Present day women writers are correcting the historical loss of women’s espionage narratives by crafting articles and books on the lives of WW 2 and CIA women agents. They are bringing significant espionage experiences and contributions including women’s leadership attributes into the cultural discourse. For example, Lynne Olson penned a novel about Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the French Resistance leader who ran France’s largest and longest running network in WW 2.
Although thousands of women worked in the French resistance and in some of the most dangerous jobs, the negative societal expectations of women aided the dropping of their stories from history. Their capacity to be formidable foes became invisible and as such, even Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a leader, was not acknowledged by General de Gaulle when he designated the resistance heroes of WW 2 (see Kati Marton‘s article).
As Liza Mundy points out, women who were painted as only being able to bat their eyelashes and lure men to tell all, were also trained by the same powers in WW 2 to be saboteurs, wireless operators and couriers and sent behind enemy lines to thwart the Nazis. In other words, the Allied Forces, invited some women to side step the cultural expectations of the day, even though outwardly it was couched as something different (listen to Invisible Women Episode 3). Some of these women are receiving overdue accolades in books like Sarah Rose’s, D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II.
Recently, Christina Hillsberg reviewed a number of books about women spies, CIA operatives, and targeters. In fact, she quotes Phoebe Waller-Bridge, dialogue editor for the James Bond movie, ” No Time to Die” as saying, “Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?” In other words, not everyone’s experiences and storylines fit the male heroic stereotypic pattern as evidenced by these books on women spies. Perhaps an interesting and affirming film story/character may emerge from the autobiographical pages of Tracy Walder’s, The Unexpected Spy, Amaryllis Fox’s, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA or others.
Based on the articles and books noted above, there is reason to hope that women’s narratives will continue to be told by women aiding the correction of the historical record. However, every reader must ask the discerning query, has the author herself uncovered her own assimilated lenses; has the writer suspended her own cultural assumptions and presumptions in order to write from as much as an unbiased place as possible about these women and their contributions? Because only in doing so, is the historical record that kept these women’s stories from being told, truly corrected. It’s not just about what’s out there in the cultural ethers, it’s also about us, the individual, the writer and reader. We have to examine the deeper and more subtler layers of ourselves in order to correct long-standing erroneous perceptions about women, others and our world. Complex gendered stories may be revealed but how they are told by the writer and taken in by the reader affects our cultural conversation and trajectory about women and others.