chapter
Conclusion to Part One
Pages 4

The evidence collected here demonstrates that indeed women in France, as in o ther parts of Europe, found that the war offered them a complex combination of bo th opportunities and constraints, and brough t num erous changes, negative as well as positive, to their lives. It is possible when discussing this kind of research to appear to be presenting a descriptive catalogue o f women’s activity. This is largely because the sources do no t allow us to be more precise and because the material collected here is drawn from a num ber of different sources. However, the existing evidence has served to highlight the immense variety of women’s situations. It has shown up the various different patterns of behaviour and the complexity of their lives in wartime conditions. It serves to caution us, as his­ torians, against m aking sweeping judgm ents about how people experienced the war. These chapters have shown how women were subject to numerous, often conflicting, complex pressures and con­ straints which influenced the choices they faced and the decisions they made. Involvement with the local community was sometimes a fu rther

factor which could determ ine the way women behaved. The kind of collective conformity that existed in villages and rural communities m ight influence the behaviour of m en and women alike, although there was a greater percentage of women present at this time. Thus, some villages would swing one way or the other, and it became more likely that all villagers would comply since it was the ‘righ t’ thing to be seen to be doing, saying and thinking. W ithin villages women were normally sensitive to how their behaviour was perceived by their neighbours. This could often have a restraining influence and m ight mean, for example, that women were less likely to want to be seen with Germans. The example of the lie de Sein is very interesting in

this context. The m en on the island left en masse to jo in de Gaulle in London and their women were all more o r less obliged to fall in to line with the anti-German position.1 Vichy ideology towards women, bo th in terms of their employ­

m ent policies and their prescribed role for women, indicates that the state took on an extremely paternalistic relationship to women, bu t their policies were unable to survive in the face o f German demands and wartime econom ic forces. This ideology had much more to do with a reactionary government attempting to pass off right-wing measures than any practical application to the situation in France. Women may have been influenced by these policies to some degree, and this remains difficult to evaluate, bu t their lives were more likely to be governed by their personal socio-economic situation, their age, the presence or absence of their husbands and whether they had children or o ther dependants, as well as by regional factors. Everyday survival became more difficult and time-consuming

for everyone during the war and this was an extra bu rden that was often taken on by women, who were forced to develop strategies to deal with it. This m ight often bring them into contact with the authorities and at times lead them to question the situation in which they found themselves and even possibly influence them to take action. Indeed, politically, women were involved in activities which have been defined as collaborative or resistant and in ways which often differed from those of men. Women m ight have been brough t in to these positions because of their family and social positions, bu t women also made choices of their own volition about where their allegiances lay and what benefits they stood to gain from their situation. A num ber of pre-Resistance and pre-collaboration structures also emerged, serving to push or pull women in certain directions. Because of their relative independence in the absence of husbands, women found themselves in the unusual situation of having responsibility for deciding what to do, although many were affected by numerous constraints. As far as activism is concerned, the evidence shows that for both

collaboration and resistance gendered traits can be recognized. Women were likely to become involved in the more spontaneous, unorganized activities which could more easily be combined with the concerns of their everyday lives. Women m ight be present as members of collaborationist groups and involved in Resistance net­ works, bu t they were present in smaller numbers than men.