Role of Women in Great Britain During World War II Research Paper

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Women in World War II England

In the history of the western world, women have often been placed in positions of subservience and submission to men. For many women in England, their ultimate goal in life was to marry well and to become mothers, carrying on the paternal name and the bloodline. Women who were not born advantageously were destined to lives of servitude coupled with this same marginalization. Whatever the social class of the woman she was always lesser than her male counterpart. The only time that these societal impositions of women's roles were challenged was during a time of war. Particularly in the period of the Second World War, women were called to take up the positions that were vacated by their men. During that era, an estimated five million women of England fulfilled some role in assisting with the British war effort either at home or abroad. Women of World War II England were tasked with taking up formerly masculine positions both in the workplace and within the homes as well. This would lead to a permanent change in the social position of women following the war when women, now accustomed to a degree of freedom and autonomy, were told to return to their separate domestic spheres. [1: "WW2: The Role of Women in the Second World War." The Telegraph. 2009. Print. ]

Initially, the British government did not want the nation's women getting involved in the war either through enlistment or by working in factories. It was believed that women's positions were in the home and if they were allowed to deviate from this position, it would lead directly to a breakdown of the society as it was known. According to sources, the "government also feared that by having women in the workplace home and family life would suffer, children would be neglected, homes would not be looked after and mealtimes would find nothing made for husbands in reserved occupations and family life would be a shambles." Eventually, it became evident that there would not be enough men to both fight the war and work in the factories. The only way to have enough recruits and enough materials to continue fighting was to enlist women in formerly masculine roles. [2: "WW2: The Role of Women in the Second World War." The Telegraph. 2009. Print. ]

Everyone is familiar with the iconic image of "Rosie the Riveter." This was a symbol for the women who left their homes and their daily lives of wifedom and motherhood in order to become a part of the workforce, performing jobs which would help the country win the war. By 1943, so many of the available men had gone to the military that women who were not enlisted were called upon to enter the factories. These positions were necessary as the factories made everything that was needed for members of the military, including transportation, uniforms, and supplies. Some women who entered the factories had never worked before. They had to be taught how to behave in society without the psychological or financial support of a man. The norm was for proper women to grow up and get married and then have children. This was the ultimate goal of her existence. Many women went from their parents' house directly to their husband's house without having done a day's work outside of the home. [3: "Women in World War Two." History Learning Site. 2011. Web. Dec. 2011.] [4: Hastings, Max. "Women Were Brutalized by World War II but for Millions it Meant Social and Sexual Freedom beyond Their Wildest Dreams." The Daily Mail. 13 Sept. 2011. Print. ]

However, even though these women were absolutely necessary in the war effort, they were still heavily underpaid because of the sexism inherent in the society. Women who were highly skilled at their jobs were traditionally paid less than their unskilled male counterparts. So great was the discrepancy in wages that one faction of women went on strike. A compromise was reached when factory owners agreed to pay the women the wages of the unskilled males even though they were far better workers. [5: "Women in World War Two." History Learning Site. 2011. Web. Dec. 2011.]

An additional responsibility of English women could be undertaken by joining the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS). This group was responsible for a variety of tasks including providing food and drink to firemen who put out flames started during one of the night bombings, feeding and caring for people in shelters, collecting bits of scrap metal, and knitting socks for soldiers. The WVS was primarily composed of elderly women who were not strong enough to serve in the military or to work in the factories. Every woman was called upon to do something within her power to aid in England's fight against Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers. [6: "Women in World War Two." History Learning Site. 2011. Web. Dec. 2011.]

One of the most important ways that women were able to aid in the country's war effort was in joining the military, something that women at the time were only able to do during times of war. The first way that women could become involved in the military would be to sign up and join the Women's Land Army (WLA). The job of these women was to go into rural areas and raise foods which could be harvested and distributed to soldiers and to English citizens at a time when foods were heavily rationed. According to senior historian Terry Charman, the work of these women may have been the difference between victory and failure in the campaign against Britain's enemies. He says, "At the beginning of the war, 70 per cent of our food was imported. By 1943, that figure was reversed." Besides ensuring that the citizens of England were as well-fed as possible the work of the WLA all limited moneys that had to be spent on imported foods and thus provided financial opportunities for other fields in the defense of the country. [7: Smith, Julia Llewellyn. "Land Girls: Disquiet on the Home Front." The Telegraph. 27 Feb. 2010. Print. ]

In the service of the WLA, women would often work upwards of twelve hours a day in all kinds of weather and under the most adverse types of conditions. One of the women who had served in the WLA was Jean Proctor, now 92 years of age. In article for England's The Telegraph newspaper, Proctor explained exactly what it was like for women who were working in the Land Army. The WLA was an integral part of England's war effort, but the brigade went unrecognized and unheralded for a long period following the war. Women were sent to the farms of rural England to perform the grueling labor that was usually required of young, male farmhands. Among other tasks, the recruits of the WLA were responsible for taking care of and harvesting products from cows, chickens, and fruit and vegetable crops. They acquired and then distributed the foods which would both keep the English citizenry alive and also which would be sent to the British military men fighting the Axis Powers. In addition to the difficult toil, Proctor states that the young women on the farms also had to deal with negative attitudes from the wives and mothers of men who had left to fight the war. She says that the women "loathed us because we'd taken the places of their beloved sons." [8: Smith, Julia Llewellyn. "Land Girls: Disquiet on the Home Front." The Telegraph. 27 Feb. 2010. Print. ] [9: Smith, Julia Llewellyn. "Land Girls: Disquiet on the Home Front." The Telegraph. 27 Feb. 2010. Print. ]

Later on in the war, women were able to join the three branches of the British military; the army, navy, and royal air force. In the army, the women were assigned to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The work that these women were asked to perform was similar to the tasks they would perform as domestic servants or housewives. The ATS members were drivers of transportation vehicles for the military. Among other jobs they would also cook foods and clean materials as well as the quarters of the military men. Women of the ATS were assigned to AA units later in the war which actually saw military combat. Part of the AA unit's job was to run the search lights which would allow the ground soldiers to see during night battles. Each searchlight unit would be comprised of two people, often one man and one woman, and spaced away from each other so that if one pair were terminated, lights were still usable. The units would also each have a machine rifle to attack enemy soldiers who were trying to destroy the search light. One observer of the AA unit stated: "The girls live like men, fought their lights like men, and alas, some of them died like men." These were strong women devoted to their…[continue]

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