Under a system preoccupied with the maintenance of a largely singular ideal of national character, it is safe to assume that those actively challenging fascism’s picture of the so-called ‘model-citizen’ were not exactly considered favourable or met with approval. However, Marhoefer’s exploration into the lives of lesbians and transgender folk under German fascism during the 1930s and ‘40s aligns with recent historical discussion regarding the attitudes surrounding the diversity and fluidity of gender roles and/or sexual orientation. This has likewise sparked conversations surrounding the lengths to which these standards were upheld under fascist regimes (in this case, Nazi Germany), and whether standards were more rigorous for certain types of individuals.
I was fascinated by this idea, and equally so by the ways in which individuals could therefore utilize fascism in a way that afforded them greater agency – either challenging or aligning with the state. Likewise, I felt that attitudes towards gender and sexual identity throughout this period reveal important ideas about the primacy of patriarchy – as it seems that masculinity was generally more accepted than displays of femininity.
That is not to say that women were not also expected to uphold gender roles, however Marfoefer’s case study of Ilse Totzke points out the ways in which queer women (or those not presenting as traditionally feminine) were not criminalized to the same extent as gay men. On one hand, this was due to lack of law explicitly prohibiting sexual relations between women, though I have to wonder if this is also due to the preference for expressions of masculinity.
Similarly, Kühne’s explorations of gender roles within the Third Reich depicts the “protean” expressions of masculinity amongst soldiers, adapting to include traditionally feminine traits (408). Despite the adoption of feminine tasks in programs such as Hitler Youth and later in the military, Kühne notes that “for a boy to become a real man, he had to become a woman first,” implying a kind of hierarchy in which masculine attributes become the dominant social norm (409).
Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167-1195.
Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418.