Sexuality, Maternity, and Femininity in Films Exhibited in Britain, 1914–19

  • Anne Morey


At the outbreak of the First World War, British propaganda relied heavily on the depiction of combatant nations as masculine or feminine. As Jacqueline de Vries (1994) notes, for example, one way in which hawkish suffragists justified hostilities and sought to promote active female participation in the military effort was to produce ‘a gendered interpretation of the war, in which they defined Germany as a masculine nation and Britain and her allies as feminine’ — a rhetorical strategy that ‘allowed them to support Britain’s involvement in the war while maintaining the basic tenets of their pre-war feminist perspective’ (p. 77). Such consciousness of gender, however, was by no means limited to contexts in which gender was already a central issue. On the contrary, similar representations served national interests at the highest level, as we may see by examining such governmental sources as the Bryce Report, a catalogue of atrocity accounts stemming from the German violation of Belgian neutrality and released in May 1915, immediately after the sinking of the Lusitania. Susan Kent (1993) observes that the report ‘was a kind of pornographic orgy that fostered voyeurism and made war sexually “exciting” ‘ (p. 24). Significantly, much of the report concerned affronts to women, either mothers (typically violated and deprived of their children) or women who by age or vocation should not be considered sexual beings, such as unmarried daughters and nuns, who are manoeuvred into a hideous mockery of motherhood by being impregnated by members of the German army.


Separate Sphere Film Record American Film Firing Squad Maternal Instinct 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne Morey

There are no affiliations available

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