Stay At Home Dad: Swapping Gender Roles in “The Dawns Here are Quiet"
All quiet on the female front
It is evident that women were in a myriad of ways the unsung heroes of Russian war history, particularly in World War II. Thrown into brutal jobs without training or sufficient leadership, women throughout Russia were expected to put on the hats of mother, wife, patriot, and now soldier, all at the same time. Once their contributions to the war effort had been exhausted, it was quietly back to the home front for them. It is significant, then, that the World War II film “The Dawns Here are Quiet” depicts valiant leader Vaskov as the one to return to the home front and take on the position of caretaker for Rita’s left behind son. The film not only celebrates the effort of women in combat, but it makes a poignant comparison between the roles of men and women in Russian life.
A patriot and patriarch
Each of the five central women (Rita, Lisa, Zhenya, Sonja, and Galya) represent the very real lives full of family, love, school, and untapped potentials that many at the time were forced to leave behind. Rita especially stands as an emblem of the love and sacrifice women were expected to exercise not just to their own kin, but to their motherland as well. This is best shown in her dying scene, where in her last breaths she chokes with pride that Vaskov did not fail them, and that the died serving their nation. Vaskov, though, represents an even less explored dynamic of the balance amongst men between taking charge and being nurturing. While he leads the women in battle, he still sings with Lisa, roughhouses with Zhenya, listens to Sonja’s poetry, and offers the sick Galya his coat, all things a father would do for his own children; his distress in losing all five of them further indicates the emotional bond he formed with them. Vaskov’s nature supplements the girls’ now much drearier lives with the comforts of home. This stark contrast shows that Rita transitioned from being a mother to a soldier, while Vaskov transitioned from being a soldier to a father.
What makes a man
Vaskov’s transition is not just figurative, though. Agreeing to tend to Rita’s ill son as she lay dying in front of him, it is the gallant male lead that must quietly return to the home front and resume the duties of a father. This is contrary to the typical male chauvinism and pressure to emulate them rampant at the time, where women were expected to match the success of men. Vaskov humbles himself, becoming more of a brother with a familial obligation to Rita’s son than a sergeant with an obligation to preserving his masculine, heroic front. Although women’s main task was to both tend to the children at home and take over for men at the workbench, we see Vaskov carry that burden for Rita instead. Portraying the sergeant as both a combatant and a committed caregiver offered viewers an example of the many hats men also ought to don, and the responsibilities they must undertake to really be the virtuous heroes history paints them as.
In the somber close to the film (about 14 min), we see Vaskov and Rita's son visit the memorial of the five women
Honoring the unsung heros
Also significant is Vaskov’s choice to bring Rita’s son with him back years later to the site where he and the five girls joined to fight together. The contributions of women to the war effort were most commonly unacknowledged and forgotten through history, with the media celebrating almost exclusively male triumphs while women were hushed back into their daily routines. Vaskov, however, seems to not want this to be the case. Given his great pride and affection for the girls, Vaskov refuses to let their deaths be in vain. Bringing Rita’s son to their camp ensures that he is made aware of their story and of their enterprise on the frontlines, and hopefully acknowledging the immense sacrifice his mother had to endure for both her family and her country. What’s more, Vaskov becomes an example for Rita’s son of what a man ought to be: valiant, but also compassionate.