Pink Shirts

photo courtesy of hemden-meister.de

photo courtesy of hemden-meister.de

My father had two pink shirts, much brighter than the color on the picture above. He wore them with pride on Sunday outings. Mind you, it was the 1970s, and maybe he would have even gotten away with it in the USA. My brother and some of his cousins had really long hair, even though by now we were in the 1980s and neither of them was a member of a heavy metal band. And I don’t think people questioned their heterosexuality, or their masculinity.

As a kid, I loved Doris Day movies. In one of them, the heroine goes through a mental checklist to figure out whether or not her love interest might be gay (it is their umpteenth date and he has not kissed her yet, so something must be wrong!). This checklist goes a bit like this – he loves to cook, he loves his mother, he is interested in the arts, he loves to talk… Her checklist made no sense to me, as many boys and men I knew exhibited these qualities, and I did not associate them with homosexuality or a lack of masculinity. Just as I never considered women with extremely short hair, or those not wearing makeup as “not feminine enough”.

Gender roles are more fluid in Germany than in the US. Of course you will find machos and hyperfeminine women over there, but less so. Now the interesting question is, why? I attribute it to two main developments, World War II and conscientious objection.

During and after World War II, millions of women found themselves pressed to develop their “masculine” side more – their men were in the war, died in the war, were in prisoners of war camps (the last of them returned to Germany only in 1955), and many of those who returned were disabled. For a time, it was largely left to women to keep their families alive,to earn a living, and even to rebuild the destroyed cities. Similar to the US, in the 50s the media tried hard to remind women of their rightful place at the family hearth and of the fact that their deepest desire should be to catch a man and keep him, yet this campaign was not quite as successful as in America. Thus, we still have all those difficult women who dye their hair red and believe in “Selbstverwirklichung” (self-actualization).

So while German women were busy developing their masculine side, something happened to a lot of German men. In the 1980s, it became easier to be a conscientious objector. However, if you were able-bodied and not serving in the army, chances were you had to spend between 6 (2011, right before compulsory military service was abolished) and 18 months (1962) doing “Zivildienst” (compulsory community service), typically at the age between 18 and 25. “Zivis” worked in hospitals and nursing homes, worked as EMTs, distributed meals on wheels… More and more young men chose community service over the military, and thus often developed what are typically considered more feminine qualities. I wonder how things will change in the long run now that neither Zivildienst nor military service are no longer necessary.

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