La Tonte: The Role of Gender in National Cleansing within Post-World War II France

In the immediate aftermath of the Liberation of France, a nation-wide and gender-specific phenomenon called la tonte took place.  By expressly targeting the women of France, la tonte, which refers to the shaving of women’s heads, highlights the important role women play in the waging of war.  La tonte was a long-lasting experience; it only finally began to peter out at the end of 1946.  The fact that shaving of heads, an act that is not inherently violent, was turned against the women of France at this particular time as a necessary part of the purging of France, must be examined.  Although the act of head shaving was not new, its application in this particular setting added new symbolic significance to the act and it took on a new weight as a direct attack on female sexuality.  After the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, liberation spread across France.  Almost immediately, a fanatical national motivation to purge anything and anyone which had anything to do with collaborationism came to the forefront of each new area that was liberated.  Interestingly, French women made up a disproportionate amount of collaborators and most of these women were punished with la tonte.  La tonte was a critical part of the liberation; it was a public spectacle serving as a public catharsis.  It is crucial to understand the circumstances and motivations of la tonte. Placed within the larger backlash against women across Europe in the aftermath of World War II, its lessons can serve to further understanding of gender violence in warfare and the important symbolic role women play in societies.

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