Volksmoeders in die kollig : histories–teoretiese verkenning van die rol van vroue in die Ossewa–Brandwag, 1938 tot 1954
The Ossewa–Brandwag (OB) was a unique Afrikaner organisation, swept along by the current ideologies of the late thirties and forties of the twentieth century. Although the history of this organisation was thoroughly recorded there is hardly any material available on the role of women in the OB. The aim of this dissertation is to break the silence surrounding OB women by a historical–theoretical exploration of the agency of Afrikaner women.In this exploration use is made of gender as a category of historical analysis to point out how contemporaries’ understanding of sexual differences was influenced by the ideal of the volksmoeder (mother of the nation). The focus is on how,by means of social organisation,women asserted themselves as political agents in the OB, seen in the context of contemporaries’ understanding of sexual differences. The theoretical method of Joan Wallach Scott is used not only to describe the agency of women but also to explain and interpret it. The above–mentioned exploration is done by looking at how Afrikaner women from the very beginning of the movement were involved in every facet of the Ossewa–Brandwag’s activities–– from fund raising to cultural activities to social work to violent resistance to the Smuts government.In all these activities gender was used as a norm for the division of labour and social organising. Against the backdrop of social constructionism it is demonstrated how women by these activities took part in the volksmoeder discourse often by reconstructing their own subjective identity within the limits of the conceptual language of the discourse. In the OB mainly two symbolical aspects of the volksmoeder emerged, namely the spirit of freedom and motherhood. The former was used particularly by OB women themselves to give content to their identity.In their resistance to South Africa’s participation in World War II the traditional boundaries of the gender order were transcended and new meaning was given to the image of the volksmoeder by the women themselves. On the other hand women’s agency was underplayed in the official policy of the OB by the biological determinism underlying contemporaries’ understanding of sexual differences. “The cradle of the Afrikaner woman” was seen as a norm confining women to the family. Thus the “highest calling” of women was described in the OB as “motherhood”. The volksmoeder, however, is a dynamic and often contradictory construction of identity. Seen against the background of Michel Foucault’s understanding of “power” women used their position as mothers to extend their political agency even further. In this way women of the OB not only gave new meaning to the image of the volksmoeder, they even made use of the narrower version of the volksmoeder to lay a claim to a central position for themselves in the movement. This was done by women in their practical activities themselves giving content and meaning to the constructed image of “true femininity”. The performative nature of gender turned all activities in the OB into gender activities. Historically spoken Afrikaner women played a central part in the OB from 1938 to 1954. Theoretically spoken this part depended on contemporaries’ understanding of sexual differences and the way women used their agency was profoundly influenced by gender.
- Humanities