Does the state play a part in conditioning men and women into gendered roles? 100 years ago it was certainly the case that millions of British men were sent to war because they were men, often being pressured into fighting by Kitchener’s omnipresent finger.
We’ve published numerous articles on men and war during the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, but we haven’t looked at the impact of war on men AND women. Then on International Men’s Day, I stumbled across a collection of World War I propaganda posters that made me think about the way the State ensured men were men,and women were women.
I’ve captured 10 of the posters below which show some of the ways the State divided men’s and women’s roles one hundred years ago.
1. Firstly, all fit men should rally around the flag
2. Young men should definitely be wearing a military uniform
3. Real men should follow their sporting heroes
Don’t be a soft lad, be a real man and die hard, just like your favourite football players.
4. A good woman should get a good job
Meanwhile with the domestic workforce depleted by the recruitment of men into the armed forces, women were told to do their moral duty and serve the nation in the workplace.
5. Let women do women’s work
Try reading this one out loud and imagine the kind of clipped, stoical voice you’d need to say: “Keep the flag flying! Let women do women’s work and Essex Men join the Essex regiment.” Yes, fighting is definitely men’s work and anything else is unmanly and should be left for women to do.
6. Why should women join the army?
From 1914, women’s organisations began to be structured along quasi-military lines, such as the Women’s Emergency Corp and the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. One of the primary aims was for women to do tasks previously viewed as “men’s work” in order to make those men available for the “real man’s work” of fighting the Germans. As this poster for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps says, “every fit woman can release a fit man”.
7. There are only three types of men, which one are you
For those men who weren’t first in line to sign up, there were constant reminders to think about what type of man they were—-do you obey, do you delay or are you a coward, Sir?
8. This one brought a tear to my eye
While the thought of being conscripted is terrifying, there is something brutally honest and straight forward about the finger-jabbing “you country needs you” approach to military recruitment. But this next approach really messes with the emotional bond between men and women and calls on couples to put their country (and the man’s life) before their love for each other. The thought of the state trying to persuade my partner to set aside her love for me and send me off to war to die in the trenches, touched me deeply…….
9. Women against the U-boats
During World War 1 the Germans made a concerted effort to blockade Britain to prevent food imports such as wheat and flour entering the country. With the menfolk out of the country fighting the war, it became the patriotic duty of housewives as controllers of the nation’s domestic economy to make food stocks go a long way.
10. Get back in the kitchen!
Cooking was definitely women’s work in World War I, when making food go a long way elevated women on the home front to an equal footing with men on the fighting front.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men