In Poland, the support for the war effort against Russia is linked not only to history but to an aggressive male-dominated narrative, tinged with tales of martyrdom and acceptance of sexual violence.
WARSAW — In addition to all the terrible things we already know about it, the war in Ukraine also appears to be a time machine that takes us back to a very masculine world of heroes and beasts — where the former are worthy of glory, the latter inhuman and deserving of death.
This way of seeing reality and all that it encompasses is as tragic and retrograde as war itself. We Poles have finally begun to learn such values as equality, rule of law, democracy, dialogue, tolerance, and diversity; and yet once again we are returning to the paradigm of the heroic martyr that is unfortunately firmly established in our history and morality.
This paradigm has indeed been vigorously already resuscitated by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which in its own kitschy, but effective way promoted the praise of senseless death and empty heroism of a cursed and the mythicized martyrology framed around the infamous 2010 plane crash that killed several top government officials, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński, whose twin brother is the current leader of the ruling PiS center-right party.
Toy guns and authoritarianism
The war in Ukraine has reignited this discourse around martyrdom at the hands of Moscow, which many in Poland blame for the crash of the plane near the Russian city of Smolensk that was bringing the Polish delegation to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World War II Katyn massacre of Poles at the hands of Soviet troops.
Much of the current rhetoric around the war in Ukraine can be seen in the language of social axiology, where value is assigned in the ruling party's wartime governance (there is no better context than war to achieve authoritarian goals), but also in the media and mass culture.
There is nothing feminine about war.
Rifles and other "fun weapons" have made their way back to toy and souvenir stores, so that young boys can pretend to kill. The media are outdoing themselves by repeating slogans that encourage combat or document heroism.
But no one declares nihil novi; with war as the foundation of patriarchalism, our culture's deep-seated machismo. You might argue that women also fight, and if they ruled, the wars would be just as bloody. I would answer: Whatever aggression you see from women is when they are trying to adapt to the conditions created for them by a world ruled by men — but "there is nothing feminine about war."
Photo of a woman soldier seen in Lviv, Ukraine.
Rape as a weapon of war, and peacetime machismo
Both in peacetime and wartime, women are treated as sexual objects, a means of displaying male dominance; after all, that is what rape is for. Today we are outraged by how many reports of rapes there have been in the Ukraine war, but in times of peace, the same kind of violence against women continues to be tragically widespread.
The penalties in Poland for rape are too weak, and action taken against violence targeting women is generally not accepted because as the old Polish saying goes: "if you don't beat a woman, her liver will rot."
Rape in war and peace differs in its scale and circumstance, but their nature is the same; they are rooted in the patriarchal hierarchy and the way of life promoted in the name of tradition.
We should also face the truth about war that it fosters not only aggression, but also greed, which is the fuel of capitalism. The weapons that everyone is so anxious to buy will not vanish into thin air after the Ukrainian war is over; their accumulated harvest will flow to another place on Earth, where hell will soon break loose again, bringing death, rape and huge profits to the military industry.
It is impossible to be a pacifist in times of war, but we must keep somewhere in the back of our minds the reasons that make it so central to our culture — and try to change that culture at its roots.
For it is necessary to defend the world not only from Putin, but also from the patriarchy.