Gender, Sexuality, and the State

By: Christine Collins

Ideas on gender and sexuality differed between Soviet Russia and Fascist Germany. One consistency weaved throughout the readings is how authoritarian regimes embraced varying forms of gender and sexuality not on the basis of morality and social norms, but rather to serve broader political purposes. 

Attitudes towards homosexuality in Russia have remained unwelcome in regimes from Stalin to Putin. As noted by Healey, despite Soviet toleration for homosexuality in Gulags, other prisoners recount these male-on-male relationships “with near universal disgust.” Notwithstanding the re-criminalization of homosexuality by Stalin in 1933, queer relations were accepted in Gulags and even tolerated over heterosexual relations since they did not disrupt the Soviet economic model. Conversely, it was observed that homosexual relations preserved order, and went so far as improving labour productivity. It can therefore be understood that homosexuality was tolerated in Stalin’s Gulags while at the same time rejected by the Soviet Union as a result of its contributions to economic output, and therefore broader communist ideological goals. 

Defining male and female gender roles was central to Nazi Germany’s ideology and propaganda efforts. Marhoefer describes how “gender nonconformity put some women at risk…but not all women who had affairs with women transgressed gender norms.” In sum, Nazi Germany was not so much considered with lesbianism as a sexual act, but rather how lesbian social characteristics could contradict female gender-conformity. Nazi ideologues considered women who demonstrated masculine social characteristics as “violating not just gender norms, but racial and political norms as well.” 

The ideal man as described by Kühne was embodied by the solider: tough, in control of his mind, and unconditionally devoted to sacrificing individuality for the state. Why then couldn’t these characteristics be similarly appreciated in German women? What made a woman with a short-haircut decidedly “un-German”? The key lies in the role of women in Nazi Germany: to bear children and raise strong soldiers. One could thereby infer that since lesbians did not serve the state by producing children, they were condemned by fascism for political rather than moral reasons. 

By this logic, an observer may assume that any digression from embodying a strong, independent German man in public would similarly be frowned upon. However, the readings once again demonstrate that gender norms were interpreted in such a way as to create a unified state. Instead of frowning upon a father pushing a stroller as dabbling in women’s work, an SS journal claimed, “a man doesn’t lose a bit of his manliness by [caring for his children], but simply proves his love for his wife and his children.” Considering German identity is a recent phenomenon wherein the Third Reich has attempted to weave multiple histories into a unified state, the image of the united German family works to further political goals rather than question gender norms. Masculinity was thereby interpreted in a manner that encouraged a common, Aryan identity of the German family, thus strengthening the Nazi regime. 

One Reply to “Gender, Sexuality, and the State”

  1. I enjoy the authors observations of political motivations associated with the states recognition of gender and sexuality. The Dan Healey article is worth some deeper interrogation. As the Author has pointed out here Soviets tolerated homosexuality in Gulags for the economic benefit. While this may be the case, Healey has presented a case that the Gulags created the conditions for homosexuality to occur. There are many assumptions that Healey has assumed about the use of homosexual activity in Gulags that complicate the state sanctioned economic argument. Looking at structure of the arguments in the readings can deepen the level of analysis by the Author.

    I agree with the Author’s assertion that Nazi ideologues reserved a particular space for women in Nazi society; tying this to the strengthening of the Nazi regime was an excellent complexity that was added to the argument overall.

    It may not be necessary to write about each article separately. Instead the Author could try to frame them in conversation with each other to prove the Argument made by the Author or showcase a particular theme.

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