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As women increased in their confidence and sense of empowerment, so too did some men’s active antagonism of this confidence.Not only was their antagonistic attack of women political, but the language used by men towards women was belittling and infantilizing, even (or especially) towards those men keenly loved.The sacrifices of women on the front are portrayed as being minimized, or even seen as a threat, by male politicians.
Although men seemed to be threatened by the emerging female workforce during the course of WWI, in fact, women’s involvement in the industrial workforce was not actually very different prior to the war in contrast to during the war.
One statistic indicates that there was only a 6% increase in women in the industrial workforce from 1911-1914 (“Women as percentage of the industrial workforce in France, 1911–1926”) .
Each of the World Wars acted as a catalyst for women’s rights and roles in society.
In WWI, many women were asked to take on traditionally male roles in order to support the war industry and to keep up production of other goods and services that typically were considered in a man’s domain.
Women were clearly already involved and motivated to work, either out of desire or necessity.
Post-war pushback from men generally, and male politician’s specifically, that claimed women needed to return home, was obviously rooted in a bias that insisted women act only within their roles as wife and mother.During the war, British men who were on the front also indicated their anxiety about the perceived shift in women’s interest in typically male-dominated work; for instance, Private G. Wilby writes to his fiance: “don’t develop into one of those ‘things’ that are doing men’s work...don’t spoil yourself by carrying on with a man’s work.” Hearkening back to the elevated image of Queen Victoria as an angel in the home, Private Wilby’s letter represents a broad societal expectation that women be untarnished by “men’s” work or concerns.However, this bias did not take into account the reality of lower class women already working in hard labour jobs out of necessity.Private Wilby pleads with his fiancee that she remain the “same loveable little woman that I left behind” with the same “womanly little ways and nature.” Within the context of time period this type of language — “little woman” and “womanly little ways” — may have been common.However, it strongly indicates a belief that men considered women to be a kind of sweet “thing,” like a baby or a fine object. In a more political document, Paul von Hindenburg, Chief of the German General Staff, writes of women’s agitation for rights.At the turn of the 19th century, many British women were in the conceptual phase of imagining themselves in roles extending beyond the home.Many bowed to social expectations to admire and mimic their Queen.It is evident that women were expected to remain submissive and supportive, feminine and nurturing.Many men at the time concluded that women had neither the mental capability or social responsibility to participate in politics.The resistance to women’s political rights was rooted, therefore, in a misogynist bias against women’s participation outside the home and men’s inherent right to be in charge.Bias against women in the workforce was often based on misperceptions, or a fabricated idea about what a woman “shouldn’t” be.