Thomas Kuhne argues that masculinity under the Third Reich was not a simple binary rejection of femininity (men are not women) because conforming to the accepted standard of hard (hegemonic) masculinity opened up a space for the performance of alternative (protean) masculinities. For example, one SS officer “could afford to display seemingly unmanly affection . . . precisely because his male identity was beyond any doubt” (394). In essence, if soldiers adequately performed their masculinity, ‘feminine’ traits and behaviours (like emotion and affection) could be integrated into their identity as (real) men. The existence of the standard allowed for variation. This hegemonic-protean model can also be applied to femininity, as demonstrated by the article by Lopez and Sanchez. They describe how, during the Spanish Civil War, a previously underestimated number of pro-fascist women participated in significant fifth column activities that required them to violate their own conceptions of appropriate behaviour for women. They could do this because they were fighting in order to be properly feminine, to live traditional Catholic lives within the domestic sphere. Thus, the return to hegemonic femininity justified its temporary protean deviation.
Kuhne further argues that gender conformity can be, and can be perceived to be, an outward manifestation of an inward complicity with the principle of solidarity. He states that “what eventually counted, when it came to asserting manliness, was the ability to support the social dynamic of the group” (418). The soldier’s manliness was measured by the extent to which he sublimated his individuality to the collective. The article by Laurie Marhoefer illustrates the reverse of this formulation. She shows how, while gender non-conformity in the Nazi state was not by itself fatal for women, failure to conform to hegemonic representations of femininity (in dress, for example) did open up a space of suspect ambiguity that could be (disastrously) clarified with reference to other factors such as race or politics. Good gender behaviour was rewarded with space for maneuver, while bad gender behaviour could result in the tightening of the noose.
While we all know the classical story of the basic stuff that attracts people to Fascism. On the surface level its all about securing Arian supremacy for white, blond hair, blue eyed individuals. However I feel that it goes a little deeper than that. The first line of the Kühne reading provides some immediate insight into this. “Nicknamed “bloody Walter,” SS Obersturmführer Walter Hauck embodied the Nazi ideal of manly toughness.” (Kühne, p. 390) Nazi soldiers would certainly have been expected to be “manly” and “tough”, and its entirely possible that this has evolved to be expected of any kind of fascist, not just the Nazi’s. The problem with this is that this idea is not necessarily uniform across all walks of life. “for example, generals as opposed to the rank-and-file, war volunteers as opposed to draftees, soldiers as opposed to civilians, blue- as opposed to white-collar workers, black as opposed to white men, Jewish as opposed to Christian men—may adhere to different masculine norms.” (Kühne, p. 395) With this in mind, it might be generalizing to say that all fascists seek to be “tough”, or “manly”. However, I think an argument can be made that fascism seeks to enforce masculinity for men, and femininity for women, which for those who prefer the traditional family structure of a male dominated household, that might create some appeal to those individuals. “Men in the Freikorps radicalized common Western and German norms about male self-control, as well as about cold, tough, and “hard” masculinity, into a perpetual war against women and femininity—especially against femininely coded desires for domesticity, tenderness, and compassion within men” (Kühne, p. 395) The quote makes it abundantly clear that fascism would appeal to men who seek dominance over women. That said, while this post has focused on masculinity and femininity, it does make me wonder what other factors affect why fascism might appeal to certain people? Of course I have no doubt it will be covered by one of my classmates in their posts!
Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390, 395.
With my preconceived notions that fascist dictatorships were normally rigid, totalitarian organisms that kept a watchful eye on all state activity, it surprised me how much agency it afforded to citizens that were members of the party. Fascism in this sense is flexible and pragmatic; willing to change the definitions of certain constructs or look the other way if someone’s actions would result in the furthering of their cause. Look at the Nazi approach to the concept of masculinity for example— Walter Hauck’s photos in the Kühne article demonstrate this. Although the Sturmabteilung (SA) banned males from pushing baby carriages, the Nazi government’s approach to this act was less restrictive, as they believed the pride of being a family father nurtured masculinity. Extrapolating from this, the main appeal of fascism (at least to those in charge) was that anyone and anything could be a tool of the state, and if they weren’t they could make them so.
Additionally, this attitude towards the furthering of the nation would extend beyond the Second World War into the Cold War— under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. Through the usage of propaganda portraying the state as strong and prosperous under fascism, the Spanish economy saw growth via a tourism boom. Although the influx of tourists would undermine his dictatorship and promote the urge for democratization, Franco was able to effectively prolong the existence of fascism through cultural instead of military means. Overall, the appeal to fascism is its malleability to whatever one’s cause may be.
Considering the oppressive nature of fascist dictatorship, the agency demonstrated in this week’s material surprised me. Although this was limited to those who were considered legitimate citizens or within the “in-group” of fascist ideology, certain segments of the population seemed able to maneuver and negotiate the restrictive ideologies that, looking only at the strict policies of their government, would seem impossible in theory. In doing so, these citizens are offered a degree of flexibility in their actions, allowing them to challenge or contradict official mandates in a way that the “out-group” was not able to. This is best demonstrated through the leniency towards queer Aryan women or the tolerance towards men who failed to meet the masculine ideal of the super-solider – while opposing gender roles was officially discouraged, there was a grey zone citizens could operate within without evoking the anger of the state.
By extension, these citizens were able to manipulate official mandates to their own advantage. The Blue Angels reading by López and Sánchez illustrates this idea well. While some women fought as Republicans in support of Franco, there seemed to be several instances where women utilized the Republican movement to their own advantage – including Carina Unciti, who was spurred to create the Auxilio Azul Marı´a Paz organization in retaliation for the death of her sister Maria, or the female Catholic organization whose main concern was to protect the clergy from violence during the conflict. While the reading does not go into much detail about their personal beliefs, it is possible that these women were motivated to side with Franco because of what the Republican movement could offer them (i.e ability to act against the elements of the Nationalist movement that they opposed) just as much as their personal investment in his extremist ideology. The Marhoefer reading illustrated a similar idea. Neighbours were able to use Gestapo to their advantage for personal grievances and prejudices, ignoring official interest in persecuting Jewish people to report queer women, a group not formally targeted by the government. It seems clear that there are multiple reasons individuals supported (or at the very least remained complicit) to fascist dictatorship beyond ideology alone, including how their personal interests could be enhanced by the movement.
My thoughts on the readings this week are primarily reflections on the feminine under fascism. It’s easy to observe that the male is dominant in fascism – even more so than under other systems. So, beyond baby-making and child-raising… what place does the feminine have under fascism?
Two of the readings – “Protean Masculinity…” by Kuhne and “Blue Angels…” by Lopez/Sanchez provide very interesting insights. The latter shows that during the Spanish Civil War, fascist women sometimes played non-traditional roles – in espionage, sabotage and organization. Paradoxically, they fought against women’s rights that had been provided by the existing democratic government (right to vote, divorce, education). Did they understand this? If so, what motivated them to work against their own rights? The history of the civil war was written by the fascists, and it downplayed the women’s contributions – putting women back in their “place”.
And yet the feminine is essential. In Kuhne’s article, we see that operating successfully as a hard man and a comrade would provide license for more typically feminine actions and sentiments. And these were essential to the good functioning of military units. Examples are quoted included the organizing of a Christmas celebration, and even crying for lost comrades. These types of incidents helped maintain comradely bonds among hard men – and show how the feminine was essential to the operation of predominantly-male environments.
In the “Spain’s Fascism Fandom” video-doc we see that women’s main role is in abusing women who disagree with them. While counter-protesters are being arrested, other women shout abuse at them – including sexualized language. In Marhoefer’s article we hear of an anonymous letter which denounces Totzke primarily for having a lesbian affair. We don’t know the gender of the letter-writer, but it certainly fits the pattern of attacking women who act outside of traditional roles.
The common theme of all these is that fascism values the traditional role for women. Further when some women operate outside tradition, they stand to be abused by traditional women, and their positive contributions will be hidden from the record.
The Marhoefer, Kuehne, and Lopez/Sanchez readings all offer examples of the different kinds of masculinity and femininity within the 20th century’s fascist states. Between the Kuehne and Lopez/Sanchez articles especially, we can see masculinity and femininity’s relationship to militarism, where both were present in the military in both men and women despite the hypermasculine nature of fascist militarism.
For example, the Nazis idealized the ‘political soldier,’ who had no trace of femininity, followed all orders, and had absolute loyalty to the political program of the regime. However, these men were still expected to maintain comradeship, which inherently has some traits that were considered feminine, such as caring for your comrades and doing the cooking and sewing for your squad. (Kuehne) The opposite example is the women’s section of Franco’s Spain, who were expected to be “feminine” in that they were supposed to be domestic, caring, and submissive, yet a “masculine” side clearly came through. These women primarily acted as spies but also fought, which would go against their “feminine” expectations and could be seen as quite masculine. (Lopez/Sanchez) It also feels almost oxymoronic to say “fascist woman,” but at the same time perhaps it’s dismissive to women to say that they can’t be repugnant fascists as well. Overall, in fascist militarism we see masculine men showing some femininity and feminine women showing some masculinity. But then we have to ask ourselves the question: is this specific to the situation, or maybe is everything like this? I would argue the latter, since, as we’ve seen, even with masculinity or femininity being drilled into people as intensely as fascist regimes did, people are never 100% one or the other.