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The Modern Spartan Man: White Supremacy, Masculinity and Ancient Sparta

Ricarda Meisl and Stephanie Savage

New York University

As stated by J. Butler (Butler 1990), gender is nowadays seen not only as a social construct but something that is “performatively produced and compelled by the regulatory practises of gender coherence” (Butler 1990, 34). Gender identity is therefore created through collectively agreed upon, repeated actions where any divergence will be penalised by the community. This paper’s aim is therefore to investigate the creation and performance of masculinity within white supremacy groups, focusing on their use of Sparta as an ideal that should be taken as a role model for modern men. This ideal is mainly centralized around cultural activities and coming-of-age rituals that these men believe ancient Spartans practiced.

In a world where white men are seen as a marginalised and oppressed group, displays of power, often connected to violent actions, become a way to perform and confirm one's identity as a man or serve as rites of passage to finally become a man. When white supremacy groups contrast modern, weak society with its safe spaces and political correctness to Spartan traditions of killing helots in a heroic one on one fight, they also lament the lack of possibility for them to perform true masculinity. In a similar way gendered power dynamics are used to describe interpersonal relationships: Desires for forced monogamy not only indicate a focus on traditional western family ideals, but casts the man as the active agent in pursuing both sexual relationships and ensuring masculine tradition in the form of pure and strong offspring. Crucial in these representations is that such behaviours are seen as sacrifices by the men to ensure a thriving community that demands subjection of their personal and familial interests to the public good. The male Spartan hero, as well as the superior white man, is therefore not only created on the battlefield, but also very much through his behaviour within his political and social sphere.

So far scholarship has engaged with questions of masculinity mainly by looking at ancient Greece itself (e.g. Keuls 1985; Orrells 2011; Foxhall/Salmon 1998a & b), thereby often focusing on Athens. For Sparta it is, with Hodkinson/Morris 2012 being the exception, predominantly Zack Snyder’s 300 and its representation of heroism and male behaviour that experienced discussion (Turner 2009; Beigel 2012). Apart from Oh and Kutufam 2014, however, no one has closely investigated the use of Sparta as a tool to perform and justify white supremacy and superiority. This paper will therefore use gender theory to closely examine and evaluate perceived aspects of Sparta that are used to define white masculinity in these groups.  It will discuss bodily representations of Spartan men as well as aspects of “warrior culture”, violence and power dynamics perceived within ancient Spartan society that act as templates for actions in the modern world, in order to better understand the dynamics of these groups, their (ab)use of the Classical world and their perceptions of gender and sexuality.

Session/Panel Title

Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy

Session/Paper Number

59.2

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