Women, the Second World War, and Misrepresentation
During World War II, women were represented as dependent, beautiful, and helpless, especially within comic books. This can be shown through the depiction of the female characters within my comic. The way women were represented differs drastically from the way women actually were at this time, and all that they have contributed to Canada today. Through the analysis of the 14th issue of WOW! COMICS, and further secondary research, this paper will compare the representation of women within this comic during World War 2, to their roles within Canadian society and its establishment, and the importance of both. This argument is important because the way women are portrayed within these comics is a misrepresentation of women during this period, and what women have contributed to the Second World War; thus limiting the knowledge of the impact women have had on Canadian social/economic development.
Damsel in Distress Trope
In the 14th issue of WOW COMICS! the stories focus mainly on male protagonists that are seen to be hyper-masculine, and tend to solve their conflicts with other ch
aracters through fighting and other acts of violence. According to Facciani et al., “female characters are often portrayed as being in need of saving by heroic male characters” (217). An example of this, is the character Loraine, who is in the story “Dart Daring and the Dreadful Rendezvous.” (Legalilt, E., 5-13). In this story, she is seen as the main male protagonist’s- Dart Daring-love interest and nothing else. As shown in Figure 1, Loraine is captured by pirates. The frame centres on the
“damsel-in-distress” trope, and implies that women are required to look their best no matter what situation they are in.
Lack of Acknowledgment for Female Characters
Another way women are misrepresented within this issue, is the unacknowledged opinion and voice of the female characters. An example of this would be the story “JEFF WARING” (Karn). In this story, one of the main male protagonists Jeff Waring is held captive by one of the antagonistic soldiers (22, Karn). Kay, the daughter of the second male protagonist, Professor Allen, sees that Waring needs help (22, Karn). Instead of fighting back against the soldier, Kay is shown running back to her father’s lab and telling him what she saw (22, Karn). When Jeff is rescued by Professor Allan, he thanks Kay for saving the day by acting the way she did (23, Karn). Through the act of Kay going to her father, it further implies that women should be dependent on men and cannot solve problems without the help of a man. In addition, Kay is not recognized for her part in the rescue of Jeff Waring. When Jeff thanks her for saving the day, Kay deflects the ‘thank you’ and centres again on Jeff, asking if he is alright (23, Karn). Not only does this show that women’s contributions are not acknowledge, but having Kay divert the recognition she does receive back on to the main male character, the comic seems to encourage young female readers to put men’s feelings, thoughts and opinions above their own. This correlates with the authors’ claim that the focus on women’s beauty and physical appearance in comics take precedence over their achievements in the story (Facciani et al., 217).
Furthermore, women in my comic are shown talking in one or two sentences that are either cries for help, or showing gratitude towards the male protagonist; or they do not speak at all and presented are presented as side character. An example of this portrayal of women is in the story “It All Started This Way” (Griffin). Specifically, on page 33, the main character and narrator of the story has moved to Ontario with his wife and just reunited with his old friend Al who is now his neighbour. In the small frame that shows the visual of the two men meeting, Al’s wife accompanies him. She is dressed sophisticatedly and is shown to be a beautiful woman. Despite her being there during this meeting, not a word is said from her nor is a name even given. In fact, there is no mention of her at all from either Vic or Al. This lack of validation of her very existence, enforces the idea that women are to be seen and not heard.
A prime example of what Facciani et al., call “benevolent sexism”-the involvement of viewing women in stereotypical and restrictive roles…which require the protection of men (217)-can be seen in the story of Whiz Wallace. This story focuses on a fighter pilot who rescued an unconscious female character named Elaine (47, Legault). Their plane crashes and Whiz travels through the scorching desert of Africa to “find help for poor Elaine” (48, Legault). It can be seen on page 49, that Whiz collapses with “the lifeless burden of Elaine.” The use of the word burden and the fact that Elaine is unconscious, further portrays women as something that men are required to look after. Additionally, when Whiz wakes up after being kidnapped by a king, he asks to see Elaine. The king reassures Whiz, stating that “there’s no need to worry. Your young lady is safe…” This subtle use of possessiveness implies that women are forms of property that should be cared for and looked after by men. In relation, Elaine, being reunited with Whiz, tells him that she’s ready to leave when he says (51, Legault). She is shown as being dependent on him to make decisions, instead of stating her thoughts and opinion on the matter.
In the story “Crash Carson”, the female character Jacqueline helps Crash and his partner defeat a group of Nazi soldiers (36, Tremblay), and offers the men horses as a form of transportation (37, Tremblay). Although she is described as ‘heroic’ (38, Tremblay), the story focuses on the romantic interest that Crash Carson has for Jacqueline, evident by the promise for him to come back after the war is over (37, Tremblay), and the kiss that results in Jaqueline telling Crash that she will wait for him. Crash does thank Jaqueline, but not for assisting in the fight against the Nazis, but for her kindness. The dismissal of her actions is followed by Crash’s description of Jaqueline as “a nice kid” who he’ll “think of throughout the war” (38). This description demeans Jaqueline to a love interest, altering the focus of her heroism and strength to a mere act of kindness. By belittling Jaqueline’s actions within the story, and all she does to help Crash and his partner, instead focusing on the romantic aspect of the story and shifting her character to a love interest in such a subtle way, further verifies the idea that women’s accomplishments are deemed secondary to those of men and their focus should be on romantic relationships. In relation to this, in situations where a female character helps a male character, the male character is older than the female character, and female characters are generally romantically attracted to the male characters that are helping them (White, 254).
Sexism of Women in World War II
All of the representations of women in my comic relates to the diminishment of the acknowledgement of women’s work during World War II. Although women were “praised for their bravery, loyalty to soldiers, steadfastness, and competence” (Honey, 677), they were still characterized as “slackers who were driven to their downfall by ambition or bitterness” (Honey, 677). During World War II, the Federal Government intended to draw upon the services of women (“Women in Industry”, 1939).The government also believed that “there exists a large reserve of women-power, which under proper management and direction could be very profitably utilized for the expansion of the war effort” (“Women in Industry”, 1939). By stating that women need to be “under proper management” and “direction” reinforces the idea that women are incapable of doing anything without the assistance of men.
Furthermore, the Federal Government only dispatched women who were physically strong to work in industrial work (“Women in Industry”, 1939). The Governm
ent’s Department of Labour were found to “take precautions…to ensure that employers in their eagerness to increase output do not make demands upon women which they are not capable of fulfilling” (“Women in Industry”, 1939). The special precautions that were taken for women, were not taken or given to men, which implies that women were seen in the social eye as less capable of doing men’s work without some form of aid.
As shown in Figure 3, a woman’s “beauty” was something women still had to keep up in terms of social views. By having advertisements like these, focus is taken away from the important jobs and roles that women held during this time, and instead, focused on the
importance of physical beauty. Additionally, as explained in Proudly She Marches (Marsh, 1943), “women still had to maintain idealized beauty while fighting…” (00:05:09). In Figure 4, it can be seen that even though this is an advertisement for wom
en, the focus is still on men. By having the title “To make men free”, this advertisement centres on men and not women. Also, having this advertisement read “…you will share the gratitude of a nation when victory is ours” makes it seem like what the men are doing during this time, is more important than everything women did in order to keep Canada going during World war II
Women’s Accomplishments in World War II
Throughout WWII, women accomplished a lot that aided in Canada’s functioning and running as a country. Of these accomplishments, one of the most important is their placements in the work force. Gouldon & Oliviette (2013) found that the male labour force dropped by 9 million (257), and the women’s labour force, increased by 7 million (257). Having a drastic decrease in jobs for men due to drafting, opened many opportunities for women to take over these jobs and create a name for themselves. Most of these women, according to Honey (1983), “were predominantly from the working class” (683).
Additionally, Moniz (2016) found that “…assuming a ‘place’ in the nation war effort meant increased domestic responsibilities, volunteering, enlisting in the armed forces, and joining the civilian workforce” (81). As mentioned in The Home Front (Hawes, 1940), women also aided in the financial assistance and the war budget (00:04:00). Women did everything from working on planes to help production lines move faster (00:05:06) to helping foreign men by sewing their uniforms and aiding them in promotional work-based learning (00:05:51).
Women were also responsible for creating the Canadian Red Cross Organization, that was made up of women to help aid the war away from their homes (00:08:36). For this organization, they made hospital clothes, bandages etc. for refugees and injured men (00:09:26). Furthermore, in To The Ladies! (Balla, 1946), 45,000 women took over the jobs of men during the Second World War (00:01:24). Women also worked on assembly lines, and used intricate machinery (00:01:57).
Specifically, volunteering women worked in “hostess houses”, giving their spare time to the men of the war (00:04:49). Volunteers also helped out hospitals that were short of nurses, giving care (physical/social) to veterans (00:05:00). Women used The Red Cross to send care packages and food to men overseas and in camps (00:05:14). They also created a program for price control (00:07:44), and helped beat inflation by reporting buying problems across Canada (00:08:05-00:08:17). As explained by Marsh (1943), women took over male-dominated jobs so they could serve overseas (00:06:38).
Furthermore, women taught classes of men in fields like Aircraft Recognition (00:10:25). They also took many jobs in drafting of ships, and record keeping (00:12:22-13:09). According to Marsh, women played an important role as technical experts in the Army (0:16:09). Women also handled every form of motorized vehicles (00:16:30), which, along with industrial work, was seen as a male job. Within this film, Marsh also explains that “the safety and effectiveness of our Armed Forces rest on the new and exciting work performed by Canadian Women” (00:16:49).
Given the way women were represented in WOW! Comics No. 14, compared to all of the things women accomplished and contributed to the Second World War, it can be seen that the history of women was misrepresented at the time. This comic painted a socially acceptable (at the time) woman, who was dependent and always looked her best, which related to the societal norms of the war where women were concerned, but did not reflect how hard working and committed these women were during World War II.