Friday, 6 August 2010

Women's steep route onto "men's" ships

I've just found the best image yet that illustrates women's struggle to get into that bastion, naval ships. Maybe an artist's version will work as the cover for my new book on women on the wartime seas.

This is an Imperial War Museum b&w photo. I found it last week in their photo archive. This archive was such a rich source that I wished I'd used it before researching any of the word-based data for the book.

That's because photos - of course - are better than a thousand words. The images I saw tell so many important and hidden stories. They include
~ women cheerily cooped up cleaning out ships' boilers in WW1 (unions banned this in the next war)
~ a continuity 'girl' who was in a submarine for 8 weeks while filming in WW2 (despite all claims that women were never on submarines in wartime).

I've tinted this photocopy to draw out the symbolic significance of the woman and the steep rope ladder she's having to climb. And the chaps are deliberately greyed out.

The Wren is not only having to do a tricky feat in the ridiculously inappropriate clothes she was required to wear.

She's also rising to make her way though the denizens of that institution, the ship. Their exclusivity is conveyed through jeering and hostile faces far above her.

Yes, it's historic. The un-named Wren was a Boarding officer in WW2, and today's Navy has good equal opps policies.

But what a useful illustration of the gender hostility at sea that so many women have had to combat.

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