Legitimizing Masculinity

The Thomas Kuhne reading this week was exceptionally interesting, especially when read with the Healey article. Each look at the role of masculinity in creating and upholding different forms of erasure and violence, within two largely different contexts, Stalin’s Gulags and Nazi Germany, but the overlap between the realities of the weaponization of masculinity is evident.

Kuhne focuses specifically on what constitutes manliness in Nazi Germany, how it is measured, attained, and performed. The conclusions drawn within the paper shift away from conceptions of manliness and rather into a disdain toward femininity. Masculinity in this sense is only understood vis-à-vis femininity, it is meant as an antithesis because of the assumed weaknesses that femininity holds. Men who transgress these masculinity boundaries ascribed within the patriarchal norms are othered. The gender binary is used to facilitate the oppression of all, as those within and outside of these norms are forced to perform and assimilate to survive within their realities. Considering the violence of the war, and the ways in which masculinity was weaponized to legitimize violence and oppression, falling within these rigid gender norms becomes a tool of survival. What is difficult in analyzing the assimilation into masculinity as a means of survival, is that it was done at the expense of others. Women are erased, they are subjugated and controlled. Jewish peoples become the outlet for which Nazi Germany can express their masculinity. Homosexuals become the embodiment of transgression, affording them violence. Femininity is stigmatized within political, economic, and social spheres that fall outside of where the feminine belong.

In connecting these articles, we see that homophobia becomes the manifestation of insecurities within one’s manhood in tandem with their abhorrence for the feminine unless conquered and controlled. The erasure of homosexuality in the histography of the USSR and contemporary Russia, specifically in terms of Gulags and prison represents just how transgressive femininity is considered. Healey notes the ways in which homosexuals have been thoroughly erased from the first-person accounts of Gulag studies, much like first person accounts of gendered violence against women and children. Individuals deemed unable or not worth of performing masculinity are forced into hiding as their preferences are villainized or they are targeted. Similarly, to how the HIV/AIDs epidemic villainized gay sex, the camps utilized this method to overtly police genders and create fear surrounding homosexuality.

The consistent invalidation of femininity and women, and by account othering and erasure of homosexuals, is not only a manifestation of toxic masculinity, but the only way in which masculinity can function. If we understand masculinity in terms of adhering to specific gender roles as ascribed by out patriarchal standards, its main facets are that it is not femininity. Therefore, masculinity cannot exist without femininity, yet for masculinity to dominate it must undermine the validity of the feminine and erase or ostracize those that fall within those ideals. Those who transgress these boundaries are stigmatized and marginalized with our societies.

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the
Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press,
Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third
Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390-418.

Role Models for Society in Fascist Culture

Lucas Lang

Within fascist cultures, there is often an effort to engineer the social structure of society through manicuring roles of gender and creating idealized characteristics for gender within society. Whether in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or the Romanian Legionary movement, authoritarian cultures commonly create archetypes of the ideal male within their society. Characteristics encouraged within males often include values such as strength, intelligence, cunning, emotional control, and dedication to morale’s. At the same time, gentleness, passion, and empathy were also contradictorily encouraged to co-exist, though only at designated times and places. Those who reject such emotional “weaknesses” were often exemplified and designated as ideal examples to strive towards for those who were incapable of doing the same. Through promoting such values and embarrassing those people (or races) who did not comply with their standards, they hoped to create a society in which the ideal could become reality. Social and gender interactions in which individuals did not or were encouraged to not comply with the ideal were therefore forbidden and supported by both societal and governmental punishments. Critical to the success of fascist endeavors were the efforts to reach and engineer the youth to accept and actively participate in their societal models. Many fascists recognized that it would be the youth who would realize their societal goals in the creation of a new superior society, rather than their own generation. Presenting model figures for the youth in order to have them seek to live up to its characteristics was therefore critical in the fascist’s efforts rebuild society.

Where leads this road paved with good intentions

Given my previous posts have centered on picking out some example of discrimination on the basis of sex, this week’s readings seem a natural fit.

I’m instead going to take a different tack, addressing right-wing accusations that societal reckonings over gendered and neocolonial dynamics are the basis for a new fascism, a new Marxism, something between or something worse than both. Paternotte and Kuhar’s article addresses these most clearly, as they detail the religious-conservative alliance pushing back against same-sex marriage, cast as a Trojan horse for an Orwellian and anti-Catholic redesigning of society, and (co-opting arguments from the left) a new imperialism looking to forcibly restructure non-Western social networks.

Actually addressing this gets a little delicate, even under a pseudonym. Yes, the current conversations happening in society – in terms of identifying and hopefully, eventually, somehow counteracting and redressing the countless ways in which centuries of hierarchy have infused nigh-on every part of daily life with some insidious flavor of sexism, racism, classism, etc. – do, taken to their logical conclusions, require a social revolution. And yes, given the problematic role of religious institutions in maintaining many of these divisions, they would necessarily be put under close scrutiny.

It’s on the basis of such statements that Paternotte and Kuhar’s conservative groups accuse social liberals of serving as ‘useful idiots’, paving the road for a totalitarian regime.

One such totalitarian movement, the 1930s-1940s Romanian Legionary Movement described by Sandelescu, did indeed see its quest as the construction of a New (Fascist) Man. This New Man (and Woman, notwithstanding the focus on men) was to be created “in the Nest, the work-camp, in the organization and the legionary family itself” – an environment the Movement emphasized would re-educate its members and purge them of the perfidious influence of those looking to divide the nation (referring here to Jews).

On a basic level, dabbling in horseshoe theory (that the far left and the far right eventually come to resemble each other), one can see similarities. Society is depicted as corrupted, and as requiring redemption through a re-education dictated by those enlightened/woke. While this isn’t enforced at gunpoint nowadays, the religious-conservative alliance will point to ‘cancel culture’, arguing that ousting non-compliant individuals from their livelihoods is a clear threat of violence, simply economic rather than physical, an ultimatum to silence oneself or be silenced.

However, that distinction – economic versus physical – is a significant one, and not one that can be handwaved away. It’s a distinction that keeps the Sleeping Giants, Time’s Up, and others within the realm of legitimate, democratic, majoritarian politics. It’s a distinction that allows for even far-right communities to create their own economic ecosystems and legal drolleries, as described by Cynthia Miller-Idriss, to continue their activities. It’s a profoundly important distinction, by which ideas are to be defeated through the soap box and the ballot box, rather than at the hand of magistrates, judges, and guns.

As well, this ‘social revolution’ is – by its very nature, arguing that injustice towards one is injustice towards all – decentralized, looking to unearth injustice towards every one. Though there may be prominent figures, there is no centralized mouthpiece; there is no populist firebrand who, as per Finchelstein, could shake off the post-Hitlerian taboo on populist violence. And could there even be such a leader in such a movement, capable of corrupting its fundamental principle that all of society is wounded by the maintenance of artificial hierarchies?

That is not to say that there have not been excesses – there have been, and academics have underlined and spoken out against those. But the movement as a whole has remained well within the bounds of legitimate political activism, and to criticize it on the basis that its fringes may create a slippery slope to potential authoritarianism – or that a dictator may drape itself in the language of the movement – is of questionable intellectual honesty.

Gender Studies and Fascism

Sara Dix

Gender studies has had a complicated relationship within fascist societies and far-right groups throughout history and to the modern day. David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar’s analysis on anti-gender campaigns in Europe really emphasize the idea of “Gender Ideology” and its importance to the arguments made by far-right groups. On the opposite, and historical, side Dan Healey analyzes the role of sexuality within Stalin’s Gulags through gender studies and how it laid the foundation for the modern prison system in Russia.

Paternotte and Kuhar’s article focuses on anti-gender campaigns that have become more widely visible since the mid-2000s. “Gender ideology” or “gender theory” is a commonality that appears to trigger mobilizations that oppose women or LGBT rights. It is seen as an ideology that is imposed by Western societies and ignores the cultural traditions and beliefs in non-Western countries which then causes disagreements and chaos within those societies. It is interesting that while anti-gender campaigns can be regarded as another element of the right-wing populist wave, these occurrences should not just be lumped together. There are some right-wing populists that have increasingly endorsed women’s and LGBT rights, particularly in Northern Europe.

During Stalin’s regimes, Gulags were mainly used for punishment, but they also provided an economy that relied on forced labour. It is interesting how the types of queers within these Gulags were split between “criminals” and “politicals”. The “criminals” were also considered to be “socially friendly” prisoners as they consisted of prisoners who were considered sympathetic to Soviet values and amenable to reforging while “politicals” were intellectuals who were seen as a threat to the communist regime.

Works Cited

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the
Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press,

David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”:
Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe” Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 6-19.

Authoritarianism and the Weaponization of Gender and Sexuality

While the gender norms of an authoritarian society mostly derive from traditionalist ideology, they also serve practical goals of the regime. During wartime, it is crucial that every citizen knows their role, leaving little room for individualism and freedom of expression. For example, men are to be hardened soldiers, and in some cases, ruthless killing machines, because this spirit is required to defend the country or conquer other regions. This concept applied to Walter Hauck, the former Nazi soldier profiled in Kuhne’s article. Although Hauck appeared to be a family man and proud father, his warm demeanor was completely absent during his time as a soldier and this was driven by the Nazi regime’s conscious effort to reinforce strict gender roles and discourage moral evaluation of actions on the battlefield. However, I found it interesting in the article that despite the outward display of masculinity among the troops, the intimacy of this brotherhood allowed more “feminine” characteristics to manifest between the men. I suspect the reason for this is because all soldiers shared the emotional trauma of war, which creates a deep level of empathy for each other’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

            Sandulescu’s article about the Romanian fascist movement’s concept of the “new man” shed more light on how authoritarian regimes incorporate gender identity into their goals. In this case, the Legionnaires sought to mobilize the Romanian population against a perceived internal threat: The Jews. This required a rejuvenated idea of manhood, in which men were to adopt almost mythical qualities of strength and aggression. According to fascist ideology, this would be impossible in a democracy, which fundamentally creates divisions in society, based on party lines and conflicting ideologies. The one-party states seeks to eliminate these differences, to create a unified national identity that can respond effectively against any potential threat.  

Using Men to Strengthen Authoritarian and Nationalistic Regimes

Written by Emma Bronsema

Authoritarian and nationalist regimes, such as Romania, Germany, and Italy, wanted to strengthen the unity within their society. They had charismatic leaders with influence over the masses. These men demonstrated and dictated the archetype – the ideal citizen who was active and whom every man was supposed to aspire to be. This idolized figure gave men a person to strive to be, and modeled a way to behave. This advertisement of a “new-man”, who had hero-like qualities, offered a sense of belonging, purpose, and validation within their community. He was used as a way to combat revolutionary movements of people and “fix” the shortcoming of the Romanian economy and politics. It was also used to strengthen and mandate how regimes, such as Germany and Italy, were to run. 

The ideal citizen was a specific kind of man. There was a constructed idea of what the male population should strive for; with the importance placed on strength, and an emphasis placed on a newly defined masculinity. He was a man who had control and independence, but followed order without question, and had camaraderie. They had to be tough, aggressive, stoic, have endurance, control over their entire being – including their body, mind and psyche – as well as have the ability to sacrifice unquestioned. 

In these authoritarian and socialist regimes, there was a need for social interaction, and affirmation and validation by other men. They built and fostered the desire and drive for camaraderie. The ability to be independent and stand on your own was just as important as the ability to work as a cohesive group. If one man was weak or failed, the other members of the group were lumped in with that description.

Weakness was associated with femininity; therefore if a man was weak, he was seen as less than, and not a strong, tough man. However, there was a contradiction where a true man was able to integrate his “femininity” in his life. He was supposed to be able to do traditional feminine tasks, such as publicly show affection to his wife and children. And yet, he had to be able to do this without other people questioning his manhood. His masculine identity had to be so strong, there was no doubt he was a true man, even if he was in touch with his “feminine” side. He was supposed to be in complete control of all aspects of himself.


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

David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe” Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 6-19

Valentin Sandulescu, “Fascism and Its Quest for the ‘New Man’: The Case of the Romanian Legionary Movement.” Studia Hebraica 4 (2004): 349-61. 

Masculinity and The Ideal Citizen

By: Andreea Gustin 

This week, we focused on the topic of Consent, Coercion and Acceptance in relation to gender and sexual identity – specifically how these ideas played a role in authoritarian and fascist regimes in Europe. The sources we covered all centered on the theme of understanding how authoritarian and nationalist regimes used gender and sexuality to create the boundary between the “ideal” citizen and the opponent. 

One of the main focuses regarding this theme was the concept of masculinity. Kühne’s article, Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich, stressed the importance of, what he referred to as, “hard masculinity” to the fascist ideology in Nazi Germany. There was a lot of pressure on the men to be physically, emotionally and morally tough. This masculinity made up the ideal citizen; strong, aggressive, resilient and in control. 

However, what I also found interesting was the discussion of protean masculinity and “soft” manliness. This, according to Kühne, could be displayed if one was ready to prove – or even better if he had already proved – “hard” manliness. Soldiers were facing difficult and tragic situations and there was acknowledgement that they faced periods of weakness. However, it was not the periods of weakness or “softness” that mattered, but the fact that they were “manly” enough to overcome it. This piece was the one that got my attention the most out of this week’s sources because it was interesting to gain some perspective on the fluidity and ambiguity of the experiences of masculinity in this kind of all-male homosocial setting. 

Gender Identities in Europe: What makes an Ideal Citizen?

By Jackie Howell

Fascism goes beyond its political characteristics of authoritarian power and nationalist movements. Exploring the intricacies of gender, sexuality, and identity provides further insight into how fascist ideology resonates at the individual level. Gender and sexual policies of fascist regimes are a tool of policing and defining society to reflect certain ideals (such as strength, prestige, and superiority). While gendered and sexual policies are not unique to fascism, exploring how fascists manipulate identity (whether individual or collective) provides a unique view into the psyche of fascist regimes.

The cultural movement of fascist regimes often focuses on defining the roles of men and women in society. From the depiction of hegemonic masculinity in Nazi Germany to the Romanian Legionary Movement’s “New Man” quest, defining gendered and sexual relations is key to shaping and controlling the collective identity. The gendered and sexual politics of fascist regimes were depicted in the various forms of cultural propaganda, from fascist Italy’s films to Germany’s posters of strong men (as soldiers, workers, and farmers). Targeting the individual and collective identity of heterosexual men and women allows fascist and communist regimes to further control society by deeming what is “right” and “wrong,” as illustrated by the attitudes toward homosexuality in Russia and attitudes toward masculinity in Nazi Germany.

Gender norms are not unique to Nazi Germany, as gender norms can be applied internationally with the spread of values, ideas, and beliefs. Kühne’s depiction of masculine identity in Nazi Germany can be compared to examples of masculinity in modern Western societies. Nazi and military propaganda depicted men in the Wehrmacht to be stoic, emphasizing an image of invincible and immortal warrior men. Comradeship was another defining feature of the Wehrmacht. This social bond provided men with friendship and reinforced the notion that one must suppress the individual identity on behalf of the community. Similarly, in the West, sports are a modern example of an opportunity to educate or influence men on their masculine identity. For example, strength, endurance, and invincibility (“no pain, no gain”) are defining features of the individual identity in the sports industry. However, the collective identity (i.e., the team) is prioritized above the individual. This creates a social bond merging men (and women) of different civilian identities, religions, and regions into a homogenous communal body. It would be interesting to see the historical impact of comradeship in the military on social bonds between men (and women) today.

Policing gendered and sexual relations is key to controlling the collective identity.  “Othering” homosexuals and the Jewish identity (whether by Nazi Germany or Romania’s Legionary Movement) created a dichotomy of “us-versus-them” or even “pure-versus-impure.” While the readings cover different periods, movements/regimes, and identity issues, the intertwined theme focuses on the use of gendered and sexual policies to police the cultural dimensions of a state.


Healey, D. (2017). Forging Gulag sexualities: Penal homosexuality and the reform of the Gulag after Stalin. In Russian homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (pp. 27-50). Bloomsbury Press.

Kühne, T. (2018). Protean masculinity, hegemonic masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich. Central European History, 51, 390-418. doi: 10.1017/S0008938918000596

Sandulescu, V. (2004). Fascism and its quest for the ‘New Man’: The case of the Romanian Legionary Movement. Studia Hebracia, 4, 349-61.

Hegemonic and Protean Masculinity , in Ideology and in Reality.

Jake Rooke

This week’s readings gave insight into how authoritarian and national regimes used gender and sexuality to firm up their social support. The regime seemingly rigid and ideological conceptualization of masculinity, in reality, was idealistic. Instead, the Nazi regime employed a pragmatic approach to balancing their ideological devotion of the masculine archetype and the reality that certain social expressions exhibited what was perceived as feminine qualities. Thus, flexible masculinity, under the guise of the regime’s objectives was permitted. However, this was only after one had proven their masculinity. Fundamentally, this process creates a paradox and challenges notions of rigid and idealistic toxic masculinity. Moreover, this shows that toxic and hegemonic masculinity was built on a fluid and fragile paradigm.

Kühne’s 2018 article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich captivated the balance between the rigid structure of masculinity and the flexibility of protean masculinity socially. Firstly, Kühne (2018) employs R.W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity. The theory accommodates the existence and rivalry of multiple conceptions of masculinity, analyzing the hierarchical order in a Gramscian fashion. Here, different men such as generals and 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, and Jewish as opposed to Christian men – may adhere to different masculine norms. However, “these norms operate in a constant state of competition for broader social approval and power…. They struggle for hegemony” (Kühne 2018:395). According to this hegemonic masculinity, in the Nazi regime, there were subordinate masculinities that were represented paradigmatically by gay men. These gay men defied heterosexual hegemony and were considered illegitimate, preventing them from any position in the hegemonic masculine social order of the Nazi regime.

This ideological hierarchy, that underpinned the Nazi regime is challenged by protean and flexible masculinity that emphasizes masculine fluidity. The rigid hierarchy emphasized structural social hierarchy, but in reality, male social interaction, diversity and flexibility were needed. This “… thus allow[ed] for the display of femininely coded behavior like affection… caring, and tolerance toward emotional breakdowns and movements of weakness” (Kühne 2018:390). It was this inclusive protean masculinity that enabled different types of male identities, allowing them to also switch among different emotional and moral states without losing their ‘manliness’. This is true only if the predominance of hardness was respected, as Kühne illustrates with SS Officer Walter Hauck.

Fundamentally, ideological purity and rigid structure do not work in reality, especially in the most repressive and genocidal cultural hegemonic regimes, such as Nazism and its military gravitas. The Third Reich overtime adapted their ideological standards to the fluidity of societal development, and in turn, morphed their concepts to their circumstances.

Works Cited:

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

Lesbianism – the asterisk of queer histories and fascist policies

Michaela Bax-Leaney

Dan Healey, whether intentionally or not, articulates it perfectly in his article: “lesbianism was never considered a threat.” The vast, vast majority of historical literature, even those which specifically employ a queer lens, treat lesbian sexual relationships as at best non-threatening, typically as an afterthought, or they go entirely unmentioned. The literature we’ve explored this week, assessing fascist policies which policed notions of gender and sexuality, is no exception.

Even in general discussions about gender and sexuality, the sexual desires of women are portrayed as somehow different, and almost always as lesser, than those of men. Boundless literature explores male comradery, and the homoerotic undertones present in militaristic contexts, such a Kuhne in his analysis of Nazi-era masculinities. Little exists exploring the sex lives of women when those men departed for the front lines.

It seems natural to explore those notions of masculinity extensively, as both Kuhne and Healey do; all those men, spending day after day together, sharing these intimate moments – how else are they to satisfy the innate sexual urges men experience? Or so goes the narrative. Meanwhile, the sexual desires of women are constantly left unconsidered. There is an assumption of womanhood, especially historical womanhood, as sexually passive.

Lesbianism often remains an asterisk in the literature because we do not view women’s sexuality as equal to men’s, thus lesbian relationships are implicitly understood as less legitimate.

As Healey outlines, in Soviet Gulags and broader society lesbianism was determined to be a “psycho-neurological pathology,” and that lesbians were more susceptible to hysterics and neuroses. Thus, they must be treated “using psychiatry.”

While lesbianism was an innate deficiency, male homosexuality was criminal but understandable, a way for men to gratify base sexual desires.

Even the difference in the language that is used – sodomy, describing a base, purely physical act, while the term Healey prefers for woman-on-woman sex is “lesbian love.” It pedals a misogynistic narrative in which men are not responsible, nor able to control primal sexual desire, while women are only capable of desiring love and connection. Clearly women, Healey implies, are actually seeking to replicate familial dynamics, and it is rather a psychological ailment or defect rather than simply an itch that needs to be scratched.  

Healey also depicts lesbianism as passive. He writes in a way which frames sex more broadly (men fighting for available women in the Gulags) and lesbianism specifically as something that happened to women, and by other women who had taken on male characteristics. The understanding is that men were choosing homosexuality as an outlet for those inevitable desires, especially in instances where women were separated from male prisoners. Yet somehow, lesbianism could not be a result of the same thing – the desire of women to satisfy sexual urges upon being segregated from men. Nor could it be the product of any authentic love or desire by women for other women.

And finally, while Healey at least devotes equal breath to the homosexual relationships of both men and women, lesbianism is too often treated as an asterisk. When we lack the sources at face value (though there is often a breadth of sources, and historians remain insistent that these proclamations of love and desire by women for other women are platonic in nature), incredibly concerted efforts are made to locate archival material detailing the experience of male homosexuality, such as Healey’s employment of Ann Laura Stoler’s tactic of reading against the archival grain. Too often that is deemed to be representative of the experience of all queer people, including queer women. Misogyny becomes permissible when we speak about historical queerness, and those discussions nearly always focus on the experiences of white cis-gendered gay men.