Sandi E. Cooper examined the experiences of women in European countries during World War I through the “normalizing” period after World War II. Her main argument focused on the transformation of gender roles for women during that time which created a changed that never returned to “normal.” As the men went off to fight in the wars, women were expected to take the place of male workers in society and continue the motherly duties they had been performing for years. Cooper called the war’s effect on gender roles “the quintessential breakdown of patriarchal law and order” (441). The patriarchal society was thrown into the blender with women taking on roles once classified for men. Such was the case in France during World War I where employment regulations for women were loosened and they answered the call to work (443). During World War II, European women worked in military and auxiliary positions which included spies, assassinators, and parachuters (452).
Once the wars had ended, women were expected to forgo the advancement they had experienced and return to the home. Cooper stated, “In wartime, women could do anything; in peacetime, they had to climb back on the pedestal, descending only to keep the house clean” (456). However, these two wars had a lasting impact that helped shape gender roles to how we know them today.
This article emphasized the breakdown of socially constructed gender roles during the war, but also showed that war affected almost every theme that we are studying this semester:
- Marriage & family: women in some countries were to repopulate for the needs of the state rather than their own families
- Employment & work: many women worked outside of the home in positions once held by men; they lost many of these jobs after the wars
- Citizenship: women led war protests and women activists put peace into their platforms
- Categories of difference: women in war-touched countries had vastly different experiences than those untouched by war