June 6, 1944, is a significant date in the events that led to the end of the Second World War as the Allied forces comprising of the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain landed on Normandy Beach to liberate France from the German Nazi rule. Village after village, town after town, city after city were liberated.
While France was being liberated, months after the D-Day landings a new wave of épuration Sauvage gripped the country. The meaning of the French word is ‘Legal Purge’ or referred to as in simple terms- unofficial legal proceedings.
These legal proceedings were aimed to root out the Nazi sympathizers during German rule. The new rule did not warrant death for the people who collaborated with the occupying Nazi forces, instead, the new rule was designed to embarrass the collaborators in front of the whole town.
The victims of this rule were the most vulnerable members of the society- WOMEN. Accused of Horizontal Collaboration or sleeping with the enemy. These were the women who romantically collaborated with the Nazi soldiers assuming that the Nazi rule will last forever.
Once France was liberated, women were targeted by vigilantes and publicly humiliated.
Their heads were shaved, they were stripped half-naked, smeared with tar, paraded through towns and taunted, stoned, kicked, beaten, spat upon and sometimes even killed.
An Ugly Carnival
An approximate figure of 6,000 deaths gives a look into how brutal and unforgiving the unlawful rulings were. This movement never focussed too much on the more serious collaborations but the intense, cruel, public ferocity of the movement focused on women accused of consorting with the enemy.
This suspicion and punishment of women after World War 2 is part of the repression and sexism that started long before World War II. The question still looms were all women who slept with the Nazis guilty of misplaced conscience or victim of being a woman. There is no denying the fact that some women slept consciously but not all, some of these women who were found guilty were prostitutes. And other fraction women were either kidnapped, raped or both.
Some of them were just the victims of family feuds, personal revenge and illegal law. Just take this instance from the recorded history of the event.
A wreath maker for funerals in Toulouse was working near the open window of her house, a passing-by Nazi soldier struck a conversation with the woman. Despite not sleeping and talking through the window, the woman was accused of sleeping with the Nazi soldier.
She was later shaven-headed, smeared with tar and dragged throughout the downfall while her teenage daughter tried to save her mother. The crowd meanwhile stood by the wayside and cheered and spit on the French lady being dragged.
The majority of the punished were single — unmarried, widowed, or married women whose husbands were prisoners of war. For single mothers, sleeping with a German was sometimes the only way to obtain food for their starving children.
Two Centuries Ago, A Different Scene
One of the dark phases in the history of the French nation was the start of the French Revolution in 1789 that brought down the monarchy and established a democracy in the country.
When the French Revolution began in 1789, French women were largely confined to the private sphere.
Domestic duty and family obligation dictated their behaviour, and public life was a man’s domain. However, the ideas of equality and comradery that sparked the French Revolution captivated women from all backgrounds.
During the revolution, women became eager to voice their political opinions and grievances. While the intellectuals of the upper classes debated property rights and universal suffrage, the working classes took to the streets with their own frustrations such as finding affordable bread.
French enlightened thinkers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire challenged the set notions of society and roles played by each individual in it.
Just before the start of the revolution in France, women of higher-order sat in salons to discuss ideas of liberalism, education, religion, the church and much more. Though they did not have equal rights as men, they were no less intelligent than French men.
One of the most influential women of the Revolution was Sophie de Condorcet. She worked with her husband, the Marquis de Condorcet, to argue for full women’s suffrage in a July 1790 document entitled “Sur l’admission des femmes au droit de cité” (On the Admission of Women to Civil Rights), available in full from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Condorcet was a true feminist of the time. She was also a professional translator and scholar and very likely translated some writings of Thomas Paine while he was in Paris, and wrote Letters on Sympathy as a response to Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments.”
As the Revolution reached its bloom years women also started demanding cheap bread and food. To many of us who have studied, the cost of bread was the real reason why the revolution started.
Women like Condorcet were well respected and honoured in French society. If two centuries ago France was appreciating women to take leading roles in an effort to keep a nation together then why after World War II did the very same nation humiliate women?
My Take: Collaboration with the enemy especially with the Nazis is worth a punishment as severe as it can be for anybody no matter their sex, race, religion or post-war allegiance.
However, punishment has to come through the established procedure of law. We need to take into account whether the law established is justified, does not encroach upon the rights of human citizens and most of all they are not biased.
In France, this happened because it was a captured country, I do not want you to look down on France in any way possible. It was the stigma of the time just like Holocaust, Holodomor and others. The lesson we can learn is that we need to start talking about women rights at a very serious level. And, yes the things may not be the same.
Sometimes men may be better and at other times women may be better at a certain job but equal rights should belong to everyone.