Spirits of Resistance: Mannweiber

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by Vinko Nino Jaeger
Ikonen - Forestkin, 2021 ©Vinko Nino Jaeger

“If you go on like this you will become a Mannweib,” your parents said to you. You were too young to understand the meaning of the word Mannweib, but you understood that it was something very bad. “Mannweib” was invented by Joachim Heinrich Campe (1809), who was a German language purist from the 18th century. The aim of Campe, and other purists of that sort, was to clean the German language from foreign words and loanwords. These words should be replaced with suitable German words. So Campe replaced the Greek word “Amazone” with “Mannweib”. While Mannweib has a pejorative meaning—a woman who acts or looks like a man—Amazone is embedded in Greek mythology and thus in a more complex context. Amazons were fighting and city-founding people. They were led by a queen and characterized by a spirit of resistance and independence from men.

Under the Nazi regime the meaning of the Amazone was reduced to an apparently emancipated image of women, which was part of the desired “new race.” (Wikipedia, 2023) The word “Mannweib” was used in the context of degeneracy/Entartung and was considered a sign of deviation from the healthy “Volkskörper”: the more resolutely someone appeared as a man or a woman, the healthier the person was in the eyes of the Nazis. (Falk, 2008) But “Mannweib” was not only used for persons born with a female body. For example Liddy Bacroff used this word when talking about themselves during an interrogation led by the Nazi police. (Jaeger, 2011)

The blurring of gender boundaries was seen as an evolutionary regression, because during the development of the human race, gender was supposed to become more and more pronounced. The Nazi politics of a “healthy” people demanded the extermination of all people and elements that disrupt the community. The masculinization of women was seen as degeneration (Entartung), asociality (Asozialität) and decay (Zersetzung). To prevent this, the body had to be controlled: Heinrich Himmler establishedthe Reich Central Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion in 1936 to prevent acts that lowered the birth rate. (Raasch, Tilentzidis, 2023) Falk shows how the “Jewish”, the “women” and the ”homosexual” questions were linked together within Nazi discourse. (Falk, 2008) 

Current LGBTQIA*-haters employ these same narratives. They use a discourse that continues that of the Nazis, for example, the notion that a sexually deviant and overpowering minority controls the world to serve their own interests and brainwashes human kind. This sentence contains the idea of the Jewish woman as an intellectual, cigar-smoking Mannweib and the Jewish man as physically weak, feminine. Jews and homosexuals are portrayed as cosmopolitans with an international network, who rule the world. They are connected to diseases, have a lot of money, and live in the city. (Falk, 2008) 

Some queer people found the Amazonian spirit in themselves and resisted the Nazi dictatorship in one way or another. For example Thérèse Pierre, a lesbian, communist, and part of the armed French Résistance (Kracher, 2021). Or Irene Miller (Wikipedia, 2023), a queer Czech resistance fighter and Holocaust survivor. Ilse Sonja Totzke (Wikipedia, 2023) lived in relationships with women and wore men‘s clothes. Totzke resisted in various ways e.g. by refusing the Hitler salute and helping Jewish women. Totzke was posthumously honored as a Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Klaus and Erika Mann (Kracher, 2021) were also a driving force in the antifascist resistance. They published the literary magazine Die Sammlung, founded a political cabaret Die Pfeffermühle, wrote novels like Mephisto and on their travels they publicly talked about the crimes of the Nazis. The Austrian actress Dorothea Neff (Qwien, 2023) hid their Jewish partner Lilli Wolff during four years in their flat. For a long time Neff never spoke publicly about their rescue resistance (Rettungswiderstand). The reason was the criminal prosecution of people for homosexual acts in Austria continued until the 1970s. The Austrian law (Heinrich, 2023), § 129 Ib, dated back to 1852 and was even stricter than the Nazi law. It persisted until 1971 and forbade sexual contacts between men as well as between women. The reform of criminal justice was an important step against discrimination and ostracism and for a positive change in society. 

In recent years so-called anti-gender-movements have increasingly been forming. These transnational movements mobilize against gender politics and sexual self-determination. (Wittenius, 2022) They attack the rights of women, LGBTQIA* persons, and democracy as a whole. The European Union‘s gender and equality politics were long considered a success story. These are now under attack by right-wing populist politicians. Poland offers an example with the introduction of LGBT-ideology-free-zones and a ban on abortion. Another example of the anti-gender-movement is Viktor Orbán, who demanded at a meeting of right-wing conservative politicians in Texas (USA) that there should be less drag queens and more people like Chuck Norris. (APA, 2022) And in Austria, the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition in Lower Austria has made its racist and anti-gender attitude clear right from the start. (APA, 2023)

Also today queer people fight against this hatred and discrimination. After three weeks in prison the Polish LGBTQIA* activist Małgorzata Szutowicz, called Margot, was released. (Markus, 2020) This was already the second time Margot was arrested. Margot is part of the queer collective Stop Bzdurom - Stop Bullshit, which fights for LGBTQIA* rights. The Polish authorities accused the group of having hung rainbow flags and anarchist symbols on several monuments in Warsaw, including a statue of Jesus. In Poland Elżbieta Podleśna, Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar, and Anna Prus were on trial two times for offending religious beliefs: they made posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. The Polish authorities appealed their second acquittal in January 2022. (Amnesty International, 2023) If convicted, they face up to two years in prison. 

On the one hand it is important not to forget the people who resisted dictatorships, like the Nazis, in the past. For that reason I realized the project Fathomizing Memory in cooperation with Radio Orange. (Jaeger, 2011) On the other hand one should support activists and become active oneself, by using the options available. To show my respect and appreciation for their courage, I created sculptural representations for the Polish LGBTQIA* activists in my work Forestkin (Jaeger, 2021). 


Amnesty International. Polen: Berufung gegen den Freispruch von Elżbieta, Anna und Joanna muss zurückgezogen werden! 2023. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 10:17am.

APA. Kritik an Bündnis von ÖVP und FPÖ in Niederösterreich reißt nicht ab. 2023. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 10:01am.

APA. Orbán fordert in Texas "weniger Dragqueens und mehr Chuck Norris". 2022. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 09:55am.

Campe, Joachim Heinrich. Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. 1809. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 10am.

Falk, Francesca. Grenzverwischer. ”Jud Süss” und ”Das Dritte Geschlecht”. Verschränkte Diskurse von Ausgrenzung. Schriften des Centrums für Jüdische Studien. Band 13. Hg.: Hödl, Klaus. Innsbruck, Wien, Bozen: Studien Verlag. 2008.

Heinrich, Elisa. 1938-1945: Verfolgung von Menschen für homosexuelle Handlungen. Haus der Geschichte Österreich. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 11:31am. 

Jaeger, Vinko Nino; Orange 94.0 - Verein freies Radio Wien. Fathomizing Memory. An Interactive and Multimedial Project in Rememberance of People in the Resistance against the Nazi-Regime. 2011. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 12:02pm.

Jaeger, Vinko Nino. Forestkin. 2021 - on going. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 10:19am.

Kracher, Veronika. Queerer Widerstand. Klaus und Erika Mann. 2021. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 11:14am.

Kracher, Veronika. Queerer Widerstand. Thérèse Pierre. 2021. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 11am.

Markus, Andreas. Polnische LGBTI-Aktivistin Margot aus der Untersuchungshaft entlassen. 2020. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 10:14am.

Qwien. Zentrum für queere Geschichte. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 11:24am.

Raasch, Markus; Tilentzidis, Julia: Schwangerschaftsabbruch, ”Abtreibung”. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 10:44am.

Wikipedia. Irene Miller. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 11:09am.

Wikipedia. Ilse Totzke Retrieved on April 8th, 2023, 10:33am.

Wikipedia. Nacht der Amazonen. Retrieved on April 6th, 2023, 10am.

Wittenius, Marie. Die transnationale Anti-Gender-Bewegung in Europa. 2022. Retrieved on April 7th, 2023, 09:47am.

Vinko Nino Jaegeris a visual artist, author, lecturer, and active in adult education. Jaeger’s focus lies on performative wood sculpture, handwriting, and photography - rooted in architecture, walking, philosophy, and literature. He studied contextual painting and object sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and philosophy and psychology at the University of Salzburg.