My discussion group and I mainly focused on the article regarding Japanese athletes and the Olympics. We discussed the implications of gender norms, particularly masculinity. We also discussed. This discussion came in a context of looking at expressions of homoeroticism and feelings about homosexuality in class.
I think that one of the major points that we discussed was the relationship between masculinity and sports. We touched on the fact that sports highlight examples of virile and powerful masculinity. In relation to homosexuality, this figured in the fact that from what we saw in the readings and in class it was more okay to be gay so long as that person was assertive and virile, and not passive.
This weeks topics really emphasized that a perception of a man or woman as more feminine meant that they were seen as weak. We talked about the women’s volleyball team as being required to overcome their feminine bodies in order to be successful. In general there was an idea that it was necessary to overcome the limits of your body in order to be seen as strong. We saw this as correlating with a sense of honour or duty. In relation to the Olympics, these expressions of loyalty to the state are a way to reaffirm older ideals in a new context. One of my classmates made the assertion that athletes and soldiers are similar in that their bodies are controlled by the state in these matters. Overall, this weeks discussion reflected on ideas about gender, sexual orientation, and how these related to the power and ideals of the state.
Our group discussed if there was a difference in the treatment between males who did not conform to popular gender roles, and women who didn’t conform to feminine expectations. We also thought the gender characteristics and expectations described in the reading were not inclusive of the entire population. The Russian Gulag camps, Tokyo Olympics, and politics of homosexuality in Germany discussed in this week’s readings were all events of the twentieth century.
After watching the depictions of males in the 1935 Triumph of the Will film we raised the question of when homosexuals began to be largely persecuted in Germany. The article by Dan Healey also categorized males and females in Russian gulag prisons into four main groups of dominant and submissive females and males. Healey also writes about men having feminine qualities and women having masculine qualities which relates to the question raised in class about how someone could hold masculine qualities if they are not male. Ideas about the body and expectations of gender behavior were common themes this week. The stories from 1964 Tokyo Olympics were an interesting example of how athletes were taught and encouraged to train their bodies and how their performance would bring pride for the nation. It encourages us to compare the current olympics in Korea and the different athletes from over 200 countries.
What’s interesting about these articles in relation to some of the previous articles read in this course is the focus on the individual in relation to the collective. There were three distinct readings that highlighted the three different areas of the body; soul, body and mind, that can be used by populist regimes to build power.
The first was through sexual orientation, which highlights soul. This article highlighted how scientists and psychologists tried to explain homosexuality as different from the norm in Germany to justify their isolation.
The next was specifically through the trainability of the body, as was highlighted with the Tokyo Olympics article. Here, there is a connection between the trainability of the body to compete and the ability to train the body in the need to fight is prevalent.
Finally, there was the willpower, which I equated to the mind. This is the ability to shape one’s thinking in aordane with other principles. As shown with the Romanian example, they used the influence and way of thinking of the Germans and Italians to shape their own fascist ideals.
Furthermore, what is interesting about these three principles being shown is lear masculinity. This demonstrates something that was shown in the first week of class, this medieval principle of a male dominated power means. If the ideal in a society is male dominated, than according to this populist principle, it would be easier for every other person along the gender spectrum would essentially be cast out.
In my opinion, this is where the principles of fascism and populism converge. When we see interactions on an individual level, the impact is much more personal and therefore more effective when it comes to control.
In the first reading, by Claudia Bruns, she outlines some of the interesting discussions that were happening in Weimar Germany surrounding the ‘acceptability’ of male homosexuality in some, largely academic, circles. Homosexuality at the time was heavily tied to deviance from societal norms in a way that also played into conceptions of race and the nation. Because homosexuality involved sexual deviance, white gay men were viewed as undermining the genetic makeup of the nation since they would not procreate. At a time when eugenics were a common belief, this was a big deal. Some gay men, including Bluher, advocated for ‘acceptable’ homosexuality by separating themselves from effeminate gay men and women. If they were masculine, they were still exhibiting proper behaviour for their gender and should therefore be embraced, as the argument went. Do you think this sort of thinking about ‘acceptable’ queer people can be found today in queer spaces? Bruns provides examples in modern Germany media where gay men are viewed as undermining the state when they are in leadership roles and how male political leaders are still mocked using femininity. Can you think of examples of this thinking today? How do these viewpoints impact women in politics?
The second reading, by Rio Otomo, is a very interesting look at how the Japanese state and corporations tied militaristic and nationalist narratives to their athletes. “By encouraging citizens’ self-governance of their own bodies, state power can operate more efficiently and thoroughly without manifesting itself as an oppressive authority” is a key quote from this reading and efficiently explains the thesis of the reading. Narratives of self-control, overcoming your own body and nationalist pride in victory were heavily present in how Japanese athletes spoke and were spoken about. These narratives are theorized to have replaced earlier militaristic narratives about the state in Japan and used as tales of ‘folk heroes’ to deal with the vast amount of change happening in Japanese society at the time. Women athletes in particular are described as training through their period and working through the cramps, in a way that feels like they are ‘overcoming’ their limitations that are viewed to come from a female body.
Finally, there is Valentin Sandulesco article. This one fully outlines how fascist societies in Romania had an ideological vision of a ‘new man’, fully masculinized and able to reform their ‘corrupted’ society. These groups put mechanisms in place, such as training schools, that would create this ‘new man’ at the end. These had the effect of diverting revolutionary feelings among the youth after WW1 towards their vision of a new society. How does this mirror masculinist movements nowadays? In feminist theory, this could play into the idea of a constant “crisis of masculinity. Is this accurate?
This week’s reading addressed the ways in which race, gender and the identities of people were defined and utilized by authoritarian regimes and democratic societies to further a nationalistic agenda. All three of them share the notion that within each specific context, gender identities became tools to “advance” or improve the well-being of the state overall.
Can we observe the same kind of ideas if we were to assess gender roles and race today? What about in modern populism? This is something worth discussing in the present.
A concurrent theme from the readings was the concept of national value in regard to how one self-identified or was identified. Be it:
- The feminized or masculine homosexual in early 20th century Germany (Claudia Bruns)
- The linear success, male-dominated and non-individualistic discourse around people in postwar Japan (Rio Otomo)
- The warlike, hardworking and socially committed “New Man” of interwar Romania (Valentin Săndulescu)
These ideas made me begin to think about what a democratic society such as ours today perhaps hold similar to these examples. The Bruns reading shows how in German life today, female or gay descriptions are still sometimes used in a derogatory manner and that the German LGBT(QI) community may exhibit racist discourses towards Muslim immigrants.
But can we think of other ways in which gender identities today continue to shape our collective thought processes? Terms like, “be a man,” or “act like a lady” come to mind. Could it be that we still subconsciously use the gender roles that are ascribed today to further our own conception of national value?