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.

Sources:

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. 

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)