Nation and the Female Body in Wartime Print Media

  By the dawn of the First World War, the territory of Alsace was a highly contested region between competing European powers. Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, the traditionally French region became a German holding, creating significant tension between the two powers by 1914. [Eckhardt, C.C, Ph.D. Pg 431] As female figures within wartime print media often come to represent vulnerability and national defensive and offensive responsibility, within the context of the First World War, they came to embody concepts as large as national identity and contested 2012-10-07 172741_2territories [Sunidyo, Pg 4]. By investigating the symbolic use of the female body in wartime print media under a critical lens, twenty-first century learners can further understand gendered representation of nation during the First World War.

Within this wartime picture postcard featuring the image of a distraught woman in traditional Alsatian dress with a printed message which translates to “My thoughts have only one hope – living under the sun of France”, the female body comes to both personify Alsatian national identity and represent complicated national territorial ambitions between France and Germany. Without providing a detailed backdrop, the Alsatian woman shown is the absolute focus of the image – clasping her hands and looking upward with an expression of conflicted hope. While this piece follows symbolic trends of similar postcards featuring images of women in positions which portray either vulnerability or a lack of agency, this piece takes these two motifs a step further. Within this image, the Alsatian woman shown represents not the traditionally gendered portrayal of Home Front represented in many pieces of wartime picture postcards, but a territory of which two powers perceive their own right to claim. Framing the female body in the controversial political context of border conflict preceding the First World War, this piece creates an image of a woman void of agency – portraying less an individual than contested territory to be awarded to a victor. Creating an image in which a personification of a contested region functions in the context of this piece as an object of national ambition between France and Germany, this piece is a strong example of gendered motifs of nation and conflict within political picture postcards of the First World War.

Further Reading:

1. Chetty, Adhis. Media Images of Women during War: Vehicles of Patriarchy’s Agenda? (Agenda, No. 59, Women in War (2004), Published by: Agenda Feminist Media, pp. 32-41) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4548112 .

2. Saraswati Sunindyo, When the Earth Is Female and the Nation Is Mother: Gender, the Armed Forces and Nationalism in Indonesia(Feminist Review ,No. 58, International Voices (Spring, 1998), Palgrave Macmillan Journals, pp. 1-21) http://www.jstor.org/stable/1395677

3. C.C Eckhardt, The Alsace-Lorraine Question (The Scientific Monthly Vol. 6, No. 5 (May, 1918), Published by: American      Association for the Advancement of Science Stable. pp. 431-443) URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/22512

4. David Starr Jordan, The Future of Alsace-Lorraine (The Journal of Race Development, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jul., 1918), pp. 40-55) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29738268

5. Carlson, Jon D. Postcards and Propaganda: Cartographic Postcards as Soft News Images of the Russo-Japanese War. (Political Communication 26, no. 2: 212-237. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 5, 2012).

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