In the wake of World War II, German masculinity was felt to be in crisis. Not only were men returning from the front with a host of physical and mental injuries caused by the war, but the racialized, hyper-masculine, soldierly ideals espoused by the Nazis were delegitimized in the face of Allied victory. But, as the works of historians, such as Frank Biess, Till van Rahden, Elizabeth Heineman, and Heide Fehrenbach, have shown, the gender order was quickly restructured. West Germany saw a remasculinization, a rehabilitation of masculinity that idealized the image of man as husband, breadwinner and active father. Standing in contrast to Nazi masculine ideals and the reordering of gender under socialism in the East, this figure was an important intermediary in the construction of the West German state. The edited collection of Bernhard Gotto and Elke Seefried now provides a closer analysis of this reconstruction of masculinity in the early the Federal Republic. Specifically, the volume examines the ‘social reality’ of men with perceived ‘Makel’ or flaws (p. 8). Alongside showing how masculine ideals were normativized by the postwar German state and society, the volume examines the lifeworlds of veterans, the disabled, homeless, homosexuals and Gammler among others. In doing so, it highlights how these men, who the state, society or even medical professionals saw as flawed, performed and negotiated masculine ideals. The volume begins with three chapters focusing on former soldiers, who, by virtue of wartime injuries, were perceived as flawed. The first chapter by Sabine Schleiermacher focuses on the provision of benefits for veterans, specifically the Federal War Victim’s Relief Act. She shows how the law prioritized getting former soldiers into paid employment. In doing so, she argues, it supported a specific image of masculinity, where the man was the primary earner and provided for his family. Developing this argument, the second chapter from Noyan Dinçkal examines the physical rehabilitation of former soldiers and the significance of prosthetics. He argues that prosthetics in the postwar era not only stood for a politics of rehabilitation, but also that they symbolized a concerted effort ‘to secure a destabilized gender order, where the husband is the gainfully employed head of the family’ (p. 40). Interestingly, Dinçkal also shows what was made of men who were unhappy with their prosthetics. As well as deriding their intelligence, the medical profession questioned the masculine will of these men to triumph over adversity. Sebastian Schlund’s well-theorized chapter moves the analysis to organized sport for men disabled during the war. Much like Schleiermacher and Dinçkal, Schlund shows how important rehabilitating former soldiers was in the early years of the Federal Republic. Through organized sport, men injured in the war could ‘overcome’ their disability, not only by becoming employable again, but also by reclaiming their masculine identity. But Schlund goes further, highlighting the hierarchies of masculinity that existed between the men of the German Disabled Sport Association. He argues that, although the former soldiers may have seen themselves as ‘flawed’ due to their disability, they still saw themselves as distinct from and superior to those men in the Association who were disabled from birth. The book then moves to examine other kinds of marginalized masculinities. Namely, the homeless and Gammler. Britta-Marie Schenk’s chapter on the Pik As shelter in Hamburg provides an important glimpse into the masculinities of homeless men. She shows how the men in the shelter resisted state efforts to move them to aged care homes by appealing to normative ideals of masculinity. Although the Pik As residents rejected some aspects of hegemonic masculinity, such as paid employment, by appealing to the importance of self-determination, they supported the image of man as the ‘sole decision-maker’ (p. 70). Nadine Recktenwald’s chapter on Gammler, the beatniks of the mid-to-late 1960s, shows how only those Gammler who emphasized their marginality by shirking masculine ideals reached the top of the internal hierarchy. However, Recktenwald also queries the extent to which male Gammler truly shunned hegemonic masculinity, by showing how, in their relationships with women, they continued to act as a patriarchal authority. The following three chapters take up questions of sexuality, masculinity and the Cold War divide. Michael Schwartz compares the lives of gay men across the Berlin Wall, highlighting the tension between Berlin as an historic centre of gay life and the ongoing criminalization of sodomy through §175. Benno Gammerl’s chapter builds on this foundation, showing how the postwar masculine ideal of an employed, loving and active father and husband, was underpinned by heterosexuality and upheld by the social discrimination and legal persecution of gay men. Particularly striking is the story of Herr Kuhn, who, despite having practiced various forms of same-sex sex, had never kissed another man, because kissing was ‘only something for men and women’ (p. 106). Gammerl uses this story to highlight the way heteronormative mores were internalized by gay men. Stefanie Coché examines the constructions of masculinity in medicine, specifically the reasons why men were placed under psychiatric care. She argues that it was primarily for violence, including domestic abuse, that men were held. Typically, however, doctors ascribed the violence to physical causes like alcoholism or head injury, as a way of rationalizing violence in the family. Friederike Brühöfener’s chapter looks at masculinity in the West German army, a question of great public concern following the reintroduction of compulsory military service in 1956. Unlike the military under the Third Reich, the reformed army would consist not only of ‘fully-fledged soldiers,’ but also ‘free men and good citizens’ (p. 131). With this in mind, Brühöfener examines the figure of the ‘difficult young soldier’—the man who did not live up to this masculine ideal. For this, the military blamed the legacies of the war: absentee parents and the destruction of patriarchal authority in the home. The volume ends with a contribution from Till van Rahden on fatherhood and democracy. He shows how, over a decade before 1968, patriarchal authority was questioned, as men and women developed different, softer visions of fatherhood. Indeed, this was thought to be essential to the construction of democracy. However, he also shows the limitations of this ‘soft fatherhood’—the woman was still expected to be the primary caregiver, whereas the man pursued paid employment. Although some chapters would benefit from a more explicit discussion of masculinity, overall, this is a well-structured volume that provides important detail on the history and perception of marginalization and masculinity in postwar West Germany. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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