Images of the ideal : sports, gender, and the emergence of the modern body in Weimar Germany / by Erik N. Jensen.
Europeans have based gender roles on notions of complete physical difference since at least the time of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Twentieth-century athletes, however, have cast doubt on many of these earlier assumptions through their remarkable feats and often non-traditional behavior. My dissertation explores how elite sportsmen and women reshaped masculine and feminine ideals in Weimar Germany, a time and place particularly fraught with anxieties over new female social roles and the apparent decline in male status that followed the humiliating defeat of 1918.I concentrate on the challenges posed by tennis players, boxers, and track and field athletes to postwar gender norms. Tennis generally showcased strong and assertive women for the popular press, while the men in this increasingly feminized sport exuded a delicacy that undermined notions of robust masculinity. Boxing promoted itself as quintessentially masculine, but women actively participated in this sport, too, albeit to a limited extent. Moreover, images of female boxers circulated widely during in the 1920s, celebrating aggressive women. Men, on the other hand, represented active fighters inside the ring, but passive figures outside it, who willingly submitted to male trainers, female fans, and physical objectification by the mass media. Commentators, meanwhile, explicitly framed track and field athletes in terms of their national duties. They celebrated men as the embodiment of German strength and surrogate military heroes, while debating whether female athletes could both compete and fulfill their “maternal obligations” to the country.These representations underscore how male and female athletes redefined popular understandings of the human body, challenged many of the bases for social inequalities, and established new ideals that appeared more in tune with the modernizing age in which they lived.
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