Gender Hierarchy and the Fascist State

by Kaileigh La Belle

This week’s readings make room for more nuanced understandings of the political nature of gender, often demonstrating how gender served the fascist state in more ways than simply providing a hegemonic binary of normative and deviant. In particular, Marhoefer’s and Kühne’s respective works highlight how gender simultaneously provided a historically significant, familiar hierarchy and discourse around which fascist states could structure power, yet one that was based on social constructions, enabling the fluidity that Fascist states so often require in practice. 

As previous readings have highlighted, fascism often relies on long-standing discourses about ‘otherness,’ which then becomes the basis for oppressive and violent policy and hierarchy. Marhoefer highlights the essential nature of longstanding discourses on gender in their work on fascist persecution of queerness and gender nonconformity. In one instance, Marhoefer directly references the connections made between historic associations of gender non-conformity and “deception”, which raised suspicions against Ilse Troske. As such, there was little ideologically overhauling required by the state in order to justify its violent persecution of ‘the other.’ Relying on hegemonic ideas about gender enabled fascist states to legitimize themselves, presenting their violence as necessary for the protection of the state, morality, etc. Furthermore, racial anxieties could easily be attached to preexisting suspicions about gender-sexual “otherness,” as is evidenced by the connection made by witnesses regarding Troske’s sexual otherness and supposed “Jewish sexual impropriety.” As such, this reading demonstrated how fascist states can manipulate long-standing discourses on sexuality into violent oppression that upholds not only the gender-sexual hierarchy but a racial one as well (among other hierarchies). Meanwhile, Kühne’s work focuses on the fluidity of gender discourses, namely in how soldierly masculinity embraced ‘feminine’ qualities in certain contexts, noting how the presence of contradiction was justified so long as it ultimately upheld hegemonic discourses or served a functional purpose. This, I feel, reflects the tendency of fascism to embrace contradiction when it serves their interest. The familiarity of gender hierarchies ultimately provided structure to fascist states. This suggests that the reliance on traditional gender ideals could serve as a point of radicalization for those outside of the far-right, who can unfortunately easily hold prejudicial views based on someone’s gender or sexuality. 

Work cited: 

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

Marhoefer, Laurie. “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943.” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167-1195.

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