Matthew Kovac


This article seeks to position gender theory as critical to making sense of one of the First World War’s largest remaining historical problems: the persistence of mass violence after November 1918. While Robert Gerwarth and John Horne’s pathbreaking work on veteran violence has challenged the standard 1914-18 periodisation of the war, their focus on military defeat and revolution obscures the centrality of gender relations to the continuation of violence after the formal end of hostilities. By putting their work into conversation with that of feminist theorists, I argue that countries which experienced more extreme gender dislocation or ‘gender trouble’ witnessed the greatest post-war violence, chiefly in the former German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. In states where women’s struggles were more successfully contained, patriarchal forces faced a less severe threat and thus responded with considerably less violence. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, Laura Doan, Joanna Bourke, Klaus Theweleit, and Erika Kuhlman, this article shows how right-wing violence targeting ‘red women’ in this period was not a mere outgrowth of battles between competing nationalisms or communism and fascism, but, crucially, a military clash between feminism and anti-feminism. With revitalised feminist movements sweeping Europe today from Poland to Ireland, understanding the violent restoration of patriarchy in the early 1920s offers crucial lessons –and warnings – for our own dangerously promising political moment.

Author Biography

Matthew Kovac recently completed his Master of Studies in modern British and European history at the University of Oxford. His current research focuses on Irish veteran reintegration, colonial encounters, and paramilitary violence in the wake of the First World War.