Gender Roles2





Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant’s Shadow Shapes is a remarkable piece of literature that truly captures this young woman’s accounts of war. Her stories clearly show her views of the war and how she felt, being a part of it. From it we learn what the First World War was like for a nurse injured over seas. Being told first hand, and from her own accounts, Sergeant clearly shows the position of the women during World War I.
Gender plays a major role in this excerpt from Sergeant’s Shadow Shapes. The author refers to gender many times throughout the piece. This easier seen when looking at the piece in regards to gendered societal positions, as discussed in Higonnet and Higonnet’s The Double Helix. Sergeant’s own view of her position in the war gives a clear example of how a woman’s role in society is still that of less than a man, even though she is injured in war. Through Sergeant’s accounts society’s views if gender are also shown when she is being transferred to another hospital.
Gender is used throughout the piece. It appears that the story is told mostly through a male point of view, which is interesting especially since this is an autobiographical account of a woman’s experience. However Sergeant herself looks at the war as a “male” event, even though she herself is participating. We see this first when she states “Every American in Europe today , however bad his fate, feels in his heart of hearts glad to be here.”(p. 77) Clearly she does not see herself as an active participate, because she does not include her own sex when she discusses feelings of war and being overseas. It is almost as if her own position is trivial to that of a mans, the spirit of unanimity that she feels doesn’t fully include her as a woman.
The next time Sergeant speaks of this feeling of unanimisme, is when she is being taken to get x-rayed. It is at this point again that we see Sergeant look at her experience in a masculine light. This time she is “translated into the body of a soldier, and into the system in which he lives and moves..” (p.78) Here again we see that women aren’t fully a part of the war, although Sergeant was injured during duty, she feels like a soldier, as if soldiers were the only ones to deserve that treatment. It is also as a soldier that we see Sergeant behave, yet again, as a man. Sergeant “demanded, in the voice of Julius Caesar or Napoleon, a hypodermic.”(p.78) Again she resumes the role of a man to receive the needle.
Higonnet & Higonnet claim “The actual nature of the social activity is not as critical as the cultural perception of its relative value in a gender-linked structure of subordination.” (p.34) This statement is made perfectly clear in the following excerpt from Sergeant.
Like the soldier, I feel no bitterness and
very little surprise at my individual lot.
At every stage I have said to myself: ‘So
this is what it is like’- drivefrom hospital
to hospital, for instance; or to lie on the floor
interminably while indifferent people walk about and
brush your face with a foot or a skirt. Certainly
I did not want to be hurt. But I still have less
right than the soldier to complain. (p 76)

This paragraph clearly shows that although Sergeants is sick, and like the soldier, she experiences what war is like, she feels she has less right than the soldier to complain. Gender positions remained the same, even during war. Even though Sergeant was injured serving her country, it is not as important as the male who was injured serving his country. This is why Sergeant sees war through a male point of view and saw herself as a soldier, it is because it is more valued by society. Society’s view on gender can also be seen in Sergeant’s work. The following clearly shows society’s view on gender role
The new patient intrigues the magpies, especially
the youngish specimens,and they close in two or three
deep about the stretcher-cart, gazing at the drawn
features under the cowl with tilted, frizzed heads