During WW1, there was a huge movement in England to get more men to enlist as soldiers. One tactic was to have women give men in civilian clothing a white feather as a symbol of cowardice. Back then it was widely unpopular, as men who were minding their own business were given white feathers at random! Also, people were angry at the audacity of women calling men cowards and insulting strangers who they didn’t even know. The feather was profoundly humiliating and men who got it still affected them into old age. The feminist movement was also called into question, as women who did it were mostly feminists, but the movement wanted to end war. The feminist movement became split over the war for complex reasons. Many of the propaganda advocating the war talked about brutal assaults on women and children, something the feminists couldn’t be against fighting against. Also, the war opened up new opportunities for women to be in the public sphere and workforce with men away at war. They thought that it would be a way for women to be “good citizens” and earn the trust of men and their country to be more active participants. The war had benefits for the women pushing men to go to war. Many women giving out white feathers may have had a contempt for men and wanted to shame them, as it gave them more power and a sense of control over men, like the men did over women in many issues. Men could shame a woman for being too promiscuous or outgoing or other things. Now, the white feather campaign could reverse those roles and shame men for not fulfilling their roles as warriors and defenders.
Honestly, I side with the men who didn’t like the white feather campaign. I would be more understanding of it if men did it to other men, but since women didn’t experience military combat like women do now, they shouldn’t have the right to shame men into going to war. Women back then weren’t soldiers like men were, and didn’t see the things men saw and had to do, so they had no stance on what it really meant to be on the front lines fighting a war and the horrors it entailed. To ask men to face those horrors and blackmail them socially into going there I think was wrong as none of them could fully realize what they were asking of the men. I think it’s akin to a campaign today where men shame women into getting pregnant and having children, saying that they aren’t “real women” if they don’t. The same logic would be that since men never experience pregnancy, they don’t fully realize what they would be demanding of women. Same with women asking men to go to war, if they will have never experienced war themselves. I think the white feather campaign is one of those events that should stay in history!