Many historians have concluded that wars are limited in their ability to emancipate women. They may open up new roles but these are usually temporary. Wars may appear to subvert the gender order, but, with peace, it is restored, often with a vengeance. Periods of warfare often bring an exaltation of traditional gender roles with men portrayed as warriors and women as mothers, symbolic guardians of peace, normality and the home, which soldiers protect by their fighting and can return to when hostilities end. Indeed, the Higonnets have argued, invoking the image of the ‘double helix’ to explain the enduring constancy of gender differentiation in wartime, that, in both world wars, women only stepped temporarily into the ‘male sphere’. Meanwhile male activities were still construed as socially more important.1 This idea, which suggests no real change at all, is perhaps too rigid, although it does have resonances for the Italian experience. As for other countries, the issues are complex. In Italy, some, albeit fairly limited, change brought by World War One did outlive the ending of hostilities and there were opportunities for women to prove their worth in both paid employment and voluntary work. But lasting change was limited.
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