“A Feminine Brand of Toughness”

In Wendy Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies she writes that the expectation for German women in the Nazi regime was “a feminine brand of toughness”. I thought that this was an interesting way to understand the role that women played within fascist societies. As this “feminine brand of toughness” is also seen in Lopez and Sanchez’s Blue Angels. It was the idea that women were expected to prescribe to a certain image, of what women were expected to be. Though they were supposed to transcend that role to benefit their society, without infringing upon its ideologies. They were required to walk the line of what was considered feminine and masculine.

What stood out the most in Lower’s book was no longer only looking at the actions of these women as victimization and coercion, rather to acknowledge the agency that these women had. Women were still very much expected to be mothers, and maintain the “female identity”. Though this was branded as being tough, to use their femininity for a greater goal, in this case the purpose of providing more children for the Aryan Germany. Women were rewarded for having children. It was also this brand of tough femininity that procured women in a way to police the bodies of other women. Using their position in a typical feminine occupation like midwifery to decide whether those children survived. These women, genuinely believed in the goals of the reich, and utilized their femininity for that purpose.

Lopez and Sanchez, discuss in their article that when men recounted the participation of women they did it due to an extension of their femininity. They helped the men because it was in their nature, as they were caring and innocent. Though, we later see that the utilized their perceived femininity to become spies, or for their goals that were inline with the ideology.

These women were aware of their perceived identities as women, and they were not concerned that it hindered then, rather they were an identity that allowed them to achieve their goals, which happened to aid fascist sentiments. One can assume that women were coerced into the roles that they played in the crimes of war, though, that is not necessarily true. The utilized male perceptions of their femininity. Feminine was not bad, but something to strive towards, because it provided these women a place within their societies, feminine was tough. In turn feminine was a choice, as well as their feminine “actions” within these societies.

Works Cited

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

3 Replies to ““A Feminine Brand of Toughness””

  1. Your use of Lower’s idea of a “feminine brand of toughness” is very accurate I think. Women were excluded from male ideas of toughness but they still had their own expectations for how they should engage with Nazi society and be accepted as tough – being a traditional wife and mother was promoted as being tough, and it was feminine at the same time, with men having a completely different conception of ‘toughness’.

  2. I agree with your characterization of women walking the line between femininity and masculinity, and believe this is well reflected in López and Lower’s findings.

    However, I question your assertion that these women were not concerned with their prescribed feminine identities. While women manipulated female stereotypes to their advantage, I believe this was out of necessity rather than choice. From my reading, if these women could have achieved their ambitions through non-gendered channels (ie working for the civil service as a supervisor rather than a secretary), I believe they would have preferred this non-discriminatory avenue.

  3. I find it superbly interesting comparing the feminine brand of toughness to the concept of the new man that many fascist nations promoted. The idea of a different form of feminine toughness (even though it draws heavily on older feminine stereotypes) is similar to the new man. Perhaps the only difference seems to be the degree of state promotion.

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