Between Exploitation and Empowerment: Participation of Women in the Second World War

  • University of East Anglia Norwich

One-day conference

17 June 2017

University of East Anglia

‘The “female” war has its own colours, smells, lighting and sensory space. Its own words. There are no heroes and extraordinary deeds, there are just people, busy with their inhuman human affairs’. (Svetlana Aleksievich, 1988)

 The Second World War saw women become participants in armed combat, perpetrators, victims and survivors of violence, bystanders and, in some cases, all of these at once. War histories, however, tend to be written from the masculine point of view and thus often exclude women’s direct knowledge of political violence or include it in an instrumentalised way that reveals little about women’s experiences. Lack of access to such knowledge results in incomplete histories of events, historical periods, and populations. Close investigation of female narratives of war, on the other hand, can provide a more inclusive historiography: the focus on women’s experiences and their incorporation into the history of all aspects of war will improve our understanding of war as such, and reveal that gender roles constructed in the context of warfare reflect wider gender dynamics in societies involved in a war. Some aspects of women’s active participation in political violence in general and in the Second World War in particular have been perceived as empowering. Women clearly demonstrated their ability to perform the same roles as the men. On the other hand, it is undeniable that women who took an active part in warfare did so in a masculinist setting, and the acceptance of women in traditionally masculine roles often lasted for the duration of the conflict only. The roles women played and the contexts in which they operated differed from country to country, but there were also many similarities in their experiences. This conference aims to explore women’s experiences of the Second World War by examining where they fit in the grey zones between empowerment and exploitation. 

 

Applications are sought from scholars (including post-graduates and early career), focusing on the following themes relating to female experiences of World War II, although this list is not exhaustive and other relevant themes will be considered (comparative papers are particularly encouraged):

 

• women in regular military formations;

• women in guerrilla warfare;

• political violence and civilian women;

• female forced labourers;

• sexual violence in the context of political violence;

• gender perspective of collaboration;

• female prisoners (including prisoners of war);

• representations of women in the context of the Second World War in literature, commemorative sites and practices, popular culture.

Please submit your proposals for 15-minute presentations (300 words abstract and 100 words biographical statement) to o.khromeychuk@uea.ac.uk by 5 pm on 1 February 2017.

There will be limited funding available to cover travel expenses and accommodation costs. Please indicate in your application if you wish to apply for this funding.

UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA 

THE LEVERHULME TRUST