After Ana Carden-Coyne’s gripping analysis of the physical, emotional, and political effects of wounds during World War I, I found myself fascinated by the role of gender in triage. In medical wards, injured men maintained a compulsory silence through pain, projecting stoic positivity and strength. This expectation for men to heal with dignity and composure created an environment within medical centers where showing pain were signs of weakness, of succumbing to the feminine state of injury. This idea that wounded men exuded femininity stems from a man’s loss of independence. In enduring pain, the wounded resist the infantilizing model of being bed-ridden, attended by female nurses.
This infantile, feminine state, however, brings about interesting mannerisms in wounded men in the process of rehabilitation. While bed-ridden, the wounded partook in “fancy work” — embroidery, sewing, and crochet. These “feminine” acts were praised by the public, for they represented man giving into his femininity as a path towards rehabilitation. The public, especially women, upheld a strong interest in these crafts, and there was even a voyeuristic awe surrounding the wounded. Receiving a hand-crocheted scarf, labored by 30 wounded warriors, was the envy of many women during the war.
Rehabilitation was a remasculinizing process for the wounded. By partaking in woodwork, the use of prosthetic limbs, and actively participating in the healing process, wounded soldiers healed mentally and physically once their independence was restored.
It was interesting to hear about how gender played such a significant role in the healing process. However, the dialogue made me question why independence is a male trait, whereas dependence is intrinsically female?
If the politics and gender of war interests you, or if my discussion peaked your interest, Ana Carden-Coyne will be visiting Colby College on Monday, November 23rd to discuss her book, The Politics of Wounds, as well as her curated exhibit, “The Sensory War, 1914-2014.”