The Passivity of Women in Fascist Society – Andrew Devenish

In Francoist Spain, as in Nazi Germany, there was a specific kind of woman that was socially acceptable and a specific role for women that was promoted by the state. Both societies encouraged women to focus their energy on keeping a household, nursing, and supporting the male soldiers, or male population in general. The proper, acceptable woman was the woman who did not venture outside of these defined gender roles. Nazi Germany banned women from practicing law and discouraged them from seeking out traditionally male professions, lauding women as heroes for having many children. According to Lopez and Sanchez, official Francoist propaganda stated during the Spanish Civil War that women were helping the war effort by “carrying out… nursing, charity and social services, sewing clothes, writing loving yet chaste letters to the soldiers, keeping the home warm and orderly for the moment that men should return victorious”. Although many women did take a more active role in supporting the Nationalist cause, and there were prominent women in Nazi Germany who did not strictly adhere to the state-supported gender roles, the official messaging of these fascist societies explicitly promoted traditional gender roles and minimized the more active parts women might have played in these societies.

But it wasn’t just the official propaganda that pushed this message. Many who look back on these societies, including historians, tend to do the same thing. Lower points out in her book that the history that she is writing has been barely touched on by other historians, and the number of women who actively participated in Nazi society and enabled genocide is most likely far higher than previous estimates. In the postwar period when Allied prosecutors investigated crimes committed in Nazi-controlled territories, women were scarcely prosecuted or investigated, and only a few were ever indicted. The same is true of Francoist Spain. Lopez and Sanchez say that many studies and books written about this time period in Spain also minimize the role that women took in supporting Nationalist causes, especially in regard to the Auxilio Azul Maria Paz. There is a widespread tendency, both by contemporaries and those looking back, to minimize and undermine the roles that women took in fascist societies. In these societies themselves, a passive role for women is officially promoted, and when looking back at them, what active roles they may have had are minimized or overlooked.

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