Vichy and the Eternal Feminine

A Contribution to a Political Sociology of Gender

Vichy and the Eternal Feminine

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 20 b&w photos Published: December 2001

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History, Sociology

In this nuanced history of occupied France, Francine Muel-Dreyfus presents a powerful examination of the political and social construction of gender under the Vichy regime. Arguing that the regime used symbolic violence to reshape a liberal culture once based on individual rights into one of deference to hierarchical authority, Muel-Dreyfus shows how Vichy invoked theories of “natural” gender inequality and “eternal” opposition between the masculine and the feminine to justify women’s legal and social subordination, and how these ideologies were incorporated into the French woman’s sense of self.
Drawing on an extensive body of legislative, religious, educational, medical, and literary texts, Muel-Dreyfus examines how the Vichy regime brutally resurrected the gender politics that had been rejected during France’s social struggles in the 1930s. Strikingly, she reveals how this resurrection in turn fed into racial politics: childless women, for instance, and those who had abortions were construed—like Jews—as threats to France’s racial “purity.” With its atendant patterns of social inclusion and exclusion that were deeply rooted in the political and cultural history of the Third Republic, Muel-Dreyfus claims, a pervasive range of gendered metaphors helped to structure the very laws and policies of the Vichy regime.
The French language edition of this book was published in 1996 to wide acclaim. Contributing to theories about the role of gender in political philosophy, to the cultural anthropology of symbolic representation, and to our understanding of the history of fascism, Vichy and the Eternal Feminine will appeal to French, European, and twentieth-century historians; students and scholars of gender and racial studies; political scientists; and anthropologists.


“An evocative tribute to the élan of the most renowned Free French and colonial regiments of the Second World War. . . . [A]dds considerably to the work on war origins and wartime France.” — Martin Thomas , International History Review

“This is an important work of history and of women’s studies, but also a work of cultural studies, since the ‘eternal feminine’ is so obviously still with us.” — Melanie Hawthorne , American Historical Review

"Vichy and the Eternal Feminine elucidates the impact of gender mythology on Vichy discourse and, in a larger context, on much of the European political Right from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. It also raises questions about the reception of these messages by Frenchwomen, which researchers since 1996 have begun to address. Duke University Press is to be commended for making the book available to Anglophone readers." — Bertram M. Gordon , Journal of Social History

"Vichy and the Eternal Feminine is an extremely useful analysis of the place of gender at the center of the Vichy regime’s ideology. . . . Vichy and the Eternal Feminine was first published in French in 1996 and has provided historians of gender in the United States and France an exhaustive analysis of discourse from which to move into other areas of research. Having this work in English makes Muel-Dreyfus’s work useful to historians of other geographic areas. . . . [U]seful to scholars of other nations and moments of crisis as well." — Rebecca Pulju , H-Net Reviews

"[A] very sobering account of the repression of women during the Vichy regime in France in the early 1940s. . . . [Muel-Dreyfus’s] gripping depiction of the recasting of Mother’s Day by the Vichy regime captures for readers how a seemingly innocent tradition could be effectively used to propagate an authoritarian, hierarchical, organic, and fundamentally undemocratic politics." — John Francis Burke , Perspectives on Political Science

"[A]n insightful and original work, based on a remarkable range of evidence. Not only does it provide an important re-evaluation of the Vichy regime, but it demonstrates how identities that are in fact arbitrary can be made to appear 'natural' and timeless." — Ian Germani , Canadian Journal of History

"Muel-Dreyfus makes a convincing argument for a gendered examination of the Vichy regime in her exhaustively researched and well-written text. The author provides an interesting perspective on the paroxysms of guilt that overtook French society after its stunning defeat." — Susan E. Dawson , Journal of Women's History

"Muel-Dreyfus presents a very sophisticated and culturally nuanced analysis of the political role gender representations, under the aegis of the eternal feminine, played in the self-construction and definition of the National Revolution, its ideology, and its power. . . . Drawing on a wide range of primary sources and theoretically informed by Bourdieu's analysis of symbolic violence, this outstanding book will appeal to cultural and historical sociologists, as well as gender scholars." — Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi , American Journal of Sociology

This is an outstanding book—historical sociology and social history at its most original. Richly documented and drawing on a wide range of materials to produce the most incisive reading I’ve seen of this moment in French history, Vichy and the Eternal Feminine is a model for historical studies of the formation and construction of social and political identity.” — Joan Scott, author of Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Francine Muel-Dreyfus is Director of Studies at the Centre for European Sociology, School for the Study of Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.
Kathleen A. Johnson is a professional translator who holds a Ph.D in French literature from the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Part 1: The Hypnotic Power of Punishment

1. Writers of the Defeat in Search of Eternity

2. The Church and Feminine Contrition

3. The Demographic Sin

Part 2: The Culture of Sacrifice

4. Violence and State Propaganda

5. Heritage and Incarnations of Catholic Feminine Culture

6. Family Imperialism and Feminine Subjection

Part 3: Biological Order and Social Order

7. “Natural” Hierarchies: Sexual Predestination and Social Predestination

8. Control of Bodies



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2774-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2777-6
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