Legitimizing Masculinity

The Thomas Kuhne reading this week was exceptionally interesting, especially when read with the Healey article. Each look at the role of masculinity in creating and upholding different forms of erasure and violence, within two largely different contexts, Stalin’s Gulags and Nazi Germany, but the overlap between the realities of the weaponization of masculinity is evident.

Kuhne focuses specifically on what constitutes manliness in Nazi Germany, how it is measured, attained, and performed. The conclusions drawn within the paper shift away from conceptions of manliness and rather into a disdain toward femininity. Masculinity in this sense is only understood vis-à-vis femininity, it is meant as an antithesis because of the assumed weaknesses that femininity holds. Men who transgress these masculinity boundaries ascribed within the patriarchal norms are othered. The gender binary is used to facilitate the oppression of all, as those within and outside of these norms are forced to perform and assimilate to survive within their realities. Considering the violence of the war, and the ways in which masculinity was weaponized to legitimize violence and oppression, falling within these rigid gender norms becomes a tool of survival. What is difficult in analyzing the assimilation into masculinity as a means of survival, is that it was done at the expense of others. Women are erased, they are subjugated and controlled. Jewish peoples become the outlet for which Nazi Germany can express their masculinity. Homosexuals become the embodiment of transgression, affording them violence. Femininity is stigmatized within political, economic, and social spheres that fall outside of where the feminine belong.

In connecting these articles, we see that homophobia becomes the manifestation of insecurities within one’s manhood in tandem with their abhorrence for the feminine unless conquered and controlled. The erasure of homosexuality in the histography of the USSR and contemporary Russia, specifically in terms of Gulags and prison represents just how transgressive femininity is considered. Healey notes the ways in which homosexuals have been thoroughly erased from the first-person accounts of Gulag studies, much like first person accounts of gendered violence against women and children. Individuals deemed unable or not worth of performing masculinity are forced into hiding as their preferences are villainized or they are targeted. Similarly, to how the HIV/AIDs epidemic villainized gay sex, the camps utilized this method to overtly police genders and create fear surrounding homosexuality.

The consistent invalidation of femininity and women, and by account othering and erasure of homosexuals, is not only a manifestation of toxic masculinity, but the only way in which masculinity can function. If we understand masculinity in terms of adhering to specific gender roles as ascribed by out patriarchal standards, its main facets are that it is not femininity. Therefore, masculinity cannot exist without femininity, yet for masculinity to dominate it must undermine the validity of the feminine and erase or ostracize those that fall within those ideals. Those who transgress these boundaries are stigmatized and marginalized with our societies.

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the
Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press,
Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third
Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418.

3 Replies to “Legitimizing Masculinity”

  1. Alex,

    I too focused on Kuhne’s and Healey’s articles this week, and while I set my sites primarily on the topic of homosexuality within them, the topic of masculinity is also important, and evidently prominent. You bit of how “gender binary is used to facilitate the oppression of all” particularly stood out to me, with that one statement having a lot to unpack. As you mentioned, the war saw the need to these gender norms to be exaggerated and for individuals to remain steadfast inside of them, and the acts of the war such as the Holocaust were also a way in which this binary was reinforced. I also think that the role of the gender binary, at least within Nazi Germany, was a way in which the regime could bolster its legitimacy and support even before the war, the establishment of elements such as the SA and SS, or a return to more “traditional” society following the Weimar Republic, all establishing Hitler’s regime as am authoritarian, regressive society.


  2. Hi Alex,

    I totally agree with you that masculinity has been shown through the way of disempowering femininity. It really shows how long this idea has existed and still exists to this day as women fight for their rights for equality. Even in Healey’s article, he mentions how lesbianism among women in Gulags was not as threatening, or not at all, to the social order in the Soviet Union while homosexuality became illegal.

    – Sara Dix

  3. I think you capture really well the common thread between the readings, and the precarious dynamic associated with these understandings of masculinity – one cannot exist without the other, and yet in order for one, masculinity, to exist it must also undermine the other. It’s a really fascinating dynamic, and I agree that I found Kuhne’s article illuminating. I admit that when I first started reading Kuhne I was a bit indignant, but he constructs a compelling argument, and I think a critical one in understanding the underlying attitudes of the participants of fascism. That said, while it may not be Kuhne specifically who needs to do so, I do also wish that more scholarship was devoted to studies of femininity which place agency within that femininity, in the same way that Kuhne’s assessment of masculinities does, or we risk the continued minimization of women and their experiences.

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