It's International Women's Day, which got me thinking...
In the vintage community there is, by some, a lot of reflection on whether we glorify the era's we have an interest in. Our communities interests, in the 1940's especially, can sometimes come under scrutiny for being seen to be pro-war or anti feminist.
I found this amazing book a few months ago and it contained some really thought provoking messages from women's magazines in the 1940's and challenged the way I viewed the female experience of WW2 and the messages that were delivered to women at the time.
By: Jane Waller, Michael Vaughan Rees
So many people are of the opinion that people who appreciate the vintage scene are harping back to a time when a woman's place was in the home, that we want to be the weaker sex in 2017 and that we are anti the progress that has been made in the name of feminism.
But the above is insulting, not to us the 2017 enthusiast, but to the women of the 1940's, the hardships they faced, the progress they made and their ability to "pick their battles" at such a terrible period in history.
The extracts below are some of my favourite from the book:
An extract written by a female writer, Barbara Hedworth writing for Women's Own Magazine, reflects on the positive societal changes felt by women in such a challenging time.
"Wherever I go in these darkened days, everyone I meet seems to be like a new friend. That, in my opinion, is the silver lining of the heavy clouds of war. All human beings in this country have become equal. We are no longer individuals..."
Now of course history tells us that factually there was inequality, women were paid less for the same jobs for example but women of the era felt a shift in the way people responded to them. They felt equal, even if that wasn't really the case, and now was not the social, political or economic time for striking, that would obviously come later.
Women's magazines, as this book highlights, played a huge role in opening women's minds to such issues.
Women in the Home?
Rosita Forbes, writing from America for Women's Own, about the British female workforce noted
"In Britain just about seven women of every available eight are doing wholetime war jobs"
The idea of the perfect 1940's housewife is frankly laughable. Women had been "in the home" for many decades prior to WW2 but this was an awakening in terms of women in the workforce and undertaking jobs that were usually exclusively for men and a vast majority of women revelled in it.
Moral amongst women was remarkably high considering the climate, with this renewed sense of purpose. This actually took a dip in the 1950's when the women were expected to return to their previous social status. The idea of the housewife would be forever shifted and whilst change would not be immediate a lot of the proof in the pudding came from the necessity of the female worker in the 1940's.
No Allies for the Women?
Things were far from perfect for the female workforce in WW2 but one particular recognition of women as equals to their male counterparts was brought about by an intervention by Churchill himself
"But as the war stepped up women were allowed to volunteer for jobs which had hitherto been considered very unfeminine...however they were treated in a pettily separate way...these women gunners were not supposed to consider themselves part of the battery. Nor were they allowed to wear the badges to which their male comrades were entitled. It took a visit to a battery by Churchill himself to change this."
Empathy for the enemy?
Could the women of Britain be the key to empathy in the face of the atrocities on their doorsteps, this writer certainly seems to think so...
One of the more beautiful extracts from this book comes from a piece entitled "In Courage Keep Your Heart" by Storm Jameson
"In this war, when we look at our loved ones and dread for them the agony of an air raid, the thought springs into our minds that a woman in Germany is suffering precisely the same sharp terror.
It will not be easy, once we see death in our streets, not to hate. We must find some way of preventing it in ourselves. Not so much out of any hard and fast morality, but because hatred poisons the very life of the person who gives way to it, because it is impossible to hate another human without hating ourselves, since we are not different from other people.
A woman is not comforted by the death of her loved ones by punishing other women through theirs"
This passage can speak to as many women today as it did then, if we have the ability to recognise the experience of and sympathise with the hardships of fellow women across the globe we will be all the richer for it.
Happy International Women's Day.
Until Next Time