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.

Fascism and Internationalism

by Kaileigh La Belle

Many of this week’s readings focused on fascist contradictions regarding internationalism. Consequently, my initial reaction was to consider what implications this has for our understanding of fascism. However, in considering the readings more deeply, it became evident to me that it was not just fascist practices that involved contradiction but also their discourses on internationalism. As the readings illustrate, internationalism took on different meanings to achieve various goals. In some instances, such as those presented in Motadel’s work, internationalism did not deny the existence of a nation-state and, thus, fascist states were willing to collaborate across borders, presenting themselves as an ally for international liberation (in this case, anticolonialism); meanwhile, in other fascist discourses, such as those examined in Hanebrink and Ben-Ghiat, internationalism could not be anything less than a carefully orchestrated ‘plot’ designed to erode away at national identity and tradition, a narrative which fascists used to justify violence. As each reading makes clear, analysis on fascist contradiction in practice and policy explains why fascists were willing to do so, that is to advance other nationalistic, authoritarian projects. Yet I feel that it is equally important to examine how discourse was strategically employed as a means of achieving these goals. Ultimately, these readings make it clear that discourse is a tool employed to negotiate contradictions. In the constant manipulation of discourse, contradictory things became simultaneously true. These readings, in examining how fascist ideology and practice approach internationalism differently, and in doing so made internationalism mean different things, demonstrate the whys and hows of the fascist relationships to internationalism. As these discourses are apparent in fascist thought and can also drive practice, they exemplify the need for nuance in examining the disparities between the thought and regime of ‘isms’ noted by Finchelstein. 

Work cited: 

Ben-Ghiat, Ruth “Conquest and Collaboration”. In Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945. University of California Press, 2004.

Finchelstein, Frederico. “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in From Fascism to Populism in History, 1-30. University of California Press, 2017.

Hanebrink, Paul. A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. Harvard University Press, 2018. 

Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire.” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.

History as a Conceptual Tool in Defining Populism and Fascism

by Kaileigh La Belle

The objective of Brubaker, Finchelstein, Mudde, and Paxton in this week’s readings was to identify elements, processes, and in some cases definitions of Popularism and Fascism that are more nuanced and functional. Ultimately, I was struck by the two distinctive approaches to conceptualizing these terms, each relying on historically recognized fascist and populist movements and thought to different degrees. For Finkelstein and Paxton, history served as a point of reconnection and starting point for their characterizations, respectively. Meanwhile, though not entirely divorced from history, I felt that Brubaker and Mudde positioned these terms as frameworks that could be applied to historical scenarios. 

With the centrality of specific historical moments and movements in half of these works, I found myself reconsidering one of the undercutting concerns in each of the four articles: the emotionally-charged, unnuanced uses of terms like Populism and Fascism that these authors reject. Initially, I felt that focusing too closely on history would limit our understanding to how fascism and populism manifested in specific contexts, rather than embracing the models used by Brubaker, which position the definition as a template. Additionally, many authors noted how emotion complicates our definition. Again, I initially felt that history, being highly emotional, also risks perpetuating emotionally-charged usages. However, as I read through Finchelstein and Paxton’s works, I began to notice how looking for criteria in historically established movements provides a much more holistic perspective. For example, Finchelstein was able to identify the difference between theoretical Fascism and Fascism in practice. And, in making this distinction, I feel that we can have more specific and accurate definitions of these terms. 

Ultimately, considering the complicated nature of these terms and the almost paradoxical ways they can be defined, I do not believe that we can solely define these terms through history. I do believe that it can be a useful tool. As such, I continue to ask myself: is there a way to accurately blend abstract theory and historical fact? 


Brubaker, Rogers. “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast. 2017.

Finchelstein, Friederico. “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past”
in Federico Finkelstein. Fascism to Populism in History, 1-30. University of California
Press, 2017.

Mudde, Cas. “Populism in Europe: An Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic
Liberalism.” The Government and Opposition/Leonard Schapiro Lecture
2019. Government and Opposition. 2021: 1-21.

Paxton, Robert. “Introduction.” The Anatomy of Fascism, 3-23. New York, 2004.


Kaileigh La Belle

Hello everyone!

My name is Kaileigh and I am a fourth-year History student with a minor in Sexuality Studies. As you can probably guess, I am very interested in the history of sexuality. I particularly enjoy studying queer and trans histories in 20th Century Europe and North America, as well colonial/imperial discourses on sexuality. Outside of class, I enjoy reading (especially historical fiction), writing, and doing crafts such as knitting, sewing, and beading. I look forward to getting to know you all over the semester!