11/18/2013

"The Masculinity of the Headmistress"

For my Sex, Race, and Gender in 20th century Germany module, I had to watch the 1931 film "M├Ądchen in Uniform".

The film is about an all girl boarding school, focusing on the parallels the system draws with fascism, and the homoerotic nature of the relationships inside the school (mainly that of student Manuela and the governess Fraulein von Bernburg".

One of our assignments regarding this film is to give an 8 minute powerpoint presentation on the way the headmistress represents masculinity in the film, as there are no males whatsoever. She gave us the example of reading the headmistress' use of a cane as phallic.



Besides the issue that I take with the fact of reading a cane as a phallic symbol - to me a cane has always meant the person using it had trouble walking - I have a problem with having to analyze the headmistress' behavior as masculine.

We are supposed to comment on the fact that she holds a sort of dictator figure, and runs the boarding school very tightly and autocratically. This implies that a woman could never be like that. Power (and the abuse of it) is not exclusively male, and equating all of her behaviors to that of a male - specially the negative ones - defeats the purpose of making such a groundbreaking all woman film. The book and play it was based on was written by a woman, and then the film was directed by a woman as well, so it wasn't just all woman on screen, it was all woman off-screen too.

Constantly trying to find the "man" in the woman, is the equivalent to asking a lesbian couple "Who is the man in this relationship" - Neither, that's the whole point of a lesbian relationship. A behavior is masculine because society has decided that it is, it isn't masculine of its own right, unless an actual penis is involved. This does not include things shaped like penises, like a cane.

And that is why my assignment is bullshit.

"OMG this assignment ist so not wunderbar"

Perhaps if the phrasing had been a bit different - Behaviors traditionally associated to males in 20th century Germany - I wouldn't be so reluctant, but it wasn't, and phrasing is key, especially when it comes to a gender studies module.

That aside, I really enjoyed the film. If you can sit through a long grainy 1931 film with awkward jumpcuts (courtesy of the Nazi regime's censorship), I highly recommend it.

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