No Job for a Women: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII. Directed by Michèle Midori Fillion. New York: Women Make Movies, 2011. 61 minutes.
Atomic Mom. Directed by M.T. Silvia. New York: Women Make Movies, 2010. 80 minutes.
What is the price of war and its aftermath, and how does the human element complicate the story? These are just some of the questions and thoughts the films reviewed here attempt to address.
In No Job for a Women, director Michéle Midori Fillion tells the story of women journalists who fought to become war correspondents during World War II. Before the Second World War, women who worked in journalism often did so in the women’s sections of newspapers and covered the 4F’s: fashion, food, furniture, and family. War was the purview of male journalists, but by 1943, as the military opened their ranks to women, so too did the opportunities for female journalists open. The United States, according to the film, provided press credentials to 140 women war correspondents but, as with women in the military, they faced severe restrictions in terms of what they could participate in and where they could go. As a result, women had to look in a variety of places outside traditional avenues of war reporting to get their stories, and in doing so they began to write a different story of war. Conventional war reporting was often told from the perspective of the military and soldiers and focused on conducting war. Women such as Martha Gellhorn, Ruth Cowan, and Margaret Burke White began writing about war’s effects on ordinary people, whether at home or at the frontlines. This feminine gaze, if we can call it that, provided readers with a broader and more complex understanding of war.
This is an excellent film, not for its celebratory addition of women to the history of war correspondence during World War II, although there is a little bit of that in the film, but because it helps viewers understand how women war correspondents changed war reporting and readers’ expectations of war stories. Beyond the traditional women’s history month showing, this film is an excellent classroom addition at any time to help students understand the complexities of war; that is, it illuminates not only the destructive power of war but the ways wartime disrupts the lives of those not in the military or on the frontlines.
Atomic Mom is a documentary by M.T. Silvia that investigates the lasting legacies of war through an examination of the lives of two women and their connections to the atomic bomb. The story centers on the film director’s mother, Pauline H. Silvia, a scientist who participated in medical research connected with the atomic bomb in the 1950s and who was one of the few women who explored the effects of radiation. She later grieves her work in atomic research, and this documentary reveals her ongoing struggle with it. The other woman in the documentary is Emiko Okada, a Japanese survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945, who bears witness to the horrors of the atomic bomb and becomes a peace activist. While the women are central to the story, this is not a documentary strictly about women; it is about, as M.T. and Pauline Silvia indicate in the last few minutes of film, truth telling. We can see this in the way the director and her mother and Emiko Okado and her daughter grapple with the how the atomic bomb affected their lives in nuanced and complex ways. Beyond the mystique and the celebration of Cold War atomic energy and weapons research in the mid-twentieth century is the reality of the human cost. The lives of both women, their families, and their communities were radically changed because of the atomic bomb and the atomic research that continued after World War II and during the Cold War. This film may be enhanced with the addition of readings on the Enola Gay exhibit controversy, such as Edward Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt’s History Wars, to provide students a sense of the ongoing conversation about how the human element complicates how we understand and remember war.1
1 Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, eds. History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996), chapters 1 and 5.