A ProvoCAtive PresenCe
Military Women in Visual Culture
Among the advertisements for cosmetics and cigarettes in an
issue of the British fan magazine Picture Show in 1953 the (young)
female reader is addressed directly in this way: “There’s a place
for You in the W.R.A.F.” (figure 1).1 A WRAF member, Joan Pears,
smiles while the text informs us, “She wanted to stand on her
own feet; to meet different people; to travel abroad.” Having left
her civilian training as a hairdresser in favor of her new role as
a fighter plotter in an operations room, Pears suggests the ex-
citing possibilities of military service for women, a potential mi-
gration from feminized labor (hair and beauty) to a position of
agency and responsibility (an “important life”). Historians have
demonstrated that the place offered to women after the Second
World War was a rather contradictory and in many ways lim-
ited one; it was nonetheless a place, one officially sanctioned at
that, within the male institutions of the postwar military. While I
use the term postwar conventionally here to denote the period
after the Second World War, it is worth noting that this recruit-
ment ad ran just three months after the end of the Korean War,
a reminder of the extent to which Western military forces, U.S.
forces in particular, would continue to be involved in wars and
conflicts in the postwar era. As an exemplary young recruit, Joan
Pears works in precisely the kind of clerical and communications
role the expansion of which led to increased utilization of (and
indeed dependence on) women in the military. The laws and cus-
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