Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Ordinary Masculinity: Gender Analysis and Holocaust Scholarship

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Ordinary Masculinity: Gender Analysis and Holocaust Scholarship

Article excerpt

Gentlemen, if there is ever a generation after us so cowardly, so soft, that it would not understand our work as good and necessary, then, gentlemen, National Socialism will have been for nothing. On the contrary we should bury bronze tablets saying that it was we, we who had the courage to carry out this gigantic task.

-- Statement from the Nuremberg trial of a Nazi guard at Belzec

We were Germany's best and hardest. Every single one of us dedicated himself to the others. What held us together was an alliance of comradeship. Not even the bond of marriage can be stronger. It gave us the mental and physical strength to do what others were too weak to do.

-- SS veteran who served in a Nazi concentration camp

We men of the new Germany have to be very tough with ourselves even when we are forced by circumstances to be separated from our families for quite a long time.

-- Gendarmeriepostenfuhrer Fritz Jacob

Ahrens called me a coward and a sissy, and the like.... He ordered me to stand guard right by the hole (mass grave) in order to harden me up.

-- Police reservist from Third Police Battalion 91

At an academic conference on the Holocaust in 1997, I attended a panel discussion concerned with "women's voices in the Holocaust." During the question and answer period that followed, I asked the panelists, all of whom were women, whether they saw their work as opening the way for a consideration of men's experience in the Holocaust. I did not intend to be radical or provocative. I knew, as the panelists did, that under the influence of academic feminism scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences have emphasized the gendered character of all human experience. Nonetheless, the panelists' responses indicated that they regarded my question as a threat, as one more in a series of male attempts to silence or marginalize women's voices.

This anecdote is representative of a wider problem in the field of Holocaust Studies, one evident in journals, monographs, and textbooks, (1) as well as in conference presentations: Scholars who study the Nazi Final Solution professionally are ignorant of or reluctant to acknowledge insights from the burgeoning discipline of men's studies. The relatively recent emergence of men's studies in the popular culture does not fully explain this phenomenon, for masculinity has been a subject of scholarly analysis for nearly a century. (2) It emerged in the theories of Sigmund Freud and his associates, particularly Alfred Adler, and by the middle of the twentieth century considerable scholarly attention was being directed at the "male sex role" and the prescriptive pressure it exerts upon male behavior. Furthermore, contemporary interest in masculinity dates to the late 1970s, the very period in which Holocaust Studies became a discreet field of academic inquiry.

In recent years the scholarly study of masculinity (sometimes called the "new men's studies") has exploded among anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and scholars of religion. Emphasis is on the ways masculinity is socially constructed ("shaped by historical circumstances and social discourses, and not primarily by random biology" (3)), on multiple "masculinities" ("hegemonic" and "nonhegemonic" in particular) (4) and the dynamics among them, and on the relationship between maleness, masculinity, and the exercise of social power. (5)

Of course, not all scholars concerned with gender have welcomed this new emphasis on masculinity in scholarship and popular culture. Some express concern that the new men's studies is simply a kinder, gentler strategy for reiterating male-biased scholarship and retaining male privilege. Advocates counter that the contemporary study of masculinity is new inasmuch as it is rooted in an examination of men's experience as specifically male rather than generically human. Following feminist scholars who observe that western discourse treats male experience as universal and ungendered and that women's experience must be understood as departing from this putative "human" standard, scholars of masculinity argue that men's experience also fails to conform to the "male" universal. …

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