Norway, Women and the Home Front during World War II

Deep effects of World War II on Norwegian women. If a country is occupied by a foreign power such as Norway was between 1940 and 1945, people’s lives are changed dramatically, not only because of the military presence of the occupier, but also because of the regime of occupation. The restrictions concerning politics and culture touched everyday life when newspapers, cinema, and even sports activities were taken over by Nazi rule. As a consequence, many Norwegians boycotted all types of official cultural events, and social life more and more took place in privacy. Other restrictions, such as a curfew after darkness, also changed everyday life. As far as the gender-related consequences of the German occupation of Norway, it is necessary to be informed about the living conditions of the average population at the time of the German invasion. Norway had about 3 million inhabitants, which meant about 10 people per square kilometer (or per 3.86 square miles). The economy was mostly agrarian; most of the approximately 330,000 farms existing in 1939 were very small and often the farmers were hardly able to survive on what they produced.

Families were poor and frequently had numerous children, many of whom died before they were grown. In farming households, every-one—men, women, and children—had to do hard work, but gender roles and responsibilities were still very traditional. Only the bigger Norwegian cities like Oslo were beginning to develop an industrial culture and at the same time a modernization of social life was taking place. Women were able to find work outside of the home, but this also meant that women staying at home with children now were regarded as housewives and no longer as part of a household’s economy. Statistically the number of housewives rose from 445,466 in 1930 to 651,230 in 1946. The fact that women were having fewer children but were becoming mothers at a younger age was another effect of modernization.

The German occupation, especially the policy of Nazification starting at the end of 1940, had far-reaching effects on the gender-related organization of the public and private spheres. The totalitarian grip of the occupier and the collaborationist regime under Vidkun Quisling was directed toward political organizations, societies, and culture and media—the traditionally masculine spheres of power within the society. Consequently private lives became the realm of clandestine organization or the circulation of subversive and resistant codes. Men and women—in their everyday behavior and in the choice of cultural and sporting events they would visit or boycott—made decisions that were no longer private.

A very important facet of how the German occupation of Norway particularly influenced women was shortages of food and other goods needed in everyday life as well as confiscation of materials the occupation power needed for warfare (e.g., warm cloth or rubber boots). It was part of a woman’s traditional duties to organize or produce substitutes for missing items. Women had the difficult task of supplying food, clothes, and other things needed daily and this led to many strategies and tricks that were not quite legal in the eyes of the occupation power. Black markets flourished. Such nonconformist behavior, however, could not quite be called "resistance."

On the other hand, the line between the private and the political was definitely transcended when refugees were hidden in private households; in this case, women had to supply everything the refugees needed. Gender arrangements changed under the condition of the German occupation. Women’s traditional responsibilities demanded more initiative, creativity, and courage than in peacetime and sometimes were even part of a resistance struggle. Paradoxically, after the war the culture of tribute remembered only male resistance heroes and housewives supporting the effort were doing nothing but a woman’s duty.

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