Hegemonic and Protean Masculinity , in Ideology and in Reality.

Jake Rooke

This week’s readings gave insight into how authoritarian and national regimes used gender and sexuality to firm up their social support. The regime seemingly rigid and ideological conceptualization of masculinity, in reality, was idealistic. Instead, the Nazi regime employed a pragmatic approach to balancing their ideological devotion of the masculine archetype and the reality that certain social expressions exhibited what was perceived as feminine qualities. Thus, flexible masculinity, under the guise of the regime’s objectives was permitted. However, this was only after one had proven their masculinity. Fundamentally, this process creates a paradox and challenges notions of rigid and idealistic toxic masculinity. Moreover, this shows that toxic and hegemonic masculinity was built on a fluid and fragile paradigm.

Kühne’s 2018 article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich captivated the balance between the rigid structure of masculinity and the flexibility of protean masculinity socially. Firstly, Kühne (2018) employs R.W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity. The theory accommodates the existence and rivalry of multiple conceptions of masculinity, analyzing the hierarchical order in a Gramscian fashion. Here, different men such as generals and rank-and-file, war volunteers as opposed to draftees, soldiers as opposed to civilians, blue-as opposed to white-collar workers, black as opposed to white men, and Jewish as opposed to Christian men – may adhere to different masculine norms. However, “these norms operate in a constant state of competition for broader social approval and power…. They struggle for hegemony” (Kühne 2018:395). According to this hegemonic masculinity, in the Nazi regime, there were subordinate masculinities that were represented paradigmatically by gay men. These gay men defied heterosexual hegemony and were considered illegitimate, preventing them from any position in the hegemonic masculine social order of the Nazi regime.

This ideological hierarchy, that underpinned the Nazi regime is challenged by protean and flexible masculinity that emphasizes masculine fluidity. The rigid hierarchy emphasized structural social hierarchy, but in reality, male social interaction, diversity and flexibility were needed. This “… thus allow[ed] for the display of femininely coded behavior like affection… caring, and tolerance toward emotional breakdowns and movements of weakness” (Kühne 2018:390). It was this inclusive protean masculinity that enabled different types of male identities, allowing them to also switch among different emotional and moral states without losing their ‘manliness’. This is true only if the predominance of hardness was respected, as Kühne illustrates with SS Officer Walter Hauck.

Fundamentally, ideological purity and rigid structure do not work in reality, especially in the most repressive and genocidal cultural hegemonic regimes, such as Nazism and its military gravitas. The Third Reich overtime adapted their ideological standards to the fluidity of societal development, and in turn, morphed their concepts to their circumstances.

Works Cited:

Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418.

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