Today’s discussion about masculine and feminine roles in the war piqued my curiosity. The passage we read from page 29 explores how women take the masculine roles of protector and men take the feminine roles of senseless broken beings following each other. It opens questions to how we looked at masculine and feminine and interpret it being divided into different absolutes. But is it possible to look at this war zone as a place where gendered norms mix into being part of both masculine and feminine? Strength is not just masculine, weak is not just feminine. They each mix to define men and women as more genuinely themselves in a world of chaotic extremes.
As prior military, I have the lens of men and women working in a high stress environment. Part of training is looking past the defined norms for men and women. Last names are used as a person’s identity, women are called names like Smith, Speer, and Lopez. Men are called Vallery, Brook, and Rose. It disrupts the idea of defining a person by gendered stereotypes. Every character introduced in the warzone takes on a different name, like last names, nicknames, initials, or their official title. Some people do adhere to traditional views of what should be masculine or feminine. B.F. holds onto her belief system of a woman’s place and duties in an argument with Edwards. Perhaps, she represents the feminine ideal for English society? She insists, “We are doing our bit.” (pg 55, Amazon digital edition) Despite the “bit” comment demeaning ambulance driving, the work is important to them and to the men they transport.
I wanted to introduce the idea that masculine and feminine roles enter a more fluid territory as we read the text. It is very easy to read a full page and think “he” instead of “she” or “him” instead of “her.” There is an undercurrent of feminine values from the homeland, but they don’t work well with the culture Helen and her friends have at the warfront. The stronger feminine influences of clean clothing, long hair, and positive letters received from family are catalyzed into wishes that don’t work in a war zone. Tosh cuts her hair rather than deal with lice. Helen calls her bed a fleabag as a statement of fact. Commandant drives her crew in the most acidic manner that causes hate and wishes for revenge. This space becomes where they are the most real and honest version of themselves. It opens ideas of questioning masculinity and femininity. And it demands that one explore these characters with the words they choose, actions, and a look at what ties them to traditional British feminine norms or defies them.