Far-Right Women and Missing Voices

Written by Emma Bronsema

In many fascist societies, women play a large and important role. Historically, their roles and femininity has been overlooked, generalized, and propagandized; they were often marginalized, and their complex stories were simplified. However, it is not shocking that women were involved in nationalistic and war efforts. They were heavily ingrained in society as secretaries, social workers, and educators, to name a few. They were also in close proximity to where these wartime events were taking place; close to power and close to crime scenes. Many people became desensitized to what they were seeing, in addition to being ideologically indoctrinated by what their government propagandized.

In fascist Spain and Germany, women’s roles were often used to sell a story to various audiences – including women of a different political view to portray them as ideal and the better between the two. “Officially” both Spanish and German women returned back to a domestic role after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War ended. Their stories and accounts of the wars and their contribution often went missing. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that many women did not speak about their actions and the events that took place. Moreover, women’s roles were often propagandized, generalized, victimized, hyper-sexualized, and or given a sympathetic image. Furthermore, many women were difficult to track down because they got married and changed their last names. 

Lastly, their stories were not recorded because they were not regarded as relevant at the time. Women’s roles and experience during the war was not an area of interest for reporters and historians at the time. Another reason for the lack in interest stems from political reasons and change in the government, or women were simply left out of studies done. This resulted in many phenomena that have been suppressed, overlooked and under-researched. As well as the stories that are recorded and get told today are a result of selective memory, where the person telling the story trailers it so it is inline with what their audience would like to hear.

Sources used:

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713. 

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), pp15-75.

Women and The Far-Right

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources allowed us to take a look at both the historical and contemporary appeal of the far-right to women. I’ve had the chance to take other courses centered on Europe during the twentieth century in which I’ve previously learned about the Nazi regime and fascist ideologies. However, I had always felt like there was a gap in my knowledge as none of these courses explicitly covered the role of women. This week’s readings provided a fascinating perspective and challenged my expectations of women’s involvement in the Nazi movement.  

Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields provided a foundational understanding of why and how women participated in the Nazi movement. One early female activist recounted the political awakening of women to the Nazi movement, in which she said “women could not remain uninvolved in this struggle, for it was their future too, and the future of their children” (p.20). During this time period, women were beginning to gain greater independence – they had a youthful energy and aspirations for a better life. They supported Hitler and contributed to his rise in power as they believed it would be benefitting their nation – in turn, these women aided in committing atrocious crimes. 

It was interesting to read the Guardian article afterwards, From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right sets its sights on women, as it showed commonalities of what interests’ women in the far-right today. Although not the entire reason, one of the contemporary appeals for women to the far-right is the fact that they “feel left behind”. It’s incredibly fascinating to see women gravitate to groups which are or once were dominated by patriarchal ideology in order to further their own aspirations. All in all, I think this week’s sources all provided an intriguing look at the critical role women play in conflict and populist movements. 

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. 

Scapegoating Works: How Fascism and Communism Used it to Achieve ‘Ideological Utopia’

By Austin Pellizzer

This week’s topic of Consent, Coercion, Acceptance gave us a chance to consider how gender, sexual identity, and other communal traits were used in perpetuating authoritarian and fascist regimes in Europe. Two articles, in particular, stuck out to me when looking at this phenomenon.

In the first example, we have Dan Healey’s article, Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag After Stalin. In this article, we get a historical account of how the establishment of the gulag work camps under Stalin in the 1930s (27) was not just a cruel way for Soviet citizens to be punished for going against party lines (27), but also a tool for the state to police peoples bodies and uphold their ‘socialist ideals’ (32). While it is true that even heterosexual sex was policed and discouraged in such spaces due to incurring “maintenance costs” if women were to become pregnant (30), it is interesting to see how homosexuals were the scapegoat and the threat to the ideal social order of the Communist society (32). However, this persecution did not end with Stalin’s death or when the institutions of gulags become phased out in the 1950s (38). Rather, this institutional homophobia in the Russian prison system was mixed with legal, medical, and experts hands (45) in perpetuating this discrimination throughout the rest of the Soviet regimes and even into the modern Russian prison system. 

The second example in which this week highlights the way fascist and authoritarian regimes used minorities as scapegoats to push their agendas was within the fascist regime of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s Legion of Archangel Michael in Romania (352). This was seen in Valentin Sandulesu’s article Fascism and its Quest for the “New Man”: The Case of the Romanian Legendary Movement. Within this model of fascism in the 1930s, Codreanu’s Legendary movement used the Romanian Jewish population to push their agendas (352) and also construct the idea of the “new man” (351). It was the use of persecuting this religious minority with the idea of the Jews not working alongside their fellow Romanian, but rather, they were the agitators and the reasons for Romania’s troubles post World War One (359). The attacks also lead to the boycotts of Jewish products (353) and other discriminatory actions to get revenge on what the Legendaries saw as the problem in the nation, which was “the Jewish problem” (353). 

It is with critically looking at both these cases that we can see how two nations with relatively different political constructs at this time used scapegoating towards their minorities to advocate the betterment of each utopian society.

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, 2017).

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

Leisure and Tourism in Nazi Germany

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources provided a look at fascism from a perspective I had never considered. When thinking of fascism and what made people go along with it, my mind always instantly went to things like force, brutality, harsh restrictions etc. Never did I really consider how tourism or leisure could act as a form of propaganda to appeal to the masses and gain popular consent. Obviously, it is not to say that most people supported fascist regimes during this time, however, as can be seen in sources like Shelly Baranowski’s Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich, the Third Reich and the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) were able to weaponize leisure and tourism in order to persuade citizens to think that the regime had improved their lives and to further the narrative of German superiority. 

This source showcases how leisure activities and tourism were used to create this idealistic image of leadership under the Nazi regime and internally as well as externally create a sense of German nationalism. Hitler’s regime wanted to give German travellers and those travelling from other countries a look at “Aryan superiority”. However, in reality this was an illusion to make it appear as through their living conditions and lifestyles were of a higher level. After having read this week’s sources, it becomes easier to understand why to some, there may have been some sort of appeal in regards to fascism that went beyond ideology. Leisure and travel were instrumentalized to achieve wider Nazi goals and to create a sense of normality in a way to manufacture and maintain popular consent. 

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

By: Andreea Gustin

When discussing ideologies such as fascism or nationalism, we often focus at the national level. This week’s readings, however, allowed us to further explore these ideologies through an international lens and understand how and why far-right groups may turn to international cooperation.

David Motadel’s New York Times opinion piece, “The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It” demonstrates how internationalism can bring nationalist groups together in unlikely ways in order to further common goals. Nationalism and internationalism by name do not seem as though they would be compatible in their goals. However, as can be seen through this week’s sources, nationalism and internationalism can be quite complementary to one another. 

This is idea is further demonstrated through Motadel’s “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” which highlights the Third Reich’s support during World War II of anti-colonial and anti-imperial movements throughout the British and French colonial empires. Upon reading this source, I found myself taken aback by the irony of it – Nazi Germany, which claimed the racial superiority of the Germanic race or the “Aryan” race, trying to assist in revolutions by colonized populations against other white Northern European states. At first, this did not quite make sense to me, but as I continued reading, I began to understand that although fascism may be a national movement, it goes beyond in order to achieve a common goal. In this case, the common goal was to promote anti-colonial solidarity and ensure that other people’s national identities are not compromised by imperial powers. 

This week’s sources showcased that nationalist internationalism is both ideological as well as pragmatic. Through these readings, it was made clear that although nationalist and internationalist efforts may not always see eye to eye, sometimes it is necessary for them to come together in order to battle a common enemy. 

Defining Terms

By: Andreea Gustin

The sources we explored this week set the foundation for some key terms which will follow us throughout the rest of our course. Given my basic understanding of fascism and populism, this week’s readings provided greater insight into some of the complex terms and concepts associated with these ideologies.

In recent years following the Trump presidency and all that came with it, many of us have seen the word “fascism” come up in regards to the American political climate. The article, “What We Don’t Understand About Fascism” by Victoria De Grazia, effectively showcased how contemporary events relate to the challenges and tragedies of the historic past. She argues that the problem facing America is not fascism itself, but rather a “crisis of a kind that historic fascism invented itself to address, in the most awful ways”. This week we also read the works of Moyn and Gordon’s which both aim to contextualize fascism and populism. Similar to De Grazia, both Moyn and Gordon discuss the use of comparisons of the past to contemporary situations, although their works point out some issues with comparing modern events to the past.  

This reading made me reflect on the fact that many of us attempt to understand modern issues by applying the lens of the past. They say history repeats itself, however, there needs to be greater understanding of how these ideologies change and how the meaning of these concepts develops over time. Today we can see ideologies like fascism and populism being used as labels to modern issues, however, modern issues can differ from those of the past and can lead to new consequences not outlined by history.

Populism v Fascism: Return of The state?

Written by Conrad Yiridoe

The theme of this week’s readings focused primarily on the terminology of populism and fascism. With a few of the readings, the main focus was on the comparison of fascism to the modern day and why this may not be the most effective strategy to address current events. In the United States specifically, the comparison of the republican party (or rather this specific version of it) and especially soon to be former president Donald Trump has become to the historic days of fascist regimes (Italy’s Mussolini) has become rather “fashionable”. De Grazia, Moyn and Gordon all argue (to differing degrees) that the constant comparisons may in fact actually dilute and even to some degree even insult the “actual fascism” that was present in the past. Moyn and Gordon argue with a broader approach, that the trend of comparing current events (regardless of their degree of horror and general disapproval), may in fact serve to be counter intuitive to a certain extent.

With regards to Moyn’s analysis, I am inclined to both agree and disagree with his opinion. Specifically, I concur with his overall message that the main objective with comparisons to the past need to take into consideration not only the context of what occurred, but also examine the weight with which these comparisons should be taken into account. As Moyn states, “charging fascism does nothing on its own. Only building an alternative to the present does…” and hence the idea that simply drawing the comparison between Donald Trump and fascism without actually providing context for why specifically the comparison is being made and furthermore what should be done about it, needs to be readdressed.

As a final note, I also agree with De Grazia’s main point which I feel was the fact that once again, another “trendy” term (this time being fascism) is in a sense not being fully appreciated, due to many of those using the term, not fully appreciating its weight. As a question going forward, I wonder if perhaps these analogies to historic events would become more useful and meaningful by first ensuring that the definition of the term (fascism in this case) is fully understood by the audience (whether it be a specific person, or the general public). Furthermore, I postulate if perhaps it would be worth while to always follow up said comparison with more actionable concepts

Onwards to populism briefly and here I found the DEMOS study to be quite surprising (at least to my less historically experienced eyes) in that they were able to divide up the different movements into four distinct types of populism. In addition, these types were all over the political spectrum, from the far left and right, to in-between, which surprised me as I figured based on the limited definition of populism (essentially charging a “the people” vs “the elite” anti-establishment mentality), that the specific ideology of populism was fairly rigid (which of course is not the case). I also do not completely understand the significant difference between the illiberal compared with the anti-establishment populist movements. In particular, I wonder about the “radical democratic appeal” that the authors charge is present mainly in the anti-establishment movement yet lacking in the illiberal movements. I also wonder how the use of “conspiratory explanations” with the illiberal charges is also not strongly reflected in the anti-establishment movements.

Agency and Complicity in Fascist Regimes

By Absalom Sink

There is a decades-long discourse on the extent to which populations under the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s—Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Romania, Francoist Spain on the right, and the Stalinist USSR on the left—were complicit in the atrocities committed by their states. It is a question we have touched on somewhat tangentially in previous weeks, but which becomes the central question of this week’s readings.

We have read of Fascists’ conception of gender roles, with masculinity rooted in stoicism and martial prowess in contrast to the feminine role as nurturer and reproducer, roles which were designed to constrain the agency of women and ensure ‘racial purity.’ And we have read of the victimization of women who refused to confine themselves to the rigid gender dynamics imposed upon them, women like Ilse Totzke in Laurie Marhoefer’s “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State.” But as becomes clear in reading Wendy Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies and Lopez and Sanchez’s “Blue Angels”, historians and lay people alike have been all too willing to accept stories women’s victimization by Fascist regimes while ignoring the crucial roles that a staggering number of other women played in the administration of those regimes, and in the violence they wrought.

Lower traces the war-time trajectory of a handful of women in Nazi Germany. Some, like the Nazi-loathing nurse Annette Schücking, are rather sympathetic figures, especially when contrasted with others like Johanna Altvater, a secretary who moonlit as a murderer of Jewish children. But Lower also muddies the waters by making clear that participation in a regime totally committed to war and genocide means complicity in those crimes. Though the Nuremberg Tribunal exempted the clerks, the secretaries, the stenographers who staffed the SS and Gestapo offices, the Holocaust could not have been carried out without them.

Likewise, as Lopez and Sanchez make clear, Republicans were not the only women who took up arms in the Spanish Civil War. Many Nationalist women were involved in espionage and sabotage. But Nationalist writers, unable to square these women combatants with the Fascist feminine ideals—the “excellent virtues as loving mothers, selfless wives, the tenderness of the sister, the fidelity of the fiancée”—whitewashed history. The fighters were ignored, and the official account of Nationalist women had them “help[ing] the war effort by carrying out traditional feminine roles: nursing, charity and social services, sewing clothes, writing loving yet chaste letters to the soldiers, keeping the home warm and orderly for moment that the men should return victorious, and so on.”

In effect, by ignoring the part that women played in the Nationalist fight against the Republicans in Spain and in the machinery of genocide in the Third Reich, we are accepting at face value decades old Fascist propaganda; we are accepting the notion that men alone are the perpetrators of Fascist violence and that women are passive, wholly lacking in agency. Lower would disabuse us of that notion:

“Genocide is also women’s business. When given the ‘opportunity,’ women too will engage in it […] minimizing women’s culpability to a few thousand brainwashed and misguided camp guards does not accurately represent the idea of the Holocaust.”

Works Cited:

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

Lower, Wendy. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

Rodríguez López, Sofia; and Cazorla Sánchez, Antonio. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” In Journal of Contemporary History 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

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

Masculinity and Demographic Anxiety in Totalitarian Regimes

By Absalom Sink

Previous weeks’ readings have already investigated the cult of heroism, the glorification of violence, and the rejection of the “outsider” common to fascist movements. Here, we see those themes coalesce in a number of totalitarian regimes’ conceptions of masculinity. But for all the trumpeting of masculine values by these totalitarian ideologies, the particular gender constructs in question prove remarkably nebulous.

In Thomas Kühne’s “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic masculinity,” the author investigates the Nazi regime’s ideal of soldierly masculinity—”hegemonic masculinity” predicated on “physical, emotional and moral hardness”—as a component of the broader Nazi ideal of “collective will”. Kühne notes that men who met the “hardness” requirement were afforded greater leeway in participating in activities seen as typically un-masculine; at core, “emotional hardness meant decisiveness, aggression, brutality, discipline, and control over others: over women and weaker men, but also over oneself, one’s own body, impulses, and fears.”

It’s not much of a logical leap to recognize that the Nazi regime’s abhorrence of male homosexuality—to the point of criminalization—was grounded both in the view that homosexuality was an affront against the masculine ideal, but also in broader demographic anxieties. Male homosexuality was a threat to the reproduction of the “master race”. As Laurie Marhoefer explains in “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State,” female homosexuality, by contrast, did not present the same threat and thus was not explicitly criminalized in the same way. Underlining this point, Marhoefer quotes a Nazi jurist who points out that “while homosexuality wasted a man’s potency […] ‘the woman who is inclined to lesbianism’ was ‘nevertheless capable of reproducing.’” That is not to say that female homosexuality was ignored; as Marhoefer makes clear, many in the regime viewed it as an outward indicator of additional “deviation”, and the Gestapo kept tabs on a number of women known or suspected to be lesbians. But by and large, as long as the ideal of man’s domination of woman was upheld, female homosexuality did not represent the reproductive threat of male homosexuality.

Similar concerns arise both in ideological fellow-travellers, like Italian Fascism, as well as in Nazism’s great illiberal ideological rival, Soviet communism. As Barbara Spackman explains, the Fascists inherited from Marinetti a paradox in which women are both bemoaned as vectors for feminization of males—“proximity of women turns boys into girls and heterosexuals into ‘pederasts’”—while simultaneously acting as the proving ground for masculinity via sexual conquest. Italy’s rebirth obviously requires reproduction, but bourgeois family values are held to sap the virility of the Italian man. For Marinetti—and given his philandering, one can assume for Mussolini as well—”Divorce, free love, and destruction of the bourgeois family” allow for the sporadic proximity that ensures masculinity, without leading to “effeminization.”

As Dan Healey explains in “Forging Gulag Sexualities,” in the Soviet Union it was actually the closure of the Gulag and the relative liberalization of the post-Stalin period that saw the crystallization of homophobia in the Eastern Bloc. While anti-homosexual laws had been on the books since the thirties, the regime’s tacit acceptance of homosexuality within the Gulag led to its proliferation; the closure of the Gulag actually saw an increase in the enforcement of anti-sodomy laws, and “both official and popular attitudes towards homosexuality hardened as a result of the reform of the Gulag and wider reforms of Soviet society under de-Stalinization.” Here again, a crucial component of the homophobia, and the implied Soviet value of masculinity, was the “demographic anxiety already [that] stalked all official deliberations touching on sexuality and gender relations.” Having lost some 26 million people during World War 2, the Soviet Union was yet another totalitarian state focused on a sort of rebirth.

Works Cited

Healey, Dan. “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin.” In Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017).

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

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

Spackman, Barbara. Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minneapolis, 1996)