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Women and appeasement

‘Guilty Women’, Foreign Policy, and Appeasement in Inter-War Britain - Julie V. Gottlieb

All too often, foreign policy has been treated as though it were exclusively the concern of men, with women usually seen either as passive participants or as secondary support. Breaking that paradigm often requires broadening the view of foreign policy formulation to take into account other, less tangible factors, such as political rhetoric, public opinion, and social encounters in which women were often able to exert influence on international relations. One such example of this was in the appeasement debates in Britain in the 1930s, in which, as Julie Gottlieb reveals in this book, women played a significant role in both the advocacy for appeasement and in the efforts to urge a stronger stance towards Nazi Germany.

 

Gottlieb's examination is divisible into three areas. The first is in the role women played in public activism. This was an area in which women enjoyed their greatest prominence, as their participation in such activities as peace movements and refugee aid organizations had long provided them with an entrée into public discussions regarding foreign affairs. By contrast their participation in electoral politics was more novel, yet here Gottlieb describes the role that women played as well, not just in terms of elected officials such as Nancy Astor, but others such as Annie Chamberlain who, while not a Member of Parliament nonetheless enjoyed a degree of public prominence and played an important role as a campaigner for her husband, Neville. Their presence proved more than symbolic, and they were seen as important conduits to the millions of recently enfranchised women, whose votes now had to be factored into the political calculus of any decision.

 

By expanding the analysis of the participants in the arguments over appeasement, Gottlieb has provided a long-overdue correction to a traditionally blinkered understanding of the participants in the contemporary debates over appeasement. While her writing can be a little dense due to her over-reliance upon jargon, she nonetheless provides an invaluable study of the development of British foreign policy in the 1930s. No future study of the subject can afford to ignore the fresh perspective she has brought to it, and hopefully it can serve as a model for similar studies that can restore women to an area of history from which that have been unjustly left out for too long.