Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Jen and I got married 13 years ago.  After a small ceremony, small reception and small honeymoon, we had to take care of the paperwork.  Trips to the DMV and Secretary of State were necessary to gain new ID’s and Social Security cards. Unlike most married couples however, both Jen and I needed new documentation.  We both had new names, and hence, new identities. On an October day in 2002, she became Jenny Jocks Stelzer (nee Stelzer), and I became Michael Stelzer Jocks (nee Jocks).

13 years on and the fact that I changed my name when I got married still catches people off-guard. So not surprisingly, a recent Atlantic article titled ‘Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married‘  caught my eye. Not only did I ‘consider it’; I actually did it. Of course, I have been asked many times why I made the unconventional choice, and I believe I provide such queries with a very good answer.

A couple years before we got married, Jen and I talked about the topic of spouses changing names after marriage. As a progressive, idealistic 21 year old who enjoyed going against social norms, I stated with a good deal of bravado that if we ever got married I would gladly take her last name, and cast off the surname Jocks.  A bit incredulous, she asked, ‘Really’?  ‘Sure, why not’, I responded…..Buuuutttt, the more I thought about it, the more troubling I found the possibility.  I think it was later the same day that I stated I, in fact, would not become Michael Stelzer if, and/or when we got married.  After all, for my whole existence I had been Michael Jocks.  Who would I be if I changed that?  It was a surprisingly disturbing question.

On the other hand, if I found it so troubling to give up my name, and some portion of my identity, how could I expect, much less demand, that Jenny change her name simply based upon tradition?  If she wanted to take my name, that would be fine.  But, it was completely her choice and I would have no say in the matter.  Sometime after this discussion, when marriage was actually on the horizon, we came up with our compromise.  I would take her name, and keep my name, and she would take my name and keep her name.  That was that. All’s fair.

And so, this brings me back to that Atlantic article. Most of the article deals with the troubling history behind the marriage_dictionarytradition of women changing their names. I won’t go into that here as you can read the linked article yourself. But, one part does need to be dealt with in this post (and future posts as well).  The first line of the article is an absolutely dumbfounding statistic. According to a recent study, ‘More than 50% of Americans think the woman should be legally required to take her husband’s name in heterosexual marriages.’  Read that again.  It does not say over 50% of Americans feel women ‘should’ change their name (that is closer to 70% of Americans). No, no, no. Over 50% of Americans feel there should be a law that forces women to change their names at marriage.

Mind blown…

This is shocking for numerous reasons. In my next post, I want to delve into what this statistic says about how Americans’ view womens’ rights in a historical context. Here, however, I just want to point out how out of place this is in our national political environment.

Americans today are seemingly obsessed with libertarianism. Now, this does not mean a huge portion of people identify themselves as such politically. It is only about 10% of the voting public who call themselves libertarian.  But, on many topics, libertarianism has a foothold. The cause of this obviously has much to do with how Americans feel about the government.  Congress is notoriously despised by the American people, and for the last ten years, Americans simply do not trust lawmakers, law enforcers, or law interpreters. With such professed distrust of government, the American people are reaching new heights in calls for individual freedom. Gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, deregulation of gun laws, defunding of government services,  liberalization of internet control, etc, etc. On all sides of the political divide, libertarianism is front and center. It seems unlikely that this will end anytime soon.

And, so, we have a surprising paradox here.  Over 50% of Americans, meaning many who argue that the government should not decide who can or cannot get married, who believe the government should have no say whatsoever in curtailing deadly weapons, and who will march against laws limiting the size of sodas, believe, with the utmost cognitive dissonance, that women should be legally mandated to change their names when they get married. If over 50% of Americans today agree on any cultural topic, it is newsworthy. When it comes to women being forced to change their names, evidently liberals and conservatives (and men and women) agree. The majority of voters, at least in theory, support such an obviously paternalistic law.

How can we explain this?

In my next blog, I’m gonna try.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Teaching a course on the Holocaust is challenging.  What should be the goal of the course: To explain why the event occurred, or how it transpired?  What should the course focus upon most: The perpetrators of the crime, or the auschwitz-birkenauvictims of the massacres?  How should we remember the legacy of the nightmare: As a unique moment in history, or simply another horrendous chapter in the unending book of human cruelty?

As an instructor, I have other, more personal hurdles as well.  I naturally attempt to use humor, and irony to make points in my courses.  This is not possible when analyzing Auschwitz-Birkenau.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I attempt to use images and video as learning tools.  There is no shortage of documented images from the Shoah, but where do you draw the line between necessary illumination of horror, and macabre voyeurism?

These are difficult questions I face every Tuesday and Thursday at 10AM.

But, this quarter I am finding that I have a new, more disturbing challenge.    During the last couple weeks, I have come to realize that  I was using the language of Nazism to explain the historical context of the genocide. I know this sounds….not good, so let me explain.

When investigating the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and Nazi propaganda, I must analyze Nazi ideology with my students.  They must understand that the Nazi weltschauung was Manichean in nature.  Good vs. Evil, right vs. wrong, light vs. dark.  Hitler and the Nazis understood humanity and individual identities utilizing such antithetical notions.  Supposed racial essence, most obviously the difference between Jews and Aryans, was all important. During 1933-1939, the period that Saul Friedländer has termed the ‘Years of Persecution’, Hitler and his Nazi movement regularized such ideas throughout German society.  The Nazi’s initial end during these early years was not to annihilate the Jewish people, but to destroy the Jewish community within the German homeland.  German Jews were to subjugated and relegated to secondary status, with the hope that the community would disintegrate through emigration. Thus, the Nazi state constantly and ubiquitously portrayed an ineffable and unbridgeable gap between the true German, the ‘Aryan’, and the parasitic outsider, ‘the Jew’. This portrayal of complete difference allowed the ‘German Aryan’ to feel superior to his German Jewish neighbor, and have no problem with any legal discrimination against the latter that was passed.  This was incredibly, and horrendously effective.

Victor Klemperer

Victor Klemperer

The success of Hitler and the Nazis in this realm can be seen in the fact that my students are surprised that many German Jews felt they were Germans first, and Jews second.  In 1933, there were only about 500,000 German Jews living within the Reich, and a great number of these men, women and children constructed their personal identity upon national, not religious or racial, terms.  German Jews were proud of German influence in world affairs, in German technology, German education, and, most particularly, in German high culture. Just like non-Jewish Germans, they lionized Beethoven, Kant, Goethe.  In fact, a good number of German Jews were disgusted by what they understood as Hitler’s theft of the German cultural heritage, since they believed Hitler was wholly antithetical to this legacy.  For instance, Victor Klemperer, a German First World War veteran, diarist, and German Jew, viewed the Nazi movement, and Hitler in particular, as a horrendous befouling of the German Kultur and Bildung that he loved so much Hitler and his Nazi thugs smeared the true Germany that so many German Jews adored.

This brings me back to my newest challenge.  I understand the complexity of German Jewish identity, the stealing of Germanness from the nation’s Jews, and yet, I find myself linguistically differentiating Jews and Germans in my lectures.   As I explain Nazi methods and ideas, I inadvertently, yet unthinkingly, fall into the Nazi usage of antithetical identity language.  Looking at German history during the Hitler years causes me to separate ‘Jews’ from ‘Germans’, in an absolute, essentialist manner.  I inform my students that ‘Jews’ and not ‘Germans’ were most effected by the Nuremberg laws.  I explain to them that the ‘Jews’ and not ‘Germans’  faced persecution on Kristallnacht.  I illustrate that it was the Jews and not ‘Germans’ who were transported to Auschwitz-Birkanau, Treblinka, and Belzec.  In this, I teach the fallacy that Jews were not Germans, and Germans were not Jews.

I nauseously realized that I may be providing Hitler with a posthumous victory.

I can’t let that happen.