The Change of Gender Roles During the First World War
When the First World War began in 1914, there was much discussion regarding the proper gender roles for British men and women. For men, the course of action seemed clear that they should enlist and fight. Yet, many men struggled under the pressure of warfare. For women, it was unclear how they should be involved in the war effort. Many men wanted the women to keep their traditional gender roles of taking care of the household. However, the lack of male workers on the home front required women to take on different work roles. The women received a great deal of praise and positive attention for their work as nurses, munitions workers, and military auxiliaries. However, men were critical whenever women's behavior seemed too unconventional.
Many welcomed the war as an opportunity to counteract the changes in gender roles that occurred during the Edwardian era. It was thought that the Edwardian society had caused the men to become soft and effeminate; while, it caused the women to become hard and aggressive. It was hoped that the war would regenerate the manliness in men and femininity in women. The ideal British man and woman was most often embodied in the images of soldier and nurse. The soldier represented the masculine attributes of bravery, strength, and courage. The nurse represented the ideal female as compassionate, nurturing, and virtuous (Kent, 1993).
From the start, there was some debate concerning how women should be involved in the war. Many feared that unconventional war work might cause women to become unfeminine and lead to a further breakdown of patriarchal authority. It was acceptable for women to gather parcels from refugees, roll bandages for the Red Cross, and maintain a comfortable home for the soldiers' return. Many upper-class women established charitable organizations to assist the families of soldiers or Belgian refugees. A widespread response by middle-class women was the knitting...
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