By Daniel Williams
To say that masculinity is an inconsistent and fluid thing would be an understatement, according to Thomas Kühne in his article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich. It examines various cases of masculinity within the Third Reich, and addresses how concepts of masculinity varied dependent on a lot of factors within German hierarchy.
It presents various concepts of masculinity, including the masculinity shown among male-only contexts, and explores some of the many complications that arise as a result of the nebulous concept of masculinity. And whereas fascism is extremely anti-individualist, attempting to ensure that fascism (and by extension the state) is the highest identifier of a person, masculinity’s diverse patterns and complex identity is a massively problematic issue for Fascists. Due to this, fascist groups promoting a single, fascist-approved sense of masculinity makes a great degree of sense. One wonders if the case is not that fascists feared femininity, but instead feared that over-varied masculine identities were problematic for the state.
As exemplified in how certain high-ranking Nazis, who had already ‘proven’ their masculinity, could take on aspects that would be seen as feminine without issue, it seems the case that femininity was not itself an issue for the fascist regime. Further, comradeship in a traditionally ‘soft’ sense seemed promoted rather than looked down on, to a degree at least. Instead it seems that comradeship was seen as furthering the goals of all, by preventing the failings of the individual from becoming the harm of the many. In this way, softness is paradoxically connected with anti-individuality and as a result fascist ideology.
Tenderness and hardness, in the same person, expected at the same time and with similar importance. Fascism’s contradictions extend even to the realm of what a man can and should be. Even deeper, it is suggested that this was in the goal of adjusting to an all-male society, enabling men to be entirely independent from true femininity by being themselves capable in multiple roles. Folding the laundry, for instance. But the darker aspect of this rejection of femininity is seen in sexist and destructive attitudes towards real women.
Th question now then, is how can society rectify the issue of ambiguous masculinity to prevent the active abuse of such ambiguity by those who would seek to manipulate it. There is, tied closely within the realm of right-wing populist messages, a sense that masculinity is being stifled, and that a rejection of modern male ‘femininity’ is required. Oddly, while preying on different concerns over masculinity, it still relies on the manipulation of concepts of ambiguous masculinity.
This practice is not new in any respect. Masculinity being a highly intangible concept, it is not uncommon to be challenged and reformed in various ways in order to influence the minds and actions of men. It seems that until a true, solid and somehow universal concept of masculinity can be established, the ambiguity of the concept (much like the ambiguity of fascism itself) will be an issue.