Regime Representations of Gender and Sexuality

M. Guthrie

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).

Works Cited

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.

2 Replies to “Regime Representations of Gender and Sexuality”

  1. Really enjoyed your post. The idea of the primacy of patriarchy draws me in. I think one of the things that Marhoefer mentions with regards to lesbians in the Reich was that the reason they were not strictly outlawed is because they were less likely to “turn” other members of society than gay men were, and that because there was a big emphasis on male potency being wasted, but women were capable of being ready for sex at any time, it was worse for a man to be gay than for a woman to.

    I think the issue of the primacy of the patriarchy really fits well into this discussion, because like you said, how would Totzke fit into this as a gender-nonconforming lesbian? I think the concern was more that Totzke was not conforming to traditional feminine expectations, which if she had, may have made her somehow more acceptable to her neighbours and, subsequently, the gestapo (this is according to Marhoefer’s sources). There were clear expectations for women and their femininity much like there were for men and masculinity, but if women stayed within those boundaries, they were better able to push the boundaries of “acceptable identity” then men were.

    In this same vein, the idea of women being less able to “turn” people is fascinating and I think links to your writing that masculinity was seen as a more powerful force, but if we also consider stereotypes of feminine gay men, one has to wonder whether masculinity trumped femininity in this case, or if it was a mixture of the two, or if femininity trumped masculinity.

  2. I enjoy your exploration of gender and sexuality within the regime and how this afforded people agency to a certain extent. I agree with your point about how queer women not being specifically targeted as gay men were, and how it might have to do with how masculinity is to be expressed. It might have to do with how soldiers were expected to perform certain ways and if everyday men didn’t behave this way, people could question the regime in some way.

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