As was the case with all societal expectations about gender roles, individuals could take on or reject these assumptions.
Some women publicly embraced new access to traditionally male occupations and had no wish to relinquish them when the war was over.
Even those men too young or old or ill to wield arms were expected to support the war, and some men in key industries were required to stay at their jobs in order to ensure the output of basic supplies.
Most nations also called upon and celebrated women as mothers, the representative of family life and domesticity.
Because the war destroyed so many lives and reshaped the international political order, it is understandable to view it as a catalyst for enormous changes in all aspects of life, including ideas about gender and the behaviour of women and men.
The messy reality of the lives of individual men and women is much harder to generalise about.Yet women’s full participation in political life remained limited, and some states did not enfranchise their female inhabitants until much later (1944 in France).Imperial subjects and racial minorities, such as those in the United States, continued to be unable to exercise their full political rights.New forms of social interaction between the sexes and across class lines became possible, but expectations about family and domestic life as the main concern of women remained unaltered.Furthermore, post-war societies were largely in mourning.Millions of men faced devastating injuries from poison gas, machine gun fire, and powerful artillery shells.Dissent from gender norms was perhaps more easily tolerated for women as they took on roles that had previously been the work of men (in munitions factories for example).Despite the upheavals that affected many women and men, basic ideas about gender remained fairly consistent throughout the war.Warring states defined the essence of male service to the nation as combat.Indeed, women’s designated role as guardians of morality meant that in most countries, ‘separation allowances’ – funds paid to soldiers’ dependents – were tied to their good behaviour, including in some cases demonstrating their sobriety and fidelity.Women could support the military effort and the nation’s men in uniform as nurses, female military auxiliaries, ambulance drivers, farm workers, and factory labourers as well as in many other occupations, something evident in many of these documents.