Womens roles in World War I were limited because of the gender roles constructed in society at the time. In support of this, Janet Lee, who wrote The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry provides information on womens roles around the time of World War I and demonstrates the stereotypes that were present. Lee says that at the end of the nineteenth century women were considered passive, submissive, emotional, and self-sacrificing which led to their assumed inferiority at the time (Lee 144).
Another scholar, Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, who wrote New Women in Early Twentieth Century, talks about the various female identities and how they changed with the progression of womens movements. Fox describes that by the turn of the nineteenth century, womens movements began to grow, including the rise of the Gibson Girl. The Gibson girl was a new image of female identity. This idealistic, slim, white woman, was often depicted engaging in leisure activities such as sports, or other outdoor activities. This was an improvement in the image of women at the time because it gave them more freedoms which allowed for the possibility that their long held domestic images were malleable after all. This newfound identity would pave the path for women to transform what women might negotiate for themselves as they sought to enter the public world (Lee 140).
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With the onset of World War I, men leaving for war left job positions open to be filled by women. With this, women were able to take on more positions in the homefront while simultaneously allowing for an expansion of roles in the military, through ideals of womanhood and women’s unique nurturing and civilising qualities [which] supported claims for equality and civil rights (Vining and Hacker 335). Women were able to take on roles of care in the war as ambulance drivers and nurses, which is depicted in Radclyffe Halls short story Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself (1934). Additionally, some women who werent able to take on these roles instead supported the war effort in a different way, as is illustrated in I Sit and I Sew (1918) by Alice Moore Dunbar- Nelson.
Even though this progression seemed to be a major advancement for women, men would not relinquish the power they held in society. Men had long held the positions of control and were able to make most of the decisions surrounding laws that worked to maintain their power. The state, composed of majority of men, did not want to allow women to enter the war because it would send a message that they were acknowledging womens rights as citizens, and therefore their ability to make decisions that would affect all of society. Considering the stigma that women were passive and emotional they were certainly not seen fit to make these types of decisions.
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