Militarism versus feminism
As John says, women were not faced with the pressure to enlist, but they faced equally difficult choices about how to respond to the war. Women campaigners played a major role in the anti-war movement, both in Britain and elsewhere. A number of women Quakers, such as Violet Tillard and Edith Ellis, were imprisoned later in the war for their peace activism.
The women's suffrage movement split over the war. Emmeline Pankhurt diverted her energy into backing the war and helping recruitment, while her daughter Sylvia was one of Britain's most well-known anti-war campaigners.
Militarism Versus Feminism was the title of a book published in 1915. It was written by Catherine Marshall, Mary Sargant Florence and C.K. Ogden, opponents of war and supporters of women's suffrage. Here's an edited extract:
For feminism, history has only one message on the question of war, and it is this:
Militarism has been the curse of women, as women, from the first dawn of social life. Owing to the turmoil in which it has kept every tribe and every nation almost without exception, mankind has seldom been able to pause for a moment to set social affairs in order – and the first and most crying reform has ever been the condition of woman.
Violence at home, violence abroad; violence between individuals, between classes, between nations, between religions; violence between man and woman: this it is which, more than all other influences, has prevented the voice of woman being heard in public affairs until almost yesterday.
War has created slavery with its degrading results for women, and its double standard of morality from which we are not yet completely free. Militarism has ruined education with its traditions of discipline and its conception of history. War, and the fear of war, has kept woman in perpetual subjection, making it her chief duty to exhaust all her faculties in the ceaseless production of children that nations might have the warriors needed for aggression or defence.
She must not have any real education – for the warrior alone required knowledge and independence; she must not have a voice in the affairs of the nation, for war and preparation for war were so fundamental in the life of nations that woman, with her silly humanitarianism, must not be allowed to meddle therewith! And so war, which the influence of women alone might have prevented, was used as the main argument against enfranchisement, as it had been the main barrier to emancipation in the past. The circle is complete.
War, militarism, imperialism: in every form they have proved her undoing, and yet women hesitate today on which side to throw their influence!
One of the possible, even probable consequences of this war will be an increase in the power of militarism. The only antidote to developments so inimical to women is the existence of an organised body of public opinion. The greatest hope for the formation of such a public opinion lies in the suffrage organisations whose aims and aspirations would be frustrated by the victory of the advocates of armaments and conscription. Men, as men, are powerless to move. Here is the prerogative of women.
Militarism will not change in the future. It must always produce an androcentric society, a society where the moral and social position of women is that of an essentially servile and subordinate section of the community. In each single nation, taken for itself, men will be able to make a really good case for militarism, if the movement to educate public opinion does not become international.
For this reason above all others, it is the duty as well as the obvious interest of women to make clear their views with no uncertain voice. All other international bonds have been burst asunder by the war. Science, labour, religion, have all failed; but that silent half of humanity, permanently non-combatant, on whom the horrors of war fall with equal severity in all nations alike, bringing to all the same sorrows and the same sufferings, may through these very sorrows and sufferings find a new and real bond of unity for the redemption and regeneration of the civilised world. Here at last it is clear that the higher ideals and aspirations of women coincide with the future welfare of the whole of humanity. In them is the hope of man.
From Militarism Versus Feminism by Catherine Marshall, Mary Sargant Florence and C.K. Ogden (Virago Press, 1987 ), edited by Margaret Kamester and Jo Vellacott.
As we have seen, John's initial determination to resign from the Officer Training Corps weakened under pressure from the headmaster and public opinion. He was later asked why he had joined the Corps in the first place.