Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Invisibility of Women Warriors

Ukrainian guerillas, 1944

I was watching a BBC World War II documentary about the Eastern front. It focused quite a bit on the partisan fighting in Ukraine. It was a while before I realized that the only footage they showed, and the only interviews they conducted were with male partisans.

My grandfather was part of the Ukrainian resistance during the war. And I have researched the activities of Ukrainian nationalists during WWII. So I know that there were more than a few women partisans - one of them even had her autobiography published in English (unfortunately I can't remember what it's called).

The documentary also showed local communist activists who were targeted by the Nazis - again none of them women. When there were certainly women among them - my grandfather's aunt was one of them.

Throughout the documentary, the narrator talked about German and Soviet atrocities carried out against the local populations for their support of nationalist partisans. Even against "women and children". Erasing the fact that there were women who were actively involved with the partisans. And assuming that it was somehow more reasonable to kill men who were not active partisans.

This post on Feministe criticizes the common MRA line that women ought to be more grateful to men because men are the ones who built society and fought in wars, blah blah blah. The idea that it has only ever been men who fought is, of course, bull shit. The assumption itself makes it easy to ignore any evidence to the contrary, obscuring the trials and sacrifices that women experienced as active fighters in war. It's a self-perpetuating myth, that is reflected throughout pop history.

Image is property of Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, here on Flickr.


  1. Could the autobiography you're thinking of be "A Girl Called Judith Strick" by Judith Strick Dribben?

    Before the war she was a Jewish teenager in Lvov, then in Poland, now in Ukraine. It's been a long time since I read the book, and I can't remember if she did sabotage or combat work in the resistance, but I do remember that she worked as a forger and spy for them. Eventually she was caught and sent to a concentration camp, but as a "collaborator," not as a Jew. Thanks to her skills as a translator and forger, she managed to survive the camps, and then after the war made her way to Palestine (evading the British embargo on Jewish immigration in place at the time). After the creation of Israel, she fought in the first Israel-Palestine war.

    It's a fascinating autobiography that I really need to re-read someday.

  2. Sounds like a good read. But no, the woman I read about was not Jewish. She was captured by the Soviets after the war and ended up in the USA.


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