In the lead up to ANZAC commemorations, the last in the centenary series, a new temporary installation was added to the WWI memorial park outside Massey University. Patriarchal Bollocks explores the propagandist nature of nationalistic military celebrations, as well as the inextricable connections between militarism, masculinity and male violence. The work consists of two poppy-red bouncy balls photographed in position underneath the protruding war memorial building at Massey.

Artist Renee Gerlich says that the work takes a cue from Te Papa’s Gallipoli exhibition, in which a giant sculpture of lieutenant colonel Percival Fenwick looks down over a dead soldier. “What good we are doing, I can’t say,” says Fenwick’s narrator, through the speakers. “Perhaps the war office can… New Zealand is losing good men for one reason or another.”

This question was no doubt forever on the minds of the 100 thousand odd New Zealand boys, teenagers, young men who had their lives stolen through forced conscription during WWI. “Annual ANZAC Day commemorations should have us reflecting on Fenwick’s question,” says Gerlich. “Yet events and exhibitions tend to be too nationalistic and ritualised to welcome questioning that is not purely sentimental.”

This means we neglect to explore the conditions that lead to WWI and the war’s consequences. New Zealand’s colonisation of Samoa is not acknowledged, nor the division of the Middle East between France and Britain or Europe’s “Scramble for Africa”. Stories of iwi, unionists and conscientious objectors who resisted conscription are marginalised, if told. The brutalisation of women is not discussed. “ANZAC commemorations generally avoid making connections between war, empire, capitalism, colonisation and above all – male violence,” says Gerlich. “As a result, we avoid the hard conversations that would bring about demilitarisation.”

Patriarchal Bollocks2Gerlich says that the discussion about war, masculinity and male violence is particularly important today, as our government is currently considering legislation that would see males gaining access to women’s refuges and prisons based on “sex nomination”. “Both of these realities – the increasing glorification of war and the dismantling of legal protections for women – are facilitated by a culture wide refusal to confront the realities of male violence.”

Te Papa’s claims that in 1914, New Zealand “just woke up and found ourselves at war”. Yet the colonisation of New Zealand preceded WWI, and Samoan mandate incentivised New Zealand participation. A climate of patriotic military enthusiasm, and a concern to sustain the militarised “virile” masculinity of the pioneering days, was also central to the ANZAC context, says Gerlich.

War reinforces gender stereotypes that contribute to women’s subordination. Myths about a strong and virile class of men “protecting” women and children proliferate both in times of war and in commemorations. Women are imagined as virginal nurses and absent wives, while in reality, warzones make women victim to military and domestic rape and violence, including prostitution and trafficking.”

It is well established that rape is a military tactic, that women are subjected to domestic violence during and after wartime, and that both soldiers and “peacekeepers” fuel sex trafficking. This was as true in the time of the Crusades as it is now in militarized areas from West Papua to North Korea, Syria and Rohingya. Women from Rwanda to Congo to Iraq, Japan, the Philippines, Hawai’i and Cambodia know that the impacts of war on women are not reflected in our whitewashed and sanitised narratives. And, yes: on Good Friday 1915, around 2,500 ANZACs sacked the Wazza district of Cairo, setting fire to brothels, to revenge local women for the spread of venereal disease.

More such stories need to be unearthed about WWI. Women’s lives depend on our being honest about the masculinity of militarism, as does the project of demilitarisation and our own sincerity in uttering phrase “lest we forget”.

 

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