Gender Identities in Europe: What makes an Ideal Citizen?

By Jackie Howell

Fascism goes beyond its political characteristics of authoritarian power and nationalist movements. Exploring the intricacies of gender, sexuality, and identity provides further insight into how fascist ideology resonates at the individual level. Gender and sexual policies of fascist regimes are a tool of policing and defining society to reflect certain ideals (such as strength, prestige, and superiority). While gendered and sexual policies are not unique to fascism, exploring how fascists manipulate identity (whether individual or collective) provides a unique view into the psyche of fascist regimes.

The cultural movement of fascist regimes often focuses on defining the roles of men and women in society. From the depiction of hegemonic masculinity in Nazi Germany to the Romanian Legionary Movement’s “New Man” quest, defining gendered and sexual relations is key to shaping and controlling the collective identity. The gendered and sexual politics of fascist regimes were depicted in the various forms of cultural propaganda, from fascist Italy’s films to Germany’s posters of strong men (as soldiers, workers, and farmers). Targeting the individual and collective identity of heterosexual men and women allows fascist and communist regimes to further control society by deeming what is “right” and “wrong,” as illustrated by the attitudes toward homosexuality in Russia and attitudes toward masculinity in Nazi Germany.

Gender norms are not unique to Nazi Germany, as gender norms can be applied internationally with the spread of values, ideas, and beliefs. Kühne’s depiction of masculine identity in Nazi Germany can be compared to examples of masculinity in modern Western societies. Nazi and military propaganda depicted men in the Wehrmacht to be stoic, emphasizing an image of invincible and immortal warrior men. Comradeship was another defining feature of the Wehrmacht. This social bond provided men with friendship and reinforced the notion that one must suppress the individual identity on behalf of the community. Similarly, in the West, sports are a modern example of an opportunity to educate or influence men on their masculine identity. For example, strength, endurance, and invincibility (“no pain, no gain”) are defining features of the individual identity in the sports industry. However, the collective identity (i.e., the team) is prioritized above the individual. This creates a social bond merging men (and women) of different civilian identities, religions, and regions into a homogenous communal body. It would be interesting to see the historical impact of comradeship in the military on social bonds between men (and women) today.

Policing gendered and sexual relations is key to controlling the collective identity.  “Othering” homosexuals and the Jewish identity (whether by Nazi Germany or Romania’s Legionary Movement) created a dichotomy of “us-versus-them” or even “pure-versus-impure.” While the readings cover different periods, movements/regimes, and identity issues, the intertwined theme focuses on the use of gendered and sexual policies to police the cultural dimensions of a state.

References

Healey, D. (2017). Forging Gulag sexualities: Penal homosexuality and the reform of the Gulag after Stalin. In Russian homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (pp. 27-50). Bloomsbury Press.

Kühne, T. (2018). Protean masculinity, hegemonic masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich. Central European History, 51, 390-418. doi: 10.1017/S0008938918000596

Sandulescu, V. (2004). Fascism and its quest for the ‘New Man’: The case of the Romanian Legionary Movement. Studia Hebracia, 4, 349-61.

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