Gender Identities in the People's War: Experiences, Representations and Memories

The labelling of the Second World War as the People’s War in Britain draws attention to the importance of the men and women who waged it. With the blurring of the Home and Battle Fronts, the conventional gender contract in which men fight to protect the vulnerable at home and women keep the home fires burning was challenged, not least by the revolutionary act of conscripting women to the war effort.

In this module you will examine how the Second World War was experienced by a wide spectrum of British men and women, some of whom identified with the war effort, some of whom were deliberately excluded, or chose to challenge gender conventions in their choice of role. You’ll consider different categorisations of experience (military/civilian; home front/ battle front; male/female) and explore whether there was a hierarchy of service and subsequently of remembrance. Were gender roles in Britain really transformed by the exigencies of war? Through a wide range of written and visual sources, including autobiographical materials, poems, photographs, films, parliamentary minutes, newspapers, posters and cartoons, we will seek to understand individual and collective experiences of the war, and their gendered dimensions.