Juliette Pattinson
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‘The best disguise’
Performing femininities for clandestine purposes during the Second World War
in Gender and warfare in the twentieth century
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In the Second World War, women were involved in undercover work but they were concentrated in particularly female-appropriate positions. This chapter is an exploration of textual accounts which narrate how femininities, which were strategic and empowering, could be mobilised and how the necessities of war impacted upon femininity. It explores testimonies that narrate the ways that female agents employed conventional forms of temporally specific attractiveness in order to assist passing. The private, domestic tasks traditionally performed by women offered female agents immunity and provided them with a cover for their clandestine work. The chapter discusses accounts that record the effectiveness of enactments of traditional feminine conduct. Some tasks were explicitly denied to women as a gendered division of labour was developed within the Special Operations Executive (SOE) with women being sent into France only as wireless operators and couriers.

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