[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:17 am, 13 November 2011]
More filler this week as I’m too busy to write anything intellectual. As it’s Remembrance Sunday, here’s a selection of WW1 pictures from my random ebay acquisitions. Click the thumbnails to see full size versions at Flickr. First of all I bought another photo of the frisky horse that I posted here. Not much need for an epic Errol Morris style investigation as I think it’s pretty obvious what order they go in.
London Division horse show, Overath, Germany, 1919. Even during the war divisions and corps often held horse shows to encourage the men to look after their horses as well as possible. This was important because infantry and artillery depended very heavily on draught horses throughout the war. This one’s really worth viewing at full size as there’s so much detail.
This looks like two women in the uniform of the Scottish Horse. It apparently wasn’t unusual for women to dress up in men’s uniforms to have their photos taken.
A mounted artillery driver, photographed in Edinburgh. Photos like this cause lots of confusion because people get the idea that their ancestors were in the cavalry and then go off looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong questions.
Girls on ponies watching a Royal Artillery column. Not strictly WW1 as it looks like it was taken in the 1920s or 1930s. The Royal Field Artillery wasn’t fully mechanized until 1939. This photo captures the period when horses were making the transition from useful work in the army and economy to a hobby seen as mostly for girls.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 11:11 am, 7 February 2010]
This is a selection of First World War photos from my collection, mostly bought from ebay. I’ve posted some horse photos over at The horse in history and culture. The ones here have more of a gender theme. Click on the thumbnails to see bigger versions.
Four male prisoners of war, two in drag. This was taken in the theatre at Cottbus PoW camp, where my great-grandad was held from 1917 to 1918. He performed in the theatre but there’s no evidence that he dressed as a woman. One of the paradoxes of the hyper-masculine environment of the 20th century British Army was that it often forced men into stereotypically feminine roles in order to stand in for the women who were excluded.
Royal Army Medical Corps group, taken in France, 1919. It clearly shows how uniforms reinforced gender roles. The men are wearing army service dress, just like combat soldiers, although their role is to provide medical care. The women are wearing long skirts and big head-dresses. Also notice that some of the men are very short. The man on the left of the middle row, standing between the corporal and the nurse with a dog at their feet, looks shorter than some of the women. If you look very closely you can see that some of the group are holding puppies.
A man and woman called Fred and Kitty, but I don’t know their surnames. Fred is a sergeant in the Army Service Corps, and Kitty is in civilian clothes. The poses reinforce the differences in dress, suggesting male dominance and female submission.
Territorial Royal Field Artillery corporal with a small boy. Probably taken in Cardiff or Pontypridd. Like the Sergeant in the previous photo, the corporal is wearing spurs. These were standard equipment for troops classed as mounted, which included field artillery and service corps because they relied on horses for transport. I love the little boy’s pose. Although man and boy are both male, they illustrate the hierarchy of masculinity: the corporal is more of a man because of his age, independence and military service.
A group of female munitions workers. The unprecedented expansion of both the British Army and the arms industry in the First World War, along with the assumption that women couldn’t or shouldn’t fight, led to more women working in munitions factories. This temporarily gave some women increased pay and freedom, but 90 years on women as a group still earn less than men as a group. Although the uniforms make some concessions to the practicalities of working in a factory, they also signify femininity.
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 10:05 am, 17 August 2009]
Historiann has posted about a very Whiggish article in the New York Times about how changes in warfare have supposedly improved women’s rights by creating more opportunities for female combat soldiers. As Ann points out, there are lots of things wrong with this article. She concentrates on the fact that similar things were said during the Gulf War in 1991 but that the supposed progress evaporated after the war. As some of the commenters suggest, the idea that women used to be incapable of fighting but that changing technology has made things easier it possible for them is basically a lie. Joshua Goldstein’s book War and Gender (which I’ve posted about before) presented lots of empirical evidence to demolish the assumption that women are smaller and weaker than men. This is true on average, but in practice most people aren’t exactly average. In fact statistics for size and strength for men and women are distributed along bell curves which overlap. The biggest, strongest women are bigger and stronger than the smallest, weakest men. Goldstein estimated that in a major war, if combat soldiers were recruited purely by ability and not by gender then about 10-15% of combat soldiers should be female. This has clearly not been the case in reality. Goldstein found that some form of war exists in almost every culture, and that women have nearly always been formally excluded from active combat roles. There are a few exceptions (eg the Dahomey in West Africa in the 19th century, the Soviet Union in the Second World War) but these just prove that women can fight, and therefore their exclusion in most other cultures must be down to gender ideology. Or not quite. Because Goldstein sees the gendering of combat roles as being too universal to be down to gender ideology, which would be expected to be culturally specific. This is where I part company with Goldstein. While War and Gender is a really important book which needs to be read by anyone interested in either war or gender (or just by anyone), it has its limitations, which we need to move on from. (more…)
When I started my comeback as a historian in 2006, after a 5 year career break, I wanted to push myself in new directions. Therefore I challenged myself to come up with the most way-out research question possible. What I came up with was: do people construct gender for horses? I decided to look specifically at the roles of horses in war, partly because I’m a military historian, and partly because war is one of the most heavily gendered things in history. I first wrote a blog post about the project in October 2006, but since then I’ve changed my mind about lots of things. I followed up with twoposts about how cavalry drill books specified criteria for good war horses. While the books I looked at didn’t always explicitly say that stallions were always best, there was a definite male bias, and mares were never mentioned. This post is a look at where I’ve got to now, and where I need to go next. (more…)