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Women (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

W AtoZ Challenge 2018

In the 1920s, the role of women in society shifted dramatically. Women liberated themselves. They started working outside the house, engaging in activities previously reserved to men, they discovered their sexuality and sensuality and uncovered their body.
This was a common occurrence throughout the Western World – with reaches outside of it – but it had peculiar characteristic in every single nation.

In Germany, women had to fend for themselves through the years of war, and they continued to do so after the war ended. Before the war, only few women worked outside the house, mostly working-class women employed in the factories or in domestic service. But during the war, women had to replace men in many jobs, and slowly it became something which was considered acceptable, even desirable. After the war, work was seen by all women, especially young ones, and a means of realization and self-determination. Women of all classes entered the workforce, and even if they were mostly employed in what became known as female occupations (teachers, nurses, social workers). But they also started to enter the professions and fields previously considered eminently male. The postwar decrease in demographics, especially among men, certainly helped here. Eleven million women worked full time in Germany in 1918, which was about 36% of the whole workforce. This percentage wasn’t much higher than before the war, but the kind of jobs women held was different. They started being visible as they became bus conductors, postwomen, doctors and lawyers.

Berlin 1920s

Women were the majority of the electorate in postwar Germany, a result of the many men who had died in the war, but also of the number of veterans who, injured both physically and mentally, were unlikely to vote. The republic had given women the right to vote and be voted: women held 10% of the seats in the Reichstag. No political party could afford to ignore them.

As in many other Western countries, the 1920s brought about a sexual liberation for women, facilitated by the advancement in birth control, the willingness of both women and men to use those methods and the aspiration of women to a personal realisation before dedicating themselves to the family. Besides, many German women didn’t even consider creating a family. Hardened by the war years, accustomed to providing for themselves, to work and now to excerpt their political rights, women realised they didn’t really need a man in their life. And there was after all a surplus of women as a result of the war casualties. Even women who would have chosen otherwise were forced to take up a more independent life.
The new look, the new attention to make-up and the new fashion allowing freedom of movement and the possibility to show off her forms and use them in a new, sensual way, gave women power over themselves and over men which was unprecedented. It arose in them the awareness that they could indeed do whatever they wanted.

In postwar Germany, the new self-determination of women was often considered unpatriotic #Germany #history #WWI Click To Tweet

Society generally reacted with fear and horror to this new woman. Her resistance to create a family and have children was seen as nothing short of betrayal to the nation. Her increasing affirmation was seen as dangerous for the masculinity of men that had already been gravely battered by the war experience. Like in all of the Western countries, her existence was a shock, but in Germany, the new woman was often accused of being unpatriotic and of putting in danger the fertility – therefore the future – of the nation.

The dangerous Garçonne

A newspaper article from 1927 delineated three key female types:

• The Germanic Gretchen, with her long, virginal braid, who bore all the traditional values of the German mother and wife
• The youthful and Americanised Girl, who embodied all the characteristic of the woman that would in other parts of the world be called Flapper
• The cosmopolitan, boyish, sharp-dressed and overall masculine Garçonne

Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich

While the Gretchen was the preferable kind of woman who responded to traditional requirements and the Girl was mostly a carefree, pleasure-seeking young thing, the Garçonne was by far the most dangerous of all.

Named after a 1922 novel by French author Victor Margueritte, the Garçonne was the most masculine and advance ‘form’ of femininity of the 1920s. Aware of her sexual and intellectual potency and able to exercise it, the Garçonne could be so much stronger than the men she loved to become troublesome. Fashion was, in general, becoming more unisex in the 1920s, but the Garçonne, with her Bubikopf crop and her men dress, would sometimes take up even the appearance of men.

It was speculated that the war allowed the birth of such a potent woman. It was on the battlefields that women first took up the appearance of men and went about men’s roles and jobs. When the war was over, they never gave up what they had accomplished on the battlefields. The Garçonne was the most apparent incarnation of that conquest.


RESOURCES

Facing History and Ourselves – Women in the Weimar Republic

Katie Sutteon, The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany. Berghahn Books, Oxford, 2011


Weimar Germany - WOMAN (AtoZChallenge 2018) In the 1920s, German women knew the emancipation and self-determinatin that wean all over the wester world were experiencing. Maybe stronger, as the war forced them to do. And for it, they were often consider unpatriotic

12 Comments

  • Kristin
    Posted April 26, 2018 at 16:23

    Are the policemen measuring the length of the women’s dresses in the top photo?
    http://findingeliza.com/

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:33

      Indeed he is. Surprising how many such photos you can find, don’t you think? 😉

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 26, 2018 at 16:58

    I’m so glad you commented on this phenomenon. Women really did begin to take ownership of their own lives at this time, more than they ever had before. And that meant that the world had to define them differently, make different places for them, and so on. More than that, the world had to accept that women would find their own places, and define themselves as they saw fit. And that unsettled so many people – and not just men, either. It’s interesting how hard it is for a society to see such a major change and adjust to it.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:35

      I don’t think I could have said it better than you did, Margot.
      Women taking charge of their life was a common occurance in the Western Workd at that time and indeed it is interesting, surprising and kind of unsettling to see how society reacted to it.

  • Debs
    Posted April 26, 2018 at 17:46

    Funny how wars and emancipation seem to go hand-in-hand eh? Less funny how much of a battle had to be fought by women after wars were won.

    A-Zing this year at:
    FictionCanBeFun
    Normally found at:
    DebsDespatches

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:39

      True. But this show us how such a bad, wrong event can still have positive effect on sociaty. If a total war hadn’t happened, women may have never had the possibility to show what they could actually do – and I meen on a wide, social level, not just on a few sporadic example – and emancipation may have come a lot later.
      Of course, war was just part of the experience of emancipation – as the American expereince shows – but I think here in Europe it was very relevant, more than elsewhere in the warld.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 26, 2018 at 20:29

    This is a great post about women during this time and the German women really took their freedom to heart..in the big cities at least. Good ole Marlene Dietrich epitomized this independent woman and she was that plus loved sex…with anyone…she was not particular

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:40

      Yeah, as alwasy – it seems – big cities and the rest of the country functioned in different ways 😉

  • Hilary
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 01:33

    Hi Sarah – certainly the wars totally changed society’s view of women … yet one can understand the dilemma … the men wanted their jobs back and to settle to some sort of normality … while the women wanted that freedom they’d been required to have through the nation’s need … fascinating – cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:44

      That’s a particularly effective way to describe the situation. Hard to miss the complexity of it, isn’t it?

  • Tizzy Brown
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 23:31

    The advancement of women’s rights, confidence and aspirations was one of the few good things to come out of the war. Fascinating post!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 08:46

      Well, I’d say it was one of the most visible. In fact, WWI gave us a lot of good things, hard as it might be to believe 😉

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