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Regulating Body Boundaries and Health during the Second World War: Nationalist Discourse, Media Representations and the Experiences of Canadian Women War Workers



This article examines the intersections of gender, wartime nationalist rhetoric and the production of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ bodies in both the Canadian workplace and the home during the Second World War. Analysing government, industry and media discourses in relation to oral history interviews with thirty-eight women aircraft workers, we discuss women's distinctive role in shaping the health and morale of the social body during wartime, to ensure the maintenance of family, nation and the Allied war effort. While health in wartime was defined in terms of worker productivity for both men and women, anxiety about women's expanded roles heightened the emphasis on moral respectability as a marker of the ‘healthy’ female body. This was further complicated by the wartime emphasis on women's responsibilities to boost morale as part of their role in maintaining health and productivity for both men and women. Through such examples as workplace regulations and domestic advice, we examine the increased monitoring of women's individual and collective bodies and the intensified demands on female war workers as they crossed between the public and private spheres. We use our oral histories to examine women's embodied memories of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ bodies within a regional context and their responses to government, industry and media discourses.