Women in Wartime: Breaking Free From Gender Roles

For my project, I analyzed the Irish Freedom Movement and the Women’s Movement. The period I’m looked at is rather large, starting in 1916 with the Easter Rising to the Good Friday Agreement, signed on April 10th, 1998. Generally, when we think of war we think of men going off to fight while the women stay home and do the jobs that their man has left, in most cases the stories of the women get drowned out by the story of the men, but in the case of the Irish this did not happen.

I proposed to write a research to answer the following question: what influenced women to go outside of their prescribed gender roles and help fight for Irish Independence? I will be writing a research paper using historical events, dramatic pieces, and cultural traditions in order to answer this question and figure out why Irish women didn’t do what women historically did during war time. Using sources that I have acquired over the year I would like to argue that point that because of the Irish traditions and their culture that women stepping out of their gender roles really wasn’t that surprising.

In my opinion this question is one of the most important questions you can ask. Women have been one of if not the most oppressed group of people of all time yet they can still summon the strength to stand up to the status-quo and change it. I feel that this question is significant because throughout the year we have seen the strength of Irish women in drama and in reality, but we don’t see the underlying reasons why they are so strong and resilient. I want to use this paper to dive deep into Irish tradition and history to see why women are so strong in Ireland.

In order to prove my point I will be taking a source from many different genres in literature. This is to show that despite the difference in context or style of the piece they all show that Irish women have this engrained strength in them from their cultural upbringing.

The first source that I will be using looks at the Irish traditions and it is Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture by Richard Kearney. I will be using this source to look at the legend of Kathleen Ni Houlihan. The reason that I feel that this source would be important to my paper is that Ni Houlihan is probably the oldest and most well know of Irish traditions and it can be very easily linked to heroic acts done by the Irish. My aim with this source is to show that having a Matriarch figure passed on through traditions throughout the generations has engrained a sense of empowerment in Irish women.

The second source looks at the dramatic side of why women stepped up, the piece is a play called Twinkletoes by Jennifer Johnston. The play shows a woman named Karen and her struggle to get on with her life while maintaining a relationship with her interned husband. I wanted to use this source to show women needed to step up because not only were the men put in camps but the women also had to strength to do so.

Another source I will use is the film Michael Collins directed by Neil Jordan. I wanted to use this film to show how women didn’t really step out of the norm at first and compare it to later historical documents to show how the roles of women changed.

Irish Women in Nationalism by Louise Ryan and Margaret Ward I chose this book to show the historical side of the fight. I will be looking at a few of the short stories that help shine a light on why women historically stood up for themselves. Along with that I will be looking at Aretxaga Begona’s article “Ruffling A Few Patriarchal hairs.” I will use this source to show that not all the women were nationalists. Some were feminists and were fighting to show the world how strong women can be. From this article, I would also like to explain why some women didn’t think that they should be fighting. I feel it is important to show why some people don’t do the right thing and fight for their country to enhance the brave deeds of the women were who did stand up for themselves and their nation.



Johnston, Jennifer. Three Monologues: Twinkletoes ; Mustn’t Forget High Noon ; Christine. Belfast: Lagan, 1995. Print.


Kearney, Richard. Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture. Place of Publication Not Identified: Merlin Pub, 1999. Print.


Michael Collins. Dir. Neil Jordan. Perf. Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman. N.p., n.d. Web.


“Ruffling a Few Patriarchal Hairs: Women’s Experiences of War in Northern Ireland.” Cultural Survival. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.


Ryan, Louise. “Irish Women and Nationalism.” Bookdepository.com. Irish Academic Press Ltd, 01 May 2005. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

2 thoughts on “Women in Wartime: Breaking Free From Gender Roles

  1. Warren Steins

    Hey there Tim, this seems like an interesting topic seeing as how these Irish women was not just some kind of onetime anomaly, but was a long time thing. I have a question; in your research did you find that because of the women fighting alongside men in the same wars, that women as a whole had a higher standing in the country as a whole? In Jordan there are multiple subcultures who either fought with Jordan or against it and it greatly influences the standing of those groups. For example the Bedouin people of the area and the Circassians from the North fought together when the country was first being put together as a real country, and now those are probably the two most respected subcultures in the country. Whereas Palestinians in Jordan can barely ever get a government job because Palestine and Jordan had a bit of a tussle a little while back. Women as a group are obviously a different case than those, but I was wondering if it might follow a similar pattern.

  2. Tyler Wright

    I find your topic quite interesting. I agree with your statement that women’s stories get drowned out and I’ve seen that a lot in my own studies this semester. We recently watched a brief video about the book that we read “I Am Nujood, Aged 10 and Divorced”, and instead of discussing Nujood’s story about being a child bride and how she was abused and raped, they focused on how Islam is truly a terrible religion and completely dismissed her as an individual. I also find it incredibly interesting that traditional gender roles do not apply in Ireland. This is a stark contrast to the women in Islamic countries in which gender roles are heavily enforced. These gender roles come about due to the religion and the way it defines different roles for men and women and their place in society. I find it curious how it seems external forces are responsible for defining the gender roles. In your studies it appears to be this war and in my studies it was a religious text. It is also interesting to note that Ireland is a religious country just like say Yemen, and both have dealt with war; however, despite war helping spur a gender role revolution in Ireland, it has done nothing for gender roles in Islamic countries like Yemen. It makes me wonder if this is due to some sort of distinguishing cultural phenomena or if the two varying religions played a role in this movement. I also wonder how religion overall has played a role in shaping not only the Irish culture, but the gender roles. Prior to the war were the gender roles more stereotypical or were they still slightly in line with what you saw in your research?


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