by Jackie Howell
Women’s participation in politics has been limited or unreported, as women tend to occupy positions outside the scope of analysis. Stereotypes like “women are not dangerous” or “women are peaceful” have led to omissions of women’s roles in history. Historians have also failed to include LGBTQ individuals in their historical analysis. This omission has painted an inaccurate picture of the participants in historical movements. Women have often have been relegated to secondary roles to men during World War II, civil rights movements, or diplomatic missions. What was the true impact of women’s participation in politics, and why did these women participate?
This week’s readings, particularly Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies, uncover the role women played in nationalist movements. Traditionally, historians reflected on women’s roles as subordinate to men. Women were depicted as the nurturing, motherly type, either caring for the wounded or children at home. Rarely were women depicted as dangerous in a military sense, as men (and historians) underestimated the extent of women’s participation. While historians have described women’s actions on the home front, they fail to analyze women’s participation in acts of war. Uncovering the gendered bias in historical analysis is a crucial step in illuminating the role that women can play in conflict and political movements.
This week’s readings target gender stereotypes in historical analysis, primarily focusing on how women participated in wars. Lower’s chapter, “The East Needs You,” discusses the four key roles that women played in the expansion of the Nazi regime: teachers, nurses, secretaries, and wives. Interestingly, secretaries and wives turned out to be the most murderous of the group, even though some nurses did participate in the murders of those with disabilities. Historians often underestimate women’s participation in a male-dominated ideology. This brings one to question the extent of women’s participation that has been unreported or missed. For example, the media depiction of the Capitol riots in January often focused on white men, as they seemed to form the majority. However, Women for Trump has gained popularity since 2016, and Europe’s far-right parties have increased their women supporters. The narrative that the far-right ideology is for “white men only” has seemingly been disproven.
Moreover, Rodriguez Lopez and Cazorla Sanchez point out that women failed to receive an equal punishment to their male counterparts, as women were rarely punished or executed. This failure to punish further perpetuates the narrative that women are not as dangerous or intelligent as men, which is still evident today. For example, a handful of women were arrested from the U.S. Capitol riots, and one woman was even granted permission to travel on a work-related trip to Mexico. This glaring act of (white) privilege further illustrates how (white) women are punished differently due to their portrayal as less dangerous individuals.
To advance the discourse on fascist and populist movements, women’s participation must be analyzed, for it is a disservice to history to only study a portion of participants.
Chrisafis, A. (Jan. 29, 2019). From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its sight on women. The Guardian, theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/29/from-le-pen-to-alice-weidelhow-the-european-far-right-set-its-sights-on-women
Lower, W. (2013). Introduction. In Hitler’s furies (pp. 1-14). Houghton Mifflin.
Lower, W. (2013). The East needs you. In Hitler’s furies (pp. 32-74).Houghton Mifflin.
Lower, W. (2013). The lost generation of German women. In Hitler’s furies (pp. 15-31). Houghton Mifflin.
Rodríguez López, S., and Cazorla Sánchez, A. (2018). Blue angels: Female fascist resisters, spies and intelligence officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9. Journal of Contemporary History, 53(4): 692–713.