The story of feminist activism in the late s has been researched, so a brief recap should suffice.
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About a quarter of all students in , and also a quarter of SDS members, were female. Two to three times as many female than male students dropped out before the final exams. Eight of ten professors were convinced that women attended university only to find a husband, according to a flyer that circulated in Bonn in Indeed, as late as , a representative study of West German university professors had found that 64 per cent of them were principally or mostly opposed to women students, and 79 per cent to women professors. Childcare facilities for under-threes were nonexistent and for over-threes scarce, and only one in five young fathers helped out with childcare tasks.
They wrote and circulated leaflets, initially aimed mainly at fellow female students. The sense of unease at the patriarchal demeanor of the male activists did not stop there. Even in the experimental hothouse of Berlin's Kommune 1, female members complained about patriarchally inflected everyday interactions. Their actions were far from the theoretical blueprint they possessed. This eventually prompted the women to lock the men into a room for a night until they promised to do a better job of sharing the work.
It interpreted a woman's role in the household as slavery and as disenfranchisement. Where we are locked in the two-to-three bedroom apartment in order to polish it constantly. Konkret columnist Ulrike Meinhof, a mother of twins trying to reconcile a journalistic career with family obligations, called these tomatoes the harbinger of things to come:. These new nurseries were intended not only to free up time for the mothers to study and be politically active, but also to champion a less authoritarian style of education.
But during the first years of the new nurseries, leftist women and men fought over their control. The latter had been set up by young fathers who prioritized not the liberating effect of childcare on the mothers but rather the ideological experiment of raising a new generation of revolutionaries. From onward, several painful splits developed within the feminist movement: between communist, socialist, and reformist women, and between those who stressed biological gender difference and those who did not.
The politically active women of had gone through SDS schooling, and thus employed symbolic forms of direct action to attract media coverage. Remarkably, their actions often drew on elements from the traditionally female spheres of household and caring duties. Annette Schwarzenau besmirched the walls of the editorial offices of the illustrated weekly Stern with the contents of soiled Kinderladen diapers, and she helped nurses protest against the bonnets they were ordered to use to cover their hair.
In three-quarters of all families with multiple children born around , boys had to help much less around the house than girls did.
A survey from reported that young women did nine-tenths or more of all household chores in 93 percent of all cases, but pressure by women and cooperation by men began slowly to change the situation over the course of the next decades. The campaign in the home, together with a certain disdain for the bourgeois institution of monogamy and the limited availability of state-sponsored childcare, resulted in many relationships tail-spinning into crisis.
During our cooperation in the Kinderladen , everyone actually realized that these marriages were unsustainable.
A peek into one marriage shows why. Regine Walter-Lehmann was an activist in the West Berlin feminist movement of the s and later became an editor of the tageszeitung. As a student, she had married Joachim Lehmann, and both were active in the New Left. Typical, unfortunately. And bloody stupid, too. If that continues for a few years, I won't exist any longer.
I have to do something new, something different! In the milieu to which the Lehmanns belonged, their separation was not unusual.
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In the Kinderladen her daughter attended, only two children were raised by parents who lived together. Walter-Lehmann's actions were a protest against the traditional gender norms that she felt confined her. Emancipatory battles like hers played out in the private realm and thus were less visible in the public sphere. The new feminist movement enriched politics by making the private political, but the far-reaching impact of women's private struggles remained consistently underrepresented in contemporary debates.
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There was a deep-seated expectation that revolutions could only take place in public, and that revolutionaries could only be male. The police, for example, typically released female protesters immediately. She was sent home with an explicit order: to bring back food for her husband. Instead, much media attention centered on sexualized images of women in the movement.
Uschi Obermaier, a model who temporarily joined Rainer Langhans in Kommune 1, became the pin-up of the revolt.
She posed bare-breasted for the cover of the illustrated weekly Stern and made headlines with the affairs she had with rock musicians. The most well-known woman of the German student movement was anything but a feminist. In contrast to Uschi Obermaier, the activists who took part in the first women's groups and antiauthoritarian nurseries normally shied away from the limelight.
In keeping with the gender norms with which they had been socialized, i. At a commemorative panel discussion twenty years later, the female protagonists confessed how uncomfortable they felt on stage. Her own daughter only learned about the tomato incident at her mother's funeral in To be sure, there were books on the history of the first and second feminist movements that were written, printed, and distributed within the feminist counterculture during the s and s.
These niche publications could be astonishingly successful with female audiences. Others were literary works, such as Erika Runge's interview collection Frauen: Versuche zur Emanzipation , which sold sixty-six thousand copies between and ; or adult education books, such as Rosemarie Nave-Herz's Geschichte der Frauenbewegung in Deutschland.
This model of generational formation is difficult to apply to women, whose biographies and experiences tended to be different. To substantiate such claims, historians often turn to autobiographies and literary texts by well-known male protesters, such as Bernward Vesper the son of Nazi poet Will Vesper and the husband of terrorist Gudrun Ensslin , K. A few historians have taken this generational narrative at face value, basing their arguments on an uncritical analysis of oral history sources.
It was mainly young male authors who bewailed the silence and the guilt, but also the traumatic loss of their Nazi fathers in novels and plays. There are several problems with this Don Carlos myth. It understands the young as active and the old as passive. It takes for granted that the Nazi past was at the core of any generational conflict.
It wrongly implies that generational conflict was a widespread reality in families in the s. It also tends to resort to collective psychology and to conflate political generations with familial generations. The generational version of events, obsessed as it is with fathers, disregards female experience and agency.
It leads to an overemphasis on intergenerational conflict in the historical narrative, thereby underrepresenting the virulence of gender conflict among the younger age cohort and leaving relations between daughters and parents underexplored. In fact, if we investigate relations between mothers and daughters in the s—a topic that needs more research—all indications point to arrangements that mostly avoided open conflict and that, at times, included mutual forms of support in conflicts with fathers and grandfathers.
The mothers were no longer role models whose life scripts could easily be copied, but many nevertheless remained close confidantes.
In polls conducted at the time, a third of twenty-three-year-old women named their mothers as the person they trusted most; another fifth named both parents. Most mothers saw their teenage or adult daughters as partners: they mutually negotiated many everyday decisions, from miniskirts to parties, and crucially supported their wish to attain higher education and choose their vocation freely.
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Mothers who felt that their own educational chances and career options had been stymied often helped their daughters earn the high school leaving certificate Abitur and even go to university, frequently against the reservations of the fathers. My mother couldn't be one for me, I didn't want to live like her.
A closer look at the biographies of mothers and daughters shows, however, that, in reality, change was more gradual than radical. Women who were born around tended to live a life model in which periods of employment came before and after childrearing—just like that of their mothers. But the younger generation was better at theorizing and publicly defending their career phases as motivated by individual choices. By contrast, their mothers often veiled periods of paid employment as necessary contributions to the family collective—because they did not want to challenge the traditional marriage model.
Just as important, the Nazi past of the mothers or grandmothers was hardly ever addressed.
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Many men who were born in the s and early s began to feel a part of this generation when, years after the events, they actively or passively took part in mass media debates about the role of their age cohort in the history of the republic. It allows for formative experiences in the private sphere, it is not restricted to the educated elites, and it is not as dependent on mediated discourses. Frei's book nevertheless devotes very little space to gender conflict and gender identities. It was the anti-patriarchal thrust of the protest movement that formed its essential legacy; this jibed well with the movement's overarching antiauthoritarianism.
If one widens the perspective beyond Germany, one detects the first stirrings of a gender-aware reassessment of the history of the s.