Pragmatic Protean Masculinity

By: Nadiya Alexandra

Male gender norms and expectations were vital for the success of militarism. Much like in last week’s discussion, the ‘fascist ideology themes’ that stick out most to me are militarism and race. This argument also ties into our frequently discussed theme of pragmatism, which I think applies even in Thomas Kühne ‘Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.’ ‘Protean masculinity’ allowed men in the Third Reich to be both hard and soft. While at first, this seemed like a rather progressive view, in the light of militarism, it is just pragmatic. Male hardness was required to carry out an aggressive war effort, while typically feminine softness and caring was required to foster a deep comradery in the troops. The most important point in my opinion is that the fluidity in protean masculinity “did not undermine the hegemony of hard martial masculinity; it made it liveable.” 

Kühne’s protean masculinity seems to encompass every quality that the German regime needed for its troops to be as successful as possible on the battlefield. Besides the stereotypical qualities of physical and moral strength, one of the most important qualities for the regime was the ability to rid oneself of “scruples and pangs of conscience, civilian sentiments of humanness.” This was especially important in the murdering of Jews, including women and children. This “epitome” of manliness may have been needed to carry out the massacres, but it was also not realistic. It was interesting that Kühne noted that “weaklings” who were not able to do this, were not ousted from the group. Again, I think there was a very pragmatic reason for this, the Germans could not afford to oust all the “weaklings” as they also needed strength in numbers to carry out the war effort. 

Allowing soldiers to show care and warmth for each other was on one hand important to promote team work in units and ensure survival of the units, but, more importantly, it reinforces the point that this made martial masculinity liveable. Even if the fascist regime may have wanted men to be heroes “in the warlike sense…social sense…hero of labour,” (Valentin Sandulescu, “Fascism and its Quest for the ‘New Man’: The Case of the Romanian Legionary Movement.”) I do not think definition could apply to many people. Therefore, fascist militarism had to compromise and on one hand promote hardness, but on the other be inclusive to a certain extent. 

One minor point that I interpreted differently from Kühne’s article is the representation of the cover of NS-Frauenwarte, May 5, 1940. The three male figures are in the forefront of the picture. Kühne describes the woman in the background as having a barely-there effect. However, to me the woman has a very important role in the painting. Everything that is being done by the men in the picture, would be to protect and nurture the woman. Without this aspect of the painting, nothing the three men in the forefront are doing would make sense. 

Otherwise,  I enjoyed Kühne’s nuanced explanation of what it meant to be ‘a man’ in Nazi Germany. The fluidity of masculinity was essential to make martial masculinity liveable and inclusive. This reinforces the view that German fascism was very pragmatic.

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