Masculinity’s Many Faces in Illiberal Regimes

Once again, the theme of fascist use of pragmatism in order to control and shape the public and military was apparent in this weeks readings. On the extreme side, Barbra Spackman in Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy illustrates the fascist fascination with ‘manly’ behaviour and traits was illustrated best through the description of what great lengths Mussolini took to appear ultra masculine and virile. Mussolini taking extreme measures such as shaving his head, having no references to family or fatherhood, and what I found the most ridiculous; keeping the lights on at night to show his devotion, all to keep up his manly appearance and demonstrate his virility.

Thomas Kuhne also highlighted similar core ‘ideal’ traits of masculinity such: physical, emotional, and moral ‘hardness’. More importantly, Kuhne introduces the concept of ‘protean masculinity’, which he argues allowed soldiers to have both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ or ‘tender’ masculinity. According to Kuhne, soldiers were able to remain ‘tough’ while also adopting more ‘feminine’ roles without undermining the soldier’s manliness. This fluidity was seen in acts where soldiers showed tender masculinity in the loss of a comrade. Protean masculinity allowed for greater adoption and inclusion of less ‘manly’ traits, this concept was the pragmatic way for the fascist regime to create an ‘ideal man’ while also accounting for the realities of war, loss, and suffering on soldiers. Interestingly, Protean Masculinity has to be situated within a group and hierarchy. Those that expressed more ‘soft’ masculinity were able to due to the perception that they were the exceptions to the rule of masculinity and hardness, which meant they conformed to the rules and more importantly to the dominance of the alpha males. In my opinion, this also brings up the fascist idea of putting the nation above yourself. By accepting the hierarchy and seeing themselves as exceptions to the rule, soldiers were buying into the narrative. Kuhne raises the point that Protean Masculinity was “In essence, it was all about fitting in. Accepting the priority of the group’s “we” over the individual “I” granted the latter some leeway. This did not mean that all men were equal when it came to assessing their degree of manliness, or that various emotional states were considered equal.”

Lastly, I found it interesting that there was a somewhat common theme of men coming back to society facing a difficult adjustment, German soldiers and Russian prisoners alike. Both had faced a group hierarchy that changed them and in some cases their masculinity. The idea of prisons being ‘homogenic’, that is prisons being the source of many instances of same-sex behaviours lead to many Russian’s, once no longer prisoners, being singled out by the public as at that time homosexuality was tied to Stalinization, something which was to be looked down upon. The article by Healy really showed how inhumane pragmatism could be under these regimes. This can be seen in the case of same sex relations within the gulags being counterproductive in the eyes of the Gulag managers, which lead to homosexual relations having a blind eye, as these relations were not as counterproductive to the camps.

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