the gendered subjectivity of the man as warrior. It is exactly these categories that are necessary to maintain, so as to ensure France’s continued geopolitical status.

These roles were thus viewed as the norm, as any other forms of gendered subjectivity were rejected by the mainstream social discourse. Hence, Colette’s critique of French lesbian culture as a fill-in for the maternal role (Dean, 293), is an explicit example of such a viewpoint towards what are proper and improper forms of sexuality and gender. The dominant discourse advances a unique discourse about gender, in which alternatives are disregarded. This particular discourse emphasizes forms of sexuality that are typically associated with war, but nevertheless carried over into the post-war period.

The “Loi de 31 Julliet 1920” furthermore underscores this approach within French politics. The heavy fines dictated against abortion were as follows: “A sentence of six months to three years in prison and a fine of one hundred to three thousand francs will be levied against any person who advocates the crime of abortion.” (309) This marks a crucial moment in French political organization, insofar as it viewed the bodies of its citizens as instruments to be controlled by the state. Hence, the intimate act of female reproduction is stripped of its intimacy: with the heavy criminal penalties against abortion, female reproduction is essentially viewed as a reproduction of the state and the political mechanism itself. The allowance of abortion would therefore be a transgression of the very gender identities which the social construct had created. Abortion is a clear alternative to the notion that the woman fulfills her highest social function with the bearing of children: abortion is essentially a critique of gendered subjectivities that are imposed from an exterior force.

Such a viewpoint, however, was not merely exclusive to the political sphere, as French filmmakers emphasized the close relationship between femininity and reproduction, depicting women who oppose this affinity as social outcasts. (Koos, 2009, p. 4) Gender roles were not only shaped by the political, but by the entire social sphere, thus demonstrating the deep rooted nature of this thinking in the French consciousness. Manipulation of the female body according to various gender ideologies became a prominent feature not only of the law, but even art – a medium which historically has been critical of dominant ideologies – played a role in attempting to maintain this same ideology.

Accordingly, the gendered experiences of war in a country such as France, as the primary sources indicate, remained thoroughly present in the post-war period. The end of the war did not mark a radical shift in how gender identities were conceived, but rather indicated a homogeneity in this same conception. This is arguably because of France’s victory in the war. Their success in the war became a certain support for the social structures that had existed during the time of this victory. In consequence, it was deemed “natural” for the dominant political ideology and social discourse to continue to shape gender identities in the post-war period according to a similar construct. At the same time, the government also intervened in a very active manner in this shaping of gender identities. The heavy criminalization of abortion demonstrates the dominant social discourse’s horror at alternative conceptions of sexuality. Furthermore, even the reproductive process must come under the management of the state. The granting of medals to mother who bear children also evinces the close connection between gender roles of motherhood and war: the military honor of the medal given to a mother shows that the role of motherhood corresponds to the man’s role as warrior in times of war. Gendered experiences of war thus remained wholly present in the post-war period, insofar as these same gendered identities not only dominated the social structure of this period, but their perpetuation was also encouraged.

Works Cited

Dean, Carolyn J. “Lesbian Sexuality in Interwar France.” In M.J. Boxer (ed.), European  Women in a Globalizing World: 1500 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. pp. 289-295.

Koos, Cheryl A. The Good, The Bad, and the Childless: The Politics of Female Identity in Maternite (1929) and La Maternelle (1933)

“Loi de 31 Juillet 1920.” Women and the Politics of the Family. 1914-1950. pp. 309-310.

“The French Decree Establishing Medals for Mothers.” Women and the Politics of the  Family. 1914-1950. pp. 308-309.

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