chapter
Conclusion
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This study shows how the L iberation was in no sense a ‘liberation’ for women. Women did no t experience a ‘liberation’ in 1944-48, neither from the po in t of view o f their everyday lives no r from the po in t o f view o f political suffrage. The L iberation emerges from this study as an experience which m eant the removal o f German dom ination bu t offered women no o ther kinds of liberation. The hardships of wartime everyday life con tinued into the postwar years and women were forced to pursue strategies they had developed. Generally speaking, in terms of women’s daily lives, there was much continuity with what had gone before and most categories o f women continued to be predom inantly concerned with the problems of econom ic resources and physical survival. It could even be argued that women’s lives were even more constrained after the war. The re turn of the men was experienced as oppressive by certain categor­ ies of women who had to give up their wartime responsibilities and their sense o f autonomy. Many pressures operated which pushed them back into the home, and the ever-present pro-natalist discourse was particularly influential. As for legislation, the gaining of the vote was certainly a major new step for women and im portan t laws were also passed in relation to women’s work. But these laws cannot be seen as having brough t major changes to women’s lives. Most of the legislation concerning paid employment established a principle, but, initially at least, had little impact. Furtherm ore, as Jane Jenson has shown, legislation stopped short of granting women full civic rights by failing to consider them as individuals bu t ra ther as working women with equal rights to men, or as mothers whose place was in the home under the tutelage of their husbands.1 Even after the social postwar l .J a n e Jenson, ‘The Liberation and New Rights for French Women’, in

legislation, women were still no t equal partners: ‘the husband . . . can prevent women from exercising a profession . . . he has all the household incom e’.2 Only if the wife had a profession distinct from that o f h e r husband was she allowed to dispose o f he r own income. Legislation which ensured full equality in a m arried couple came m uch later. Gaining the vote was no t a liberating experience, and m arried women still lacked the civic rights necessary for them to be fully equal with men. For most women, particularly those who were trying to run a household, gaining the vote was no t an im portan t event. The whole issue was overshadowed by o ther problems: the events o f the Liberation, the continuing problems of food supply and the prospect and reality of the re tu rn of their men. In terms of paid employment, during the war women en tered

the labour market, although no t on the same scale as during the First World War. Despite Vichy legislation in 1940 to prevent mar­ ried women from working, this law had little impact in the face of German demands for labour, and m arried women who wanted to find employment were able to do so and the government was forced to change its policy. Moreover, the failure o f the Vichy government to compensate households for the loss of their main wage-earner had the paradoxical effect o f forcing many m arried women to find jobs. Women were able to move into jobs that were previously male-dom inated and some certainly benefited from train ing oppor­ tunities that were no t open to them before the war; such women often wanted to remain at work after the war. The postwar situation was therefore more complicated than the traditional picture of a simple move ou t of the labour force on the part of women to make way for the re tu rned men, although it is true that m arried women often left jobs when their husbands returned . Postwar legislation passed in relation to women’s employment was slow to take effect bu t did indicate an increasing acceptance that women should work, and it seems probable that single women who were m arried after the war were less likely to stop working than they would have been six years before. Political choices did no t occur in a vacuum no r were there such

sharp distinctions between collaboration and resistance as has pre­ viously been assumed. Women could be involved in varying degrees of political activity. In bo th cases women did no t participate on the same scale no r in the same ways as men, bu t were present as

members of resistance networks and collaborationist organizations. On the whole women tended to be more involved with less organized and unofficial forms of collaboration or resistance. O ther commit­ ments and household constraints m eant tha t they concentrated on activities which could be combined with their everyday lives. The more constraints they had, the more o f a tendency they had to conform to the existing situation. Those with fewer constraints, as in the case of single autonomous women, were much freer to become politically active. There were structural reasons which p re­ vented women from being as involved as men. Women tended to be less politicized, fewer were employed and therefore had less access to contact networks. The structures that operated to push women one way or ano ther were more likely to be related to family links. A certain elem ent of chance also came into play, as in cases where women had husbands, brothers o r fathers who were involved in specific organizations. There were, o f course, women who made free choices based on their own political consciousness. But a certain num ber of these were pre-determ ined choices based on previous political experience. Despite their political contribution during the war, many o f those

who found that the Occupation offered them the means to behave politically withdrew after the L iberation ju s t at the time when their political rights were recognized officially. The am bient discourse claimed that women gained their political education in the Resist­ ance, bu t very few women assimilated it in this way. Many were reluctant to associate their resistance activity with the political groups that em erged after the war. The re-emergence of the party political system therefore served to exclude many women who were unable to relate to the complicated political issues of the postwar years in the same way as they had responded to the th reat posed by the Germans to their nation, to their freedom and to their homes. This is no t say that women did no t vote, bu t relatively few became involved in active politics. The communist party emerges as having been the most effective

of all the political parties in mobilizing women. With the UFF and its particularly local emphasis, the communists established effect­ ive structures which enabled them to rally women th roughou t this period. Women responded to their organizational m ethods and identified their demands with the problems o f their everyday lives. A lthough some women withdrew from the UFF after the Libera­ tion when its communist allegiance became more apparen t, the communist party succeeded in keeping the support o f the highest

num ber of women who had gained a certain political consciousness from their wartime activities. Furthermore, during the postwar years it was the communists who did the most to explicidy seek out the women’s vote and to promote women within the party as candidates for election. The material collected here suggests a much m ore fragmented

picture of women’s experience than that con tained in most postwar accounts. The fact that there was no spectacular change has made it possible for commentators to overlook the subtleties this study has brough t to light. A lthough the end of the war cannot be seen as having brought a watershed for women generally, some felt that they made im portant personal gains from their experiences of the war, particularly in cases where they were obliged to take on responsib­ ilities in the absence of their husbands. This sense that women made progress towards a new feeling of personal independence emerged forcefully from the oral evidence. Many women articulated the feel­ ing that their experience of the war had led them to a more positive assessment of themselves and gave them an increased confidence to confron t the inequalities that con tinued to exist within their mar­ riages. For many, their experience of new roles and the changes they experienced led them to a new self-perception. Women expressed disappoin tm ent with the re-establishment of society in the immedi­ ate postwar years, as Celia Bertin has explained:

Others, however, did begin to reconsider the validity of conven­ tional gender divisions. The war and the L iberation marked for them the beginning o f a long process which is still continuing, in France as elsewhere.