Welcome to Invisible Women, a podcast about 8 women who worked in espionage during WW 2 from the American, British, French, and Polish military units to Belgium, Dutch and Polish resistance cells. They all worked in dangerous territory and were from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. What they had in common was the opportunity to step outside of societal norms while at the same time working in the shadows. And while their contributions were incredibly important, they’ve been hidden. Invisible Women is an opportunity to hear their stories, to explore their roles in society, and to discover what we can learn from these stories that’s relevant today.
These women’s stories are from interviews I completed as part of my Ph.D. research in 2005. This podcast is about cultural shadow – what is endarkened in our culture and therefore unavailable to us. It’s also about projection –what we project onto others because of societal expectations and it’s about the unperceived lenses that we grow up with — invisible lenses and how they thwart our lives, our potential, creativity and empowerment and how these invisible lenses bind us in relationships, work and life.
I’m a psychotherapist, and my current practice involves focusing on women’s issues in contemporary society – helping women re-imagine their lives as we uncover the invisible threads of cultural shadow and the unperceived lenses in their lives that thwart their potential and their lives generally. With the bombardment of media images and news today it becomes even more important to discern your voice from the cultural voice.
I didn’t plan to search out women who worked in espionage during the Second World War. In fact, I was working on completely different research. I was studying labyrinth meditation and dreamwork. But a friend was capturing WW 2 fighter pilot stories and asked me if I’d be interested in interviewing a women spy who worked behind enemy lines for the Allied Forces. Briefly, I shifted my Ph.D. research and began searching for these women who had fallen into obscurity. None of them had written fictionalized books and most had signed an official secrets act for their respective governments promising to remain silent. However, in 2002 a few countries opened their WW 2 espionage files and some of these became available — some files will remain forever closed.
Although I collected their stories in 2004/5, I’ve continued to work with their narratives as they reveal what happens when a society’s norms shift drastically and open up for women — when they are invited into work previously reserved only for men. Besides the opening of norms due to the crisis and chaos of war and the fact that they are spying, there is a complexity to the research in the different eras — the capturing of their stories from their young adulthood when they are in the last years of their lives, and the fact that I am embedded in western culture, like you – processing very similar societal expectations and parameters today. In fact, the progressive movements today such as, MeToo and LGBTQ+ are a result of cultural openings and an excavation of western cultural shadow.
Human beings are enculturated into a society — learning it’s framework, rules and regulations in childhood. These are metanarratives of how we are to be, to live. We are embedded in our society and when you’re embedded in something it can be very difficult to sort through because the lenses one gazes with, are very subjective. We are like fish in the river of our culture unaware of life out of the water.
I’ve discovered through the years that the original pull of this research for me is like the Noir film – I began the story as a witness and then found that I’m really a character in it. The women’s stories magnify the cultural lenses and therefore, the endarkenment of feminine empowerment in western culture. So, it’s not just me hearing about the parameters of a story out there – it’s also a story that I live, and you live. We don’t realize we are looking through an eclipsed reality due to our upbringing and in turn, because of this, we suffer from internal oppression. Unless we know to ask the question(s), we might never under-stand that we are in a controlled hallucination of sorts. At the very heart of western assimilation is the issue of women’s empowerment which is crucial as it affects everything — it affects our identity, our potential, our voice.
We live the first half of life learning and trying to fit ourselves into society’s expectations, but the second half is really about discerning who you are more clearly. At mid-life why was I was pulled into studying women in espionage? It was an about face but there was something in it that spoke to me deeply. However, at the time, I didn’t know what that was. I followed the inner push that was directing me from the unconscious to explore why this subject held such interest, energy and passion for me. I choose to return to school to try to under-stand and develop a broader understanding of eastern philosophies, different states of consciousness and ways of being in the world. There was something in all of that, that I needed to explore. It became my journey toward dismantling my assimilated assumptions and beliefs – those invisible lenses – that were no longer serving me well.
Hearing the courageous stories and the reflections told by elder women about what they did in their 20s, in war time taught me even more about courage, adventuresomeness, discernment, self-agency, embodiment, and the importance of taking action generally for women. I learned about this crucial and monumental time of their lives and how it was later hidden post war, eclipsed by the very culture that promoted their unusual work. They were not rewarded in any way, shape or form compared to the men. These women who had said yes to spying, to this dangerous work, were unacknowledged and no one knew or would listen even if they did try to talk about 50 years later. That was an aspect that really troubled me—when they were finally allowed to talk, why wouldn’t others believe them and why didn’t they talk about their contributions more? Why didn’t they feel more empowered after what they had accomplished? All these aspects are fluid, intertwined and relevant today. I hope you will join me as I unveil what is in western cultural shadow via the narratives of women in espionage.