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‘The Menace of Effeminacy’: Medical and Popular Discussions of Masculinity in Interwar New Zealand, c.1918-1939

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posted on 2021-12-09, 08:15 authored by Wallace-Buckland, Ailish

In January 1932, the Sydney-based lifestyle magazine Health and Physical Culture published an article titled ‘The Menace of Effeminacy’. This article, written by Carl Hertzig, and read by magazine-subscribers across the Tasman, documented anxieties around the state of men and masculinity following the upheaval of the Great War. Touching on topics such as gender, psychology, eugenics, and sexuality this article and its concerns represent those that this thesis explores in order to understand what the ‘fear of effeminacy’ actually meant for New Zealanders during the interwar years (c.1918-1939). This thesis documents and analyses contemporary discussions of male sexuality and masculinity through a series of sources in order to establish the ways in which these concepts were understood in interwar New Zealand. Firstly, it examines some of the key pieces of legislation and reports that demonstrated official approaches, and ways of thinking, towards mental defectives, sexual offenders, and those with war neuroses. It then explores medical journals, and the dissertations of medical students; and finally, it analyses parts of popular print culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand, such as magazines and newspapers, in order to investigate and piece together the landscape in which said anxieties around effeminacy, masculinity, mental stability, and other deviations from the societally prescribed norm met. This thesis approaches these primary sources in such a way that acknowledges the evolutionary framework of understanding that was pervasive in medical circles during this era.  By thus examining the connections between constructions of the male body, homosexuality and effeminacy, late nineteenth to early twentieth century ideas around eugenics, and psychology and psychiatry, this work further uncovers the state of masculinity and male sexuality in New Zealand during the interwar period. This thesis argues that the ‘threat’ to masculinity perceived in a variety of venues was a mixture of anxieties around physical and mental wounds inflicted by the Great War; population concerns exacerbated by the exposure of the health-standards of troops, and worries of how to recover and reconstruct a virile society following four years of strife; concerns at the apparent loosening of sexual mores, and the changing manifestations of both masculinity and femininity; and ever increasing interest in the psychology of self, sexuality, and society. It adds to existing work on post-World War One masculinity by centring New Zealand discussions and understandings in a way that contributes to the broader literature on New Zealand twentieth-century masculinity, psychology and psychiatry, eugenics, and male sexuality.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Hunter, Kate; Macdonald, Charlotte