There are books whose titles outshine their content and there are books whose content surpasses their titles. I am reading one of the latter. The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line by Mari K. Eder tells the stories of 15 women who served their countries and the cause of civilization in World War II.
I was familiar with some of the heroines such as Virginia Hall (spy), Ruth Gruber (journalist plus), and Diet Eman (Resistance fighter). But I was unfamiliar with most of the others. I appreciated reading their fascinating stories. These are women to be admired and emulated. Yet, the title and the introduction, as well as a repeated trope that they were discriminated against and treated unfairly bothered me. These women overcame obstacles, they did not wallow in victimhood.
It is true that many of these women’s actions went not only unrewarded but even unacknowledged. Some, though not all, of them had to try harder and prove themselves more because they were women. Yet many of the valiant men who served in the military or the Resistance were also unacknowledged. The playing field is rarely equal and the military is bureaucratic and slow to change.
When I read, admiringly, of women who did not reveal what they did during the war because their exploits were classified, I was reminded of my uncle who also stayed silent about his similarly classified feats of courage during World War II. When I read that some of these women didn’t share their stories until decades later, I was reminded of numerous male members of the ‘greatest generation’ who also saw talking about themselves as unseemly. The story of two quiet British sisters who helped Jews escape the Nazis because that was what a decent Christian needed to do, has parallels among many other men and women who are unknown and uncelebrated on earth though not in Heaven.
These women showed greatness, courage and principle, qualities that seem to be increasingly uncommon. They are rare among both men and women, and among people of all races, economic circumstances, and nationalities. Tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things are needed to arouse a younger generation. When I was growing up, Helen Keller and Louis Braille were held up as role models for both girls and boys. No one demanded that we look through the prism of our sex alone. I think we lose some of that inspiration and limit the impact when we insist on viewing these types of stories through a lens of victimhood and subtly suggest that we can only be inspired by those whose backgrounds we share.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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