By and Beyond "Organised Motherhood": Feminist Politics and the Emerging German Welfare State

By Susanne Maurer

 

 

 

Internationally, there has been a lot of historical research reconstructing the active part women would play in the constitution of modern social work as a vital part of welfare regimesCf. Gisela Bock/Pat Thane (Eds.): Maternity and Gender Policies. Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States 1880s-1950s, Routledge: London/New York 1991; Klaus, Alisa: Every Child a Lion. The Origins of Maternal and Health Policy in US and France 1890-1920, Cornell 1994; Theda Skocpol: Protecting Soldiers and Mothers. The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States, Harvard 1992; Ann Taylor Allen: Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800-1914, New Brunswick/New Jersey 1991. (i.e.. the development of methodical and systematic concepts for how to practise social work; the setting up of training institutions and schools for social work, and, no less important, the claim of social work being a 'female' professionYoung Sun Hong: Feminity as a Vocation: Gender and Class Conflict in the Professionalization of German Social Work. In: Geoffrey Cocks/Konrad H. Jarausch (Hg.): German Professions 1800-1950, New York/Oxford 1990, pp. 232-251.). To some extent, and supported by historical findings, scholars have also acknolwedged the social policy and social research dimensions of these processes.Cf. Stefan Köngeter/Wolfgang Schröer (2013). Variations of Social Pedagogy – Explorations of the Transnational Settlement Movement. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21(42). Available online: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/1309 Still, women's agency, in the political sense, deriving from specific fields of power relations and being as constrained as promoted by them, must be characterised more precisely.

This article calls for a re-reading of the concept and praxis of “Organised Motherhood“ which is usually received and critically analysed as an ambivalent and problematic strategy of bourgeois women for cultural and national participation, which, ultimately, becomes a trap when it comes to women's liberation. This 'common' – at least prevailing – analysis can be re-opended into a more complex and multi-layered perspective, taking into account the radical-critical and utopian aspects of the concept of “Organised Motherhood.“ As the following study will demonstrate by taking up the German historical example, feminist politics related to 'the social' comprise a wide spectrum of ideas which can be re-visited and critically recognised as visions of a more just and livable society.Cf. Sheila Rowbotham (2010), Dreamers of a New Day: women who invented the twentieth century. London: Verso.

In historiography from the 1970s onwards, which sought to reconstruct the early women’s movements’ struggle for independence and their emancipatory endeavours, policies and practices, the concept of “Geistige Mütterlichkeit” (the most widely-used German term at the time, which cannot adequately be translated as “Organised Motherhood”Cf. f.e. the paper "Organized Motherhood" by Mrs. Lide Smith Meriweather (or Meriwether), published in: Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle (Ed.): The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 747-751. – the terms “Spiritual” or “Intellectual Maternity” may capture the meaning slightly better), as a strategy to argue for the necessity of a 'specific female contribution' to society (and thereby at the same time legitimise the struggle for women's rights) was usually criticised, or at the very least its ambivalences were emphasised – and rightly so.

Against the backdrop of an idealist gender philosophy, “Geistige Mütterlichkeit” suggested that women were capable of allowing their ‘specifically female nature’, which was closely linked with their basic ability to become mothers, to unfold beyond the sphere of the family and into society for the greater good of mankind. Women appeared as naturally invested with a sense of ‘motherliness’, independently of their status as mothers. This self-understanding was significant for the many celibate, unmarried women involved in the women’s movements of the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century – they were able to express and prove themselves as women through their expression of “Geistige Mütterlichkeit”. Monika Simmel-Joachim hinted at these women’s desperation for social legitimacy in speaking of “honourable publicness”.Monika Simmel-Joachim: Frauen in der Geschichte der sozialen Arbeit - zwischen Anpassung und Widerstand. In: Christa Cremer/Christiane Bader/Anne Dudeck (Eds.): Frauen in sozialer Arbeit. Zur Theorie und Praxis feministischer Bildungs- und Sozialarbeit, Juventa: Weinheim/München 1992, p. 44.

Here, I want to suggest a specific interpretation of this concept by seeking to acknowledge simultaneously its critical, utopian and normative aspects. Furthermore, I conceive of the tripolarity “critique – norm – utopia” systematically as a relational structure that possesses a specific (internal) dynamic of its own. In this way, a flexible analytical tool is gained which allows us to better understand and recognise the many-layered and ambiguous nature of emancipatory concepts, including their difficult and intricate effects (and power).

 

Between Critique, Norm and Utopia: Some Opening Questions

The position adopted in the present article assumes that critical, utopian and normative elements relate to one another in a specific and somewhat contradictory manner within the concept of “Organised Motherhood”, especially when it comes to its influencing social work and social policies within the context of emerging north-western welfare states. To illustrate this, a few exemplary analytical questions will be formulated for each of these three dimensions. To some extent, these questions will already refer explicitly to the other dimensions.

 

A. The Critical Dimension

To what extent did (middle- or upper-class) women become radicalised by daily contact with the living conditions of their addressees within the context of practical social work, in some circumstances changing their perception and evaluation of society's conditions in general?Here we might think of the efforts against the regulation of prostitution and against white slavery. Cf. f.e. Helen Mathers. Patron Saint of Prostitutes. Josephine Butler and a Victorian Scandal. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. 2014. To what extent did such processes of radicalisation include transgressive moments in regard to the dominant social order, the dominant gender order as well as the women’s own self-image and life plans?

How have the living conditions of the “poor sisters of the lower classes” been revealed as shocking (for example, their working and housing conditions and the ‘bourgeois double standards’ that permitted men to “help themselves” to women driven to prostitution as a result of economic hardships, while women are subject to a far more stringent moral code as a matter of principle) and disrupting to former worldviews? In what ways has ‘the state of men’ (as women are still widely excluded from civil rights and citizenship) been scrutinised critically, and, as a kind of remedy, the ‘necessary feminine influence’ been asserted? Where and in what manner has something akin to a ‘women’s culture’, a ‘symbolic order of women’ developed (be it in the literary output and historical analyses of women involved in the struggle for women’s liberation, or in specific practices in women’s everyday lives and friendshipsCf. Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (NY: Morrow, 1981))? And to which extent can this ‘women’s culture’ be seen as a critical element, as potentially relativising the measures of value defined by men?

 

B. The Utopian Dimension

According to Alice Salomon, internationalist, pacifist and pioneer of promoting social work as methodological and educated practice, woman’s “cultural mission” or “world mission” has the objective of “changing the fatherland to the motherland”.Alice Salomon: Soziale Frauenpflichten. Vorträge gehalten in deutschen Frauenvereinen, Berlin 1902, p. 33. To what extent does ‘femininity’ and particularly ‘maternity’ stand here for the humanisation of society and culture? Which concepts of ‘state’ and ‘social development’ have been expressed in texts written by women involved in the field of social work? Did they take organ(ist)ic concepts of the state, for example, as their guideline – like the teacher and educational reformer Helene Lange, who views the state as “a form that has emerged organically from the economic, intellectual, cultural conditions of a people”?Helene Lange: Die Frauenbewegung in ihren modernen Problemen, 2. Auflage, Berlin 1914 (Reprint Münster 1980), p. 139. How have class conflicts been thematised – and not only within the context of social work, which was shaped by middle-class women? Did ‘class reconciliation’, for example, always mean only ‘helping to prevent a socialist revolution’, or have more profound visions of a (more) just society been developed?

 

C. The Normative Dimension

How have other liberation movements, led by women who did not follow the concept of “Organised Motherhood” (like some ‘radical feminists’, anarchists, sexual reformers, and homosexual women) been discussed, and possibly dismissed? How have the addressees of social work and their problematic situations been talked about? Have ‘bourgeois and capitalist standards established in a predominantly unreflective manner’, aiming primarily at a ‘systematic lifestyle, proper housekeeping and the proper upbringing of children’ been applied, indeed, as referred to in the research by the term ‘social disciplining’? Have the adults social work is dealing with been recognised as ‘equal counterparts’ or have they – in the wake of the metaphor of motherliness/maternity – been pushed into the structural position of ‘children in need of education’?

We can assume that the field of social work reveals the paradoxes and contradictions of female attempts at socialization in a specific way, as here the various differences between women overlap in a complex manner, exacerbating and occasionally also relativising one another. In the field of social work, social or cultural distance, differences between generations or differing political and ideological orientations often take on different meanings and create different effects than, for example, in fields in which the organisation of educational processes is explicitly at issue. Within the context of social work, women encounter women differently than within the context of school. Under certain circumstances, the dimension of (social) conflict always inherent in such encounters can swiftly raise the question of the relevant power constellations. However, the extent to which the effect of the “motherhood/maternity” model hides such conflicts, with “motherliness/maternity” functioning as a masking context, is in need of further investigation.

I will develop and substantiate my reflection of these questions in the following ways: first, I will delineate the approach taken in my research and its theoretical points of reference; the following section will go into greater detail on the socio-historical context conditioning the actions of the persons involved; next, I will more deeply inquire into the ways of thinking which were available at the time; subsequently, I will discuss the complex points of view which characterised the emancipatory endeavours of bourgeois women around 1900; and, lastly, I will critically analyse the concept, policies, and practice of “Organised Motherhood.”

 

Historical Research from a Feminist Perspective

A perspective interested in the analysis of gendered power relations needs to cover both the discursive sphere and concrete historical processes. Accordingly, for the subject area under scrutiny here, the actions and discursive strategies of middle-class women must be contextualised in reference to local conditions and specific socio-cultural backgrounds; at the same time, they also need to be viewed against the larger backdrop of social history. Joan W. Scott has formulated a perspective for feminist historical research that focuses both upon the individual subject and upon social structures, inquiring into the links between both dimensions. For Scott, individual agency is “the attempt (at least partially rational) to construct an identity, a life, a set of relationships, a society with certain limits and with language – conceptual language that at once sets boundaries and contains the possibility for negation, resistance, reinterpretation, the play of metaphoric invention and imagination”.Joan W. Scott: Gender: A Useful Category in Historical Analysis. In: The American Historical Review, No. 5, Vol. 91 (1986), p. 1067.

In this context, 'gender' does not represent a clearly and unambiguously defined category, but rather – following Foucault – a historically specific 'knowledge of the difference between genders', or as an understanding of the social relationships that societies produce through cultural production. This knowledge or understanding is neither absolute nor stable, but instead is context-dependent, disputed and both the instrument and the result of power relations.Barbara Hey: Women's History und Poststrukturalismus, Centaurus: Pfaffenweiler 1994. Thus 'gender' is basically seen as a constitutive element of social relations, based upon the perceived differences between the sexes, and at the same time is also seen as a mode through which power relations find expression. Such a concept is linked to the conviction that while the reality of social inequality and oppression cannot be ignored under the conditions of gender hierarchy, women cannot simply be portrayed as ‘politically powerless’, either.

Within the context of historical and social research informed by gender theory, the key approaches for reconstructing historical processes are, on the one hand, the deconstruction of social discourses (which at the same time are analysed in terms of their strategic function and potential) and, on the other hand, the reconstruction of individual and collective historical subjects, that is, identified in contemporary (as well as retrospective) sources and rendered accessible to differentiated perspectives.

The concept of the subject does not understand the subject as a self-contained (fictitious) entity, but rather as a nexus of actions and experiences, as a space in which social positions, ascriptions, images and individual explorations and self-concepts come into relationship with one another – overlapping, condensing, and conflicting. To put it simply, the concept suggested here has two sides: the subject as a controversial, or contested, construct and the subject as a connection between experiences and actions.

In this double perspective, the historical texts serve as the material for critical discourse analysis on the one hand and as sources enabling the reconstruction of events and actions from the viewpoint of social and historical research on the other. Both approaches appear necessary if we assume that economic, political, and cultural orders rely on their realisation and (re-)production in individuals’ everyday activities. The question of how principles structuring society through individuals, groups, and institutions are implemented in specific terms in a given location. Only when examining single events and processes on the micro level are we able to inquire empirically into shifts of meaning, into ‘re-uses’ and ‘reinterpretations’ in both individual and collective actions: in which concrete context are which lines of argument used? And which groups of actors – for example in the field of social work – are able to establish and assert themselves in regard to what?

The present article, once again, focuses upon the question of the extent to which bourgeois women were able to expand their own scope of action (and that of other women) – subversively, so to speak – using the concept of “Organised Motherhood”, and the extent to which they remained trapped by (self-)limitation in doing so (not to mention their restricting other women’s scopes of action (“social disciplining”)). The production of meaning is of as much interest as the concrete actions of the actors in the ‘structured field’ -- the (local or regional) social and political context, for ‘construction’ and ‘social experience’ are interlinked.

 

Middle-Class Women and Social Work in Germany (1870 to 1930): The Socio-Historical Context

In his book “Mütterlichkeit als Beruf” (“Motherliness/Maternity as a Profession”), Christoph Sachße explains how modern social work in Germany emerged from the interaction of two emancipation movements: from middle-class, communal social reforms that wanted to change municipal welfare and educational institutions with the aim of integrating the population living in poverty, and the middle-class women’s movement, which conceptualised social work as a form of women’s liberation. In this context, the “social profession” was consciously and explicitly conceived of as a ‘female domain’. Besides the need to open up ways of earning a living to middle-class women, this was also associated with the hope for greater opportunities for women to participate in both the state and society.Cf. Christoph Sachße: Mütterlichkeit als Beruf. Sozialarbeit, Sozialreform und Frauenbewegung 1871-1929, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main 1986.

Unlike analyses that focus upon the issue of how the prevailing order instrumentalised the various hardships women were faced with, women’s needs and interests under the conditions created by a particular social and historical constellation (the German Empire of the fin-de-siècle, the First World War, etc.), channelling these needs and interests into social work, the main interest of the reflections formulated here is the extent to which women wanted, and were able to, bring themselves into play as ‘subjects of social action’; thus we are concerned with the specific historical conditions of agency or the conditions for the construction of corresponding self-images and justificatory strategies.

Accordingly, the feminist historiography interested in the concepts and strategies of emancipation developed by actors of the 19th and early 20th centuries takes on particular significance here; its focus lies not least on the ‘subjectivity’ of women, which is shaped in a specific manner in the texts written by the women themselves.On this, cf. the wealth of historical sources in Andrea D. Bührmann: Der Kampf um 'weibliche Individualität‘. Zur Transformation moderner Subjektivierungsweisen in Deutschland um 1900, Westfälisches Dampfboot: Münster 2004. Consciously and systematically perceiving the experience of discrimination and exclusion, the need for liberation, the struggle of these women for participation and recognition as a driving force of social development reveals them as ‘subjects’ in a double sense of the word: as both shaped by and as shaping history.

For many middle-class women around 1900, social work in Germany and elsewhere was one of the few opportunities befitting their class to actively ‘go out into the world’. Not for nothing did Dietlinde Peters (1984), referring to a quote by Alice Salomon, speak of social work as the “new world of women”; she thus referred to the subjective, stirring and ‘adventurous’ element in the ‘expeditions of the protected daughters of the upper classes’ into the poor areas of their cities, where they explored 'foreign' life-worlds and cultures.Dietlinde Peters: Mütterlichkeit im Kaiserreich. Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung und der soziale Beruf der Frau, Bielefeld 1984. Both in reconstructions from today’s perspective and in contemporary discourse, it seems plausible why the path of social work in particular was taken. By giving the concept of “organised” or “social motherhood” as their reason, women were able to refer to the spheres of extra-domestic economy, science and politics without being suspected of surrendering their femininity in doing so. At the same time, by using this ‘self-limitation’ to a ‘female sphere’ that extended into the state, so to speak, women were able to counter both potential male fears of competition and real struggles to fight women off.

Here, we need to take account of the relationship between public and private, which since the 18th century and the emergence and ascendancy of bourgeois civil society had been conceived of as two separately organised spheres associated with the respective sexes. This relationship – alongside other factors, among which it is the most important, however – structures the discursive field in which women moved more or less consciously and strategically with their ideas, beliefs and desires. To put this in a simplified and pointed way: it was only the construction of the public and private spheres as two complementary ‘counterworlds’, in which different values and principles applied and were represented, that enabled the disciplining of actual individuals’ bodies and desires in such a way that they developed the civic virtues and work ethic required for the modern state and industrial production. Through this construction, the sphere of the private appears to ‘organise naturally’ around ‘the woman’, and women were again and again confined to this sphere using biologistic lines of argument. Here, we are dealing not least with strategies of legitimation that seek to enforce and uphold specific social divisions of labour and power relations that are marked by gender difference. The level of the production of cultural images and meanings should not be confused with individuals’ everyday realities. It is precisely the difference between a discourse and experienced, lived reality that sparks conflict over resources, (opportunities for) participation and ways of living for both men and women. In this context, the prevalent cultural images and patterns are certainly productive: they bring forth that of which they speak. They structure ways of perceiving and thinking, self-conceptions and self-consciousness, ideas of social order and utopian potential.

Even though women in 19th- and early 20th-century society were not granted the state of a civil subject (or legal person), even though they were excluded both from the idea of the social contract and the ‘realm of reason’, this took place while simultaneously utilising their strengths and abilities and through their ideological integration into a specific cultural two-gender system, which apparently also (at least on a superficial level) offered attractive options for women.

It was precisely the so-called moderate middle-class women that developed a particular form of cultural criticism (“Kulturkritik”) from the specific position of being simultaneously ‘included’ and ‘excluded’. The fact that women were long denied the status of citizens also influenced the development of socio-pedagogicalI use this term here in the more general sense of a pedagogy or education towards the social and societal and in the sense of the female citizen’s (self-)education within the social medium. concepts.

 

The “Woman Question”: The Precarious Status of Female Citizens and Available Ways of Thinking

The following section seeks to bring to mind the contemporary discourses locating women in the structure of society in a specific manner, and within which they needed to move in their emancipatory endeavours in order for their calls for participation to strike a chord. (Here, the abovementioned relationship between public and private proves to be the key to understanding the bourgeois gender hierarchy.)

The second half of the 19th century spoke of the “Frauenfrage” – the “woman question,” or the issue of women’s rights – which was understood to include the problem of the economic hardship affecting middle-class women, so that opening up class-appropriate ways of earning a living became both a material necessity and part of the political agenda. Discussions of the “woman question” also exposed the problem of women’s exclusion from educational and professional opportunities, questioning the fact that women were denied the right to be citizensWomen in Germany were only given the right to vote and to stand for election in the Weimar Constitution, 1919. – that they were declared (legally) incompetent and were consciously kept that way.

The rebellion against gender hierarchies of this kind is as old as the exclusion of women from the spheres of public and institutionalised power. Women’s interests gradually became organised and articulated in Germany following the 1848 Revolution, but we can only really speak of a women's movement – that is, a movement that included greater parts of the population – from around 1890 onwards. The differences between women are evident not least in the different concepts and strategies of emancipation that can be seen in the emergence of different wings within the bourgeois women's movement and the proletarian, socialist women’s movement that developed in parallel.

 

The Enlightenment Promise

Why, and in which manner, did the protagonists of the German middle-class women’s movements appropriate liberal thought? The present discussion will not focus on whether the Enlightenment and liberal philosophy should be seen primarily as the instruments through which the rising bourgeoisie freed itself from the fetters of estates-based absolutism, enabling it to become the carrier of the organisation of capitalist production. However, we can note that Enlightenment philosophy and the concept of the ‘free and equal personality’ were a significant factor in making it possible for the equality and rationality of traditional values and the legitimacy of patriarchal sovereign rights to be questioned in the first place.On the interdependence of philosophical, economic and political elements in the belief and thought systems of feudalism and liberalism, cf. e.g. Roberto Unger, Knowledge and Politics, New York 1975. The spread of Enlightenment ideas coincided with the incipient process of gradual accumulation in England (where capitalist development and industrialisation started first), creating the intellectual preconditions and justifications for the French Revolution and – and during the late Enlightenment – inspired the German middle classes’ liberal, national endeavours, which finally found expression in the revolution of 1848.

In this context, the ‘liberation of the individual’ primarily means liberation from the still existant order of corporate absolutism. We should thus at least bear in mind that the ‘freedom of the individual’ on the one hand means the ‘freedom of the entrepreneur’ to secure private ownership of means of production, appropriate workers’ additional labour in the form of added value and accumulate capital. On the other hand, it refers to the ‘freedom of the worker’ as the freedom from serfdom and freedom from the ownership of means of production as well, that is, the ‘freedom’ to sell his or her labour power to the capitalist for a wage. Accordingly, ‘equality’ means: formal equality in the emerging bourgeois constitutional state, according to which worker and capitalist abstractly appear to be ‘equals’ entering into a work contract with one another. This – strongly abbreviated – explanation is concerned only with showing that metaphysical principles (such as the ‘freedom of the individual’ and the ‘equality of all’) do not simply arise out of a philosophical tradition. Their efficacy derives from their combination with a dominant form of organisation of society.

Enlightenment thought emerged at the same time as capitalism and the secularisation of society, and is furthermore directly linked to the development of modern natural science and the economic and technical revolution. From the 17th century onwards, philosophy was increasingly defined as constructing an “unalterable, neutral and scientific framework of investigation”Cf. Londa Schiebinger: Liberale Philosophie zwischen Misogynie und Phallokratie. In: Das Argument 132, March/April 1982, p. 188., which became the most important precondition for the specific view of nature found in the research and perception of the natural sciences to the present day. This perception is characterised by the idea that researchers/scientists can only observe and analyse the world/nature ‘from the outside’, that is, as separate from nature, in order to finally master it.Cf. f.e. Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science. Yale University Press 1985; Elvira Scheich: Naturbeherrschung und Weiblichkeit. Denkformen und Phantasmen der modernen Naturwissenschaft, Centaurus: Pfaffenweiler 1993. The distinction between the investigative, perceptive, dominating subject and the object to be investigated and dominated forms a key constituent of the mechanistic worldview that had become prevalent and established in Europe over the course of the recent centuries. The philosophy of reason had done away with the perceived irrationality and mysticism of the Middle Ages by radically separating reason and feelings (and more or less elevating reason to the new religion in doing so), and dualism in general became the fundamental epistemological category of modern thought.

The question of interest for our line of thought is: in which way is the relationship between the sexes part of this ‘dualistic turn’, and how is the categorisation man/woman carried out within the dualistic model in concrete terms? Enlightenment thinkers and liberal philosophers provide a wealth of material on this subject. Their views of women are usually stated explicitly in their discussions of marriage and the family. The majority of discussants assume that women’s lives and abilities are defined by their function as wives and mothers. (Even during the Enlightenment, this is not self-evident, as there was always a significant number of unmarried women.)

 

The 'Public Man' and the 'Private Woman'

Research in women’s and gender studies, especially in the field of philosophy, has shown that “Querelle des femmes” developed in a manner that tended to be disadvantageous to women over the 18th and 19th centuries.Cf. Francois Poullain de la Barre, De l’egalité des deux sexes. Discours physique et moral, où l’on voit l’importance de se défaire des Préjugez, Paris 1673 (Reprint 1984); Denis Diderot, Über die Frauen, in: Derselbe, Erzählungen und Gespräche, Leipzig 1953, pp. 162-174. While John Locke (who, along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is referred to as the ‘father of liberal thought’ ) still assumed in 1689 that men and women shared the same rights and duties in marriage (without this necessarily being associated with any hierarchical evaluation of the activities in question),Cf. John Locke, Of Paternal Power. In: Second Treatise on Government (1689), see the commentary by Friederike Kuster in: Philosophische Geschlechtertheorien. Ausgewählte Texte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (edited and introduced by Sabine Doyé, Marion Heinz und Friederike Kuster), Stuttgart 2002, pp. 146-149. the attitudes evinced towards women by David HumeCf. his “Treatise of Human Nature”, especially Book 2 (“Of the Passions”) and Book 3 (“Of Morals”). – On this, also cf. Annette C. Baier, Hume. The Women’s Moral Theorist? In: Women and Moral Theory, ed. by E. F. Kittay/D. T. Meyers, Totowa, N.J. 1987, pp. 303-312. and Rousseau, for example, were quite different; they believed that the Enlightenment ideals of individual liberty and education should not apply equally to women. Finally, Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelSee for example the chapter “Of the Distinction of the Beautiful and Sublime in the Interrelations of the Two Sexes” (1764), in: Kant, Observations on the Beautiful and Sublime, translated by John T. Goldthwaite, University of California Press: Berkeley 2004, pp. 76ff.; among Hegel’s oeuvre, the following texts are of particular interest: “Phenomenology of Mind” (therein: Spirit. VI Aa. The ethical world: law divine and human: man and woman), “Outlines of the Philosophy of Right” (therein: The Family), “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (therein: The Philosophy of Nature; esp. The Process of Species), “Lectures on Aesthetics”, vol. II (therein: Religious Love, Chivalry, Love). went as far as to classify the emotional and intellectual ‘qualities’ they had apparently observed in men and women as ‘natural’ (and thus immutable). There was agreement – more or less – on the fact that the opposing principles of the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ could be assumed within the context of a dualistic gender model, the roughest categorisation probably being: ‘The man thinks and the woman feels.’

What does this line of argument look like in detail? Locke, for example, argues against absolutist monarchy and in favour of a constitution in the form of a social contract between free and equal individuals. However, his argument is built upon the claim that the – public – political sphere is separate from the – private – ‘paternal’ sphere and is based upon very different principles: the social relations in “public law” are communicated through “impartial reason” and are thus “elevated from the natural state”, while the relationships in the private sphere followed “natural inclinations and power relations”.Cf. Londa Schiebinger: Liberale Philosophie zwischen Misogynie und Phallokratie. In: Das Argument 132, March/April 1982, p. 193ff.

Locke sees the family – and not the rational individual – as society’s basic political unit, for society is formed first and foremost to protect property from the uncertainties of the natural state, and the purpose of the family is to guarantee the correct transfer of property from father to son (meaning: by enforcing the woman’s marital fidelity, as otherwise the husband’s paternity could not be easily ascertained). Locke assumes a natural state in which an individual is free to the extent that s/he is endowed with reason; however, he does not attempt to prove the ‘irrationality of women’ (as some other authors do) in order to legitimate her subordination in a system based upon the patriarchal family. Ultimately, his line of thought remains illogical. For if we assume that women are just as rational as men (which Locke does not really deny), and also ‘free individuals’, then a second natural state in which women are (for whatever reason, usually referred to as ‘natural’) subordinate to men would have to be employed so that male dominance within the family would not be fundamentally questioned – if only for reasons of formal logic.

Hume avoids this logic trap and finds a different solution to the problem: as certain paternity is of such vast importance in securing private property, the banal anatomical fact that paternity and maternity cannot be proven the same way gives rise to the great difference in the education and the duties of both sexes. Here, he formulates clearly what is at stake (in social terms), concluding that women must be brought up to be modest and chaste – that the respective ‘traits’ are thus not innate or ‘natural’. Accordingly, the aim of education must be to engender the desire for chastity “in the woman herself” and to monitor it through corresponding social conventions. The enforced norms are to be internalised and, as a result, become “second nature” to women. In Rousseau’s writings, gender dualism takes on a deeper, psychological dimension.Cf. among others Barbara Greven-Aschoff: Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894-1933, Göttingen 1981. Rousseau posits that the ‘respectively idiosyncratic’ sexual behaviour of men and women constitutes a ‘typically male’ and ‘typically female’ unit of body, soul and mind, so-called “gender characters”, as an “ensemble of physical, intellectual and psychological idiosyncrasies” – as opposed to the “social character” as a complex of behaviours arising from traits that are not innate.Cf. Barbara Greven-Aschoff: Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894-1933, Göttingen 1981, pp. 32f. Norms for “socially desirable behaviour” are usually derived from these “gender characters”, which are ultimately seen as incomparable.

As woman is supposedly passive, Rousseau concludes that her nature consists of pleasing the man and subjecting herself to him ... the act of subjugation in love means the beginning of the woman’s lifelong dependency on and obedience to the man. Women were to observe this through gentleness, patience and compliance ... In Rousseau’s view, no external coercive means were necessary for this, ... for the desire to be dominated was inherent in female nature.Barbara Greven-Aschoff: Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894-1933, Göttingen 1981, p. 33.

Likewise, in Kant and Hegel – in contrast to Hume – we no longer find any thematisation of social interests that require women to be brought up as modest and passive. Rather, a new paradox reveals itself: the ‘nature of woman’, her innate passivity and docility, ultimately means that she cannot be educated. Here, women are explicitly not recognised as rational – and thus potentially free – individuals and accordingly are also excluded from participating in politically constituted society. This argument introduces a new quality concerning ‘nature’ in that women are now no longer bound to the domestic sphere ‘in the interest of society’ (here: the preservation and protection of private property), but rather are seen as the symbolic embodiment of those traits required for the preservation and perpetuation of this domestic sphere.

 

The Hegemony of Gender Dualism

Here, we arrive at an issue that is key to understanding gender dualism. Gender dualism’s development has already been outlined above: the opposition between reason (attributed to the man) and feeling (attributed to the woman) has its political and social counterpart in the contrast between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres, as already described by Locke. According to the liberal view of society, the public domain is ruled by instrumental reason, the private domain by ‘subjectivity’, the ‘expression of the purely human, beyond any instrumentalisation’.Cf. Anne Showstack Sassoon (Ed.): Women and the State. The Shifting Boundaries of Public and Private, London u.a. 1992.

Individual endeavours are coordinated by a set of public rules (the ‘social contract’), whereby the ‘free individuals’ of which society is composed – due to a supposed scarcity of means – compete with one another in order to fulfil their individual needs, with the logic of the market economy (defined as the ‘free play of forces’ by Adam Smith) holding it all together. As the competition-focused way of thinking that develops and appears necessary in the public sphere tends to contradict subjective values, the private sphere takes on the important function of enabling the withdrawal from the harsh, cold ‘outside world’ – the withdrawal into the warm idyll of the homeAs described lively by authors like John Ruskin or Friedrich Schiller. Cf. John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens, in: Sesame and Lilies, Two Lectures, London 1865; Friedrich Schiller: Das Lied von der Glocke, 1799., which appears exempt from competitive activities and where the ‘human values’ (of the Christian ethics displaced from their formerly ‘public status’ by secularisation) have retained their validity.

Against what social backdrop had these ideas developed? Following the rise of industry and the spread of capitalist methods of production, the division of labour between the public sphere and the household also became more pronounced. The family became a cultural refuge, taking on an ever greater compensatory and reproductive function. The separation of marital and family relationships from the sphere of productive work made it possible to intensify emotional attachments, and new behavioural norms for men and women developed in consequence.Cf. Barbara Greven-Aschoff: Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894-1933, Göttingen 1981, p. 32. Incidentally, Greven-Aschoff also notes here that society’s basic polar structure, as expressed here in the gender-specific attribution of ‘public’ (extrafamilial) and ‘private’ (familial) roles already existed before the emergence of bourgeois society. The concept of ‘romantic love’ as a constituent part of marriage emerged more or less during this time.Marilyn Chapin Massey, Feminine Soul: The Fate of an Ideal, Boston 1985 (referring to Pestalozzi, Novalis, Schleiermacher, Fröbel); Ursula Vogel, Humboldt and the Romantics: Neither Hausfrau nor Citoyenne - the Idea of ‚Self-Reliant Femininity‘ in German Romanticism, in: Women in Western Political Philosophy, ed. by E. Kennedy/S. Mendus, Brighton 1987, pp. 106-126; Ursula Vogel, Rationalism and Romanticism: Two Strategies for Women’s Liberation, in: J. Evans et al., Feminism and Political Theory, London/Beverly Hills 1986, pp. 17-46. Previously (and up into the 19th century) a distinction was made between marriage and ‘love’, and in some cases they were kept strictly separate.According to Gisela Bock/Barbara Duden, Arbeit aus Liebe - Liebe als Arbeit, in: Frauen und Wissenschaft. Beiträge zur Berliner Sommeruniversität für Frauen. Courage: Berlin 1977, pp. 118-199, the word ‘love’ – in regard to the ‘old society’ – only meant that two parties did not hate each other to such an extent that living together was completely out of the question. – Cf. p. 142. Marriage was regarded as an economic venture. The man and woman, as the basic work unit in a society in which free wage labour was virtually unknown and in which work was primarily organised in family contexts, entered into marriage because it was economically necessary to do so. Marriage was not possible without a material foundation (land ownership or means of commercial production).

‘Romantic love’ as the embodiment of differentiated emotions and the expectation of happiness – often understood as the antithesis to ‘purely animal, sinful, carnal lust’ – to a certain extent requires the existence of the so-called ‘bourgeois social character’; the progressive differentiation of the ‘objective’ social conditions (particularly the development of the social division of labour) needs to be seen within the context of its constant interaction with the differentiation of the human psyche, of human subjectivity.On the historical development of human “self-control apparatus” – especially in regard to the “regulations of emotions” – cf. Norbert Elias, Norbert Elias, Der Prozess der Zivilisation, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main 1977; another interpretation is put forward in Michel Foucault, Sexualität und Wahrheit, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main 1979. Once ‘love’ and marriage were no longer seen as mutually exclusive, a gradual intimisation and emotionalisation of family relationships took place – at least among the middle classes, which must be regarded as the pioneers of the concept of the ‘modern family’ – with the woman’s motherly role taking on ever greater significance.Cf. f.e. Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family, basic books: New York 1975. After all, the emergent field of pedagogy – especially following Pestalozzi and Fröbel – had only just discovered women’s educative influence.On this, also cf. Ann Taylor Allen, Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800-1914, New Brunswick/New Jersey 1991. The ‘new significance of motherhood’, which was certainly an ambivalent concept, was also able to be used as a reason to value the ‘female sex’ more highly: if motherhood and raising children were regarded as key contributions to the continued existence of society, then the theory of the ‘otherness of woman’ could at least be linked with the postulate of equality. The dualistic theory of the differences in the nature of the two sexes thus appears in two variations:

On the one hand, this polarised philosophy could be linked to the postulate that the roles of men and women were related to one another in a hierarchical manner, justifying patriarchal male rule through the ‘nature’ of woman herself. On the other hand, it could also be related to the theory of equality, leading to a recognition of the woman’s individuality and personal rights, as in the aesthetic Romantic ideal of marriage, which took a cultivated form of sensuality as its guiding light.Barbara Greven-Aschoff, Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894-1933, Göttingen 1981, p. 37. - On this, also cf. Bärbel Becker-Cantarino, Priesterin und Lichtbringerin. Zur Ideologie des weiblichen Charakters in der Frühromantik, in: Wolfgang Paulsen (Hg.), Die Frau als Heldin und Autorin, Bern/München 1979, pp. 111-124.

Later, a third variation emerged, which sought to place the ‘feminine principle’ as the real creative force above the ‘masculine principle’, which was equated with technical rationality and even with destructiveness. This conviction – or at least allusions to it – is found in many texts by both ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ feminists in the women’s movements around 1900.

This already suggests a tentative answer to the question of the way in which the various Enlightenment and liberal ways of thinking entered into the bourgeois women’s movements’ concepts of emancipation: the German women’s movement was primarily guided by a dualistic anthropology. This seems to have been particularly prevalent in the ‘moderate’ middle-class women's movement; the ‘radicals’ tend to include more women – such as Hedwig Dohm, their theoretical trailblazer – whose arguments were based upon natural law, upon the fundamental equality of men and women.

In the protagonists’ own accounts – contemporary historiographies of the women’s movement, mainly from a ‘moderate’ perspective – the development of their own ideology is often represented as follows:Thus e.g. Alice Salomon, Literatur zur Frauenfrage, in: Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, 1908; bei Gertrud Bäumer: Die Frau in der Kulturbewegung der Gegenwart, in: Grenzfragen des Nerven- und Seelenlebens, 1904. as long as the middle-class woman was restricted to the domestic sphere, the existing conditions gave rise to a programme focused primarily upon equality. In order to actually gain access to the public sphere, women were forced to demand equality in their professional lives, demand the same educational opportunities as men. The same rights and duties were called for – always in the belief that both men and women had the same innate aptitudes. The man’s position was always the standard, except in one aspect – the question of morality. It was only later, after women had easier access to the formerly ‘male’ sphere of career and education, that a new ideal emerged.

Women who had gained experience of these ‘masculine’ spheres were, in the meantime, now better able to recognise the 'natural' areas of female predisposition, the 'differences between male and female talent'. Thus egalitarianism, emphasising women as human beings 'just like men', was now increasingly being replaced by the recognition of a psychological and intellectual difference between the sexes. This also changed the rationale underlying the equal rights programme: precisely because women believed that they were able to introduce uniquely female values into their culture, they demanded the removal of all barriers and the same opportunities in competition with men in all areas of economic, intellectual and social life. Alice Salomon adds a fairly pragmatic reason to her explanation (which partly contradicts her first justification): in its original form, the programme of the women’s movement was a programme for unmarried women. The same (competitive) conditions for men could never be created for women who were (and would remain) bound by family roles. If women were to demand the same share in shaping state and society, nevertheless, different tactics would have to be adopted: the call for social and legal equality needed to be justified by the claim that all or at least the majority of women were “able to participate in supplying mankind with cultural assets in a different, singular manner”, that they created cultural values in their families that were “singularly, irreplaceably, and utterly equal to the achievements of men in their professional lives – namely in the field of the production of material goods”.Cf. Alice Salomon, Literatur zur Frauenfrage, in: Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, 1908, p. 454 ff.

Accordingly, the protagonists of the women’s movements around the turn-of-the-century period interpreted the history of their own ideas as gradually turning away from a rationale based upon natural law, although its justification (at least in historical terms) was not denied. Unfortunately, the present article does not have space to appropriately discuss the ways in which the respective arguments were used in the struggle to improve women’s position within society. It must suffice to note, however, that this essay by no means assumes that a theory – the theory of the middle-class women’s movement – develops under the influence of the history of ideas alone. Rather, the process of theory formation and the development of theoretical reasons for a movement’s demands and projects must always be seen as related to practice, to the experiences, successes and failures of the movement. Certain theories or parts of theories are adopted as ways of explaining the reality experienced, are combined with others, and are repeatedly altered – for example when failures are evaluated.Cf. Christiane Pudenz: Entstehung, Struktur und Geschichte der ersten deutschen Frauenbewegung, München 1977 (Dissertation), p. 220ff.; Susanne Maurer: Zwischen Zuschreibung und Selbstgestaltung. Feministische Identitätspolitiken im Kräftefeld von Kritik, Norm und Utopie. edition diskord: Tübingen 1996.

Overall, the following insight suggests itself: neither the dualistic nor the egalitarian principle in themselves are particularly ‘progressive’ or ‘reactionary’ – while both principles are able to express certain aspects of female existence, it is also possible to instrumentalise them and use them against women if the respective women’s movement fails to link them with appropriate political content and critical analysis.

 

Reasons for Granting (and Denying) Citizen Status to Women

Venturing forth into the “realm of freedom”Cf. the motto of the “Frauen-Zeitung” (“Women’s Gazette”) edited by Louise Otto from 1849 to 1853: “Dem Reich der Freiheit werb‘ ich Bürgerinnen” – “I am recruiting female citizens for the new realm”. – whatever individual women and various groups within the middle-class women’s movement understood by that – they all shared the desire to break through the constraints upon their ways of living and acting; the hope that this would advance not only their own, individual liberation, but the progress of society as a whole; and the aim of legally capable, autonomous female personhood. However, these emancipatory aspirations were underpinned by rather different ideas of how and to what extent (or indeed whether) these aspirations should be explained and justified to the dominant 'moral of inequality'. This concerned not only the question of how to proceed tactically, but concepts – some of which differed radically – of ‘human nature’ and the ‘nature of woman’, different concepts of what a better, more equal society should look like, and above all, different concepts of the way in which this society was to be achieved.

Overall, the concepts of emancipation and their external legitimation developed in the 19th-century bourgeois women’s movements were based on the principles of the Enlightenment and liberalism, which they applied to the specific situation of women. Here, we can distinguish between two lines of argumentation: on the one hand, one based on natural law, and on the other hand, a dualistic one (the theory of the difference in nature between the two sexes). The former takes the ‘creed of the Enlightenment’ as its starting point, namely that all human beings can become mature and responsible if given opportunity to develop their abilities and freed from the fetters of – seemingly – arbitrary discrimination. According to Evans’ definition, it is the “doctrine of equal rights for women, based on the theory of the equality of the sexes”.Richard J. Evans: The Feminists. Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America and Australia 1840-1920, London 1977, p. 39, Note 1. Evans refers to the arguments of natural law as the “prototype of feminist theory”. In the “Declaration of Sentiments” signed at a large convention of the American women’s movement held in 1848 in Seneca Falls,Incidentally, this movement cannot be seen independently of the abolition movement. Cf. Marilyn S. Blackwell: "'Women Were Among Our Primeval Abolitionists': Women and Organized Antislavery in Vermont, 1834–1848," Vermont History, 82 (Winter-Spring 2014), pp. 13–44. the concept of the equality of the sexes is formulated clearly – by the women themselves, for the first time since 1789,The women who had fought alongside men against feudalism and for civil liberties during the French Revolution demanded that the principles of liberty and equality be made reality for their sex, too. Cf. Olympe de Gouges, „Declaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne“, 1791. and not as the statement of a few individuals, but as the expression of an organised movement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.Cit. in Helene Lange, Die Anfänge der Frauenbewegung. Quellenheft, Berlin 1927, p. 43.

In his 1869 book The Subjection of Women,John Stuart Mill/Harriet Taylor Mill: Essays on Sex Equality. Edited by Alice Rossi, Chicago 1970. In a quasi contemporary German translation: John Stuart Mill/Harriet Taylor Mill/Helen Taylor: Die Hörigkeit der Frau, ed. by Hannelore Schröder, Frankfurt am Main 1976. John Stuart Mill also argued with the principle of equality and the universal right to freedom that underpins the liberal understanding of society. In light of apparent differences between the sexes concerning so-called ‘characteristics’ and behaviours, Mill refers to the role played by education and traditional moral and value concepts in the development of such distinctions. In his opinion, there is no real reason why “half the human race” should be excluded “from the greater number of lucrative occupations, and from almost all high social functions”, and under the condition of equality – postulated on an abstract, philosophical level – this must appear an “injustice”.John Stuart Mill/Harriet Taylor Mill: Essays on Sex Equality. Edited by Alice Rossi, Chicago 1970, p. 181. Mill concludes from this that the equality of the sexes must be established and guaranteed in the family, in society and in the state – for only then will women actually have a chance to prove that they have the same abilities as men. Everything else can then be left up to the free play of forces.

In the very year of its publication, Mill's book was translated by Jenny Hirsch into German and was met by an intense reception by women's movements in Germany – an outcome which largely broadened public debate on the issue of women’s rights.Cf. Helene Lange/Gertrud Bäumer: Handbuch der Frauenbewegung. Moeser, Berlin 1901, p. 67. The success of Mill’s book in Germany comes as no surprise: According to Mill, women should be integrated into the existing social system through the free development of their minds and careers, through economic equality and the ‘ownership’ of civil and social rights; they should be able to develop their abilities fully – for the good of all.Cf. also Molly McLay: "From Wollstonecraft to Mill: Varied Positions and Influences of the European and American Women's Rights Movements," Constructing the Past: Vol. 7 (2006), Iss. 1, Article 13. Available at: http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol7/iss1/13 A utilitarian philosopher, Mill supported the demands for women’s right to vote and the right to stand for election, which had been championed by American women, for example, and championed men’s and women’s equality before the law. He responded to the opponents of emancipation’s claim that it was woman’s ‘nature’ to spend her life as guardian of home, hearth and children in the following manner:

We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion, or any individual for another individual, what is and what is not their ‘proper sphere.’ The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to”Mill, “The Enfranchisement of Women” [https://www.laits.utexas.edu/poltheory/jsmill/diss-disc/eow.html] – However, Mill does not go as far as to question women’s domestic role as a matter of principle. Rather, he considers it one side of a “suitable division of labour”, although it should be chosen as “a profession like any other” under the condition of a (yet to be created) “free contract”.* – of their own free will.

Denying one sex certain traits is presumptuous and detrimental to society, which loses out on valuable talent.

This line of thought runs through various works by the liberal supporters of women’s emancipation: a moral, philosophical appeal to the reason of those in power to let justice be done and the ‘ill’ of women’s oppression be eradicated, accompanied by the observation that this could not be to the detriment of society – human creative and productive potential would be unleashed, and the relations between men and women as equal partners could also be improved (on a higher intellectual and moral level). “The general lowering of the intellectual level that inevitably occurred when men and women lived together through female dependence and suppression” encouraged negative traits in both sexes: in men, the “vice of power”, in women their famous “weapons”, “female trickery, “falseness and cunning”.Cf. the overview in Christiane Pudenz: Entstehung, Struktur und Geschichte der ersten deutschen Frauenbewegung, München 1977 (Dissertation), p. 122.

If human progress is to be assured, then the emancipation of women must continue to be pursued in a systematic manner – especially in the interest of men (which, after all, was the audience which had to be convinced, in the first place). According to Mill, women’s 'subservient mentality' is no argument against emancipation, for the reason alone that 'the case of women' is a special one in this regard, for no other lower class has ever been taught to perceive their degradation as an honour. Mill defeats the ‘anti-feminists’ using their own logic: if women were really naturally as dependent and incapable as the anti-feminists claim, then there would be no need to force them to be so by law! However, at this point it becomes clear that Mill’s premises are incorrect. He posits that – once women are accepted on an equal footing as rationalThis position is also adopted by Cartesian feminism, cf. e.g. Brigitte Rauschenbach: Nicht ohne mich. Vom Eigensinn des Subjekts im Erkenntnisprozeß. Frankfurt am Main/New York: Campus 1991; also see Susan Bordo, „The Cartesian Masculinazation of Thought“, in: Sandra Harding/J.F. O’Barr (eds.): Sex and Scientific Inquiry. Chicago/London 1987, pp. 247-264. individuals capable of autonomy – there will no longer be any reason for them to remain unequal.

The problem of Mills’ argument is that he himself remains trapped within the same way of thinking that he accuses his opponents of: he argues using the abstract postulation of equality without analysing the multi-layered context determining the relationship between the sexes, for example in regard to this relationship’s economic and sexist foundations. Thus he seems hard pressed to understand how something such as ‘the suppression of women’ can even exist in the enlightened age of industrial progress. The real clashes of interests within capitalist society, deriving on the one hand from unequally distributed ownership of the means of production and of consumer goods and on the other hand from the social division of labour (associated with hierarchical social recognition), do not form the centre of Mills’ liberal thought. While the power relations between the sexes may – as he claims – contradict ‘pure reason’, they do not contradict the ‘logic of capital’.

 

Summarising Reflections

What were the ‘women’s endeavours of the 19th century’ able to achieve with their struggle for citizens’ rights for women? This section attempts to present a summary, which also forms the frame for my own interpretation of the politics of “organised motherhood”.

Egalitarian concepts of emancipation that assume the equality of man and woman as human beings – and thus primarily demand human and civil rights for women – are found in this history, as are dualistic concepts that take a fundamental difference between the sexes as their starting point and advocate the recognition of the equality and equal status of this difference. The egalitarian focus is represented by many of the early feminists in the tradition of 1848, by primarily the later, so-called ‘radicals’ of the bourgeois women’s movement around 1900, and finally by socialists such as Clara Zetkin.In Germany, in the wake of building an organisational 'roof' for the various women's groups and associations having developed until the end of the 19th century, there has been a strong divide between the proletarian-socialist women's movement, strongly influenced by socialist leader Clara Zetkin, and especially the dominant moderate wing of the middle-class women's movement („Politik der reinlichen Scheidung“/“politics of a clear distinction“). Dualistic concepts are formulated by most of the ‘moderate’ middle-class feminists. Nevertheless: in the lived realities, in the experiences and everyday lives of these women, and in their patterns of argument, these different viewpoints frequently overlapped.

Both orientations aim at increasing women’s participation in social and state activity, that is, access to the power of the ‘public sphere’. And historically – albeit for different reasons – both perspectives aimed at improving women’s living conditions and, in places, could lead to similar courses of action. Nevertheless, in terms of their political implications, the underlying images and perspectives were miles apart in some circumstances. This affected these movements’ ability to ally themselves with other groups. The majority of the middle-class women’s movement was ultimately strangely reticent with regard to the design of positions in the state and in politics – as was shown in the question of women’s suffrage, for example. This reticence – coupled with simultaneous vast and varied efforts in the charitable and philanthropic sector – reveals both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ barriers. The relationship between the public and the private, which since the emergence and rise of bourgeois society had been conceived of as two separately organised spheres associated with the respective sexes, had obviously been ‘internalised’ by many women and become habitualised.

But how were the abovementioned ‘internal’ and ‘external’ barriers lived in concrete terms – and were they perhaps even stretched or shifted? To answer this question, one has to investigate the very actions and pronouncements of the individuals and collectives (groups, clubs, organisations) as ‘movements of actors within structured fields (of power relations)’; in short, to reconstruct and interpret these individuals and movements in reference to local contexts. We could follow Iris Schröder in asking to which extent the feminist project of social work “also developed as a marked criticism of existing local and social policies” and whether it should not – to a greater extent than in research so far – “be interpreted as a distinctive contemporary contribution of the women’s movement to social reform in the German Empire”.Iris Schröder: Wohlfahrt, Frauenfrage und Geschlechterpolitik. Konzeptionen der Frauenbewegung zur kommunalen Sozialpolitik im Deutschen Kaiserreich 1871-1914. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Heft 3, Jg. 21 (1995), p. 371; also cf. Iris Schröder (1994): Soziale Frauenarbeit als bürgerliches Projekt. Differenz, Gleichheit und weiblicher Bürgersinn in der Frauenbewegung um 1900. In: Tenfelde, K./ Wehler, Hans-Ulrich (Hrsg.): Wege zur Geschichte des Bürgertums, Göttingen 1994, pp. 209-230. This wide-ranging view of the practical and not least socio-political contributions and achievements of women around 1900 is occasionally obstructed by critical interpretations of the contemporaneous concept of “organised motherhood” that close the topic all too swiftly. While I share the view that this concept and its politics need to be questioned and scrutinised critically, I believe that criticism here often falls short, and, in this spirit, would like to propose a different approach.

Many authors during the last thirty years have described the concept of “organised motherhood” as problematic or ambivalent.Cf. e.g. Susanna Dammer: Mütterlichkeit und Frauendienstpflicht. Versuche der Vergesellschaftung "weiblicher Fähigkeiten" durch eine Dienstverpflichtung (Deutschland 1890-1919), Weinheim 1988; Juliane Jacobi (Ed.): Frauen zwischen Familie und Schule. Professionalisierungsstrategien bürgerlicher Frauen im internationalen Vergleich, Köln/Weimar/Wien 1994; Carol Pateman: Gleichheit, Differenz, Unterordnung: Die Mutterschaftspolitik und die Frauen in ihrer Rolle als Staatsbürgerinnen. In: Feministische Studien 10 (1992), pp. 54-69. This ambiguity is expressed in analyses and findings that attribute critical and utopian potential to “organised motherhood” as a sign of the value accorded to experiential knowledge, a sign of a “moral economy”,Cf. e.g. Gabriele Czarnowski/Elisabeth Meyer-Renschhausen: Geschlechterdualismen in der Wohlfahrtspflege: "Soziale Mütterlichkeit" zwischen Professionalisierung und Medikalisierung, Deutschland 1890-1930. In: L'Homme, Heft 2, Jg. 5 (1994), pp. 121-140. and a sign of the positive re-evaluation of female labour and competency. At the same time, this potential entails all of the problems associated with naturalisation and harmonisation, all the problems of a hidden dimension of power, dependence and conflict: women who socialise/societise within the model of motherhood/maternity are thus confronted with a lack of boundaries with respect to their organisational efforts, which oftentimes results in the problem of self-sacrifice and self-exploitation. At the same time, they develop a moral, colonising, and tendentially totalising power – the power of the “lovingly controlling motherly gaze”, as Thomas Ziehe once put it.Thomas Ziehe: Zugriffsweisen mütterlicher Macht. In: Konkursbuch 12 (1984), pp. 45-53. The flipside is the ‘mother/woman’s’ dependency and neediness: her struggle for participation and recognition in relationships, a struggle coded as ‘motherhood/maternity’, not only limits others, but also limits herself; she renders herself dependent on keeping her relationship going, on the ‘gratitude’ and recognition, the ‘love’ of her counterpart.This becomes remarkably clear in a historical document of the 1920ies, “Tagebuch einer Fürsorgerin” (“Diary of a Social Worker”) by Hedwig Stieve, Herbig: Berlin 1925 (reprinted by Beltz: Weinheim 1983). The concept of the “emancipation trap” refers not least to this set of issues.

So even though there has been much work on this complex set of problems, the question of “organised motherhood as an emancipation trap” has not been clarified sufficiently. There is a need for further micro-level analysis on the ways in which “motherhood/maternity as a metaphor”Cf. Ann Taylor Allen: Feminism and Motherhood in Germany, 1800-1914, New Brunswick/New Jersey 1991. and ‘motherhood/maternity as politics’ took effect. For example, to which extent and how exactly did the concept of “intellectual/spiritual” or “social motherhood” overlap with the status of unmarried women who were not mothers? And in what respect did this concept render it possible to develop and justify positive models of celibate life for women?

A further set of topics that, in my opinion, is significant for the analysis and interpretation of the concept of “organised motherhood” will only be alluded to here: what is the role played by “myths of sacrifice as gender myths”Cf. Gudrun Kohn-Waechter (Ed.): Schrift der Flammen. Opfermythen und Weiblichkeitsentwürfe im 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin 1991. in regard to the socialisation and communitisation attempts of middle-class women around the fin-de-siècle? Did the exclusion of women – including middle-class women – from the social contract of the bourgeois state possibly suggest the strategy of socialising through “active sacrifice”?Cf. Susanne Maurer: "Sich als Subjekte gesellschaftlichen Handelns ins Spiel bringen". Frauenbewegungen und Sozialarbeit um die Jahrhundertwende. In: Hans Thiersch/Klaus Grunwald (Ed.): Zeitdiagnose Soziale Arbeit. Zur wissenschaftlichen Leistungsfähigkeit der Sozialpädagogik in Theorie und Ausbildung, Weinheim/München 1995, pp. 63-69. This line of questioning reveals yet a further facet, demonstrating the relevance of the religious dimension.Cf. Catherine M. Prelinger: Charity, Challenge and Change. Religious Dimensions of the Midnineteenth-Century Women's Movement in Germany, New York u.a. 1987. Here we are concerned not with women’s 'denomination'/'destiny' but, rather, with the religious connotations or exaggerations articulated in middle-class women’s pronouncements on the ‘nation’.Angelika Schaser: „Corpus mysticum“. Die Nation bei Gertrud Bäumer. In: „Frauen & Geschichte Baden-Württemberg“ (Ed.): Frauen und Nation, Silberburg: Tübingen 1996, pp. 118-132.

 

Conclusion

In my opinion, the example of social work shows that the concept and policies of “organised motherhood” are informed by, and articulate specific experiences of, social change and conflict. If our aim is to contextualise the discourse of “organised motherhood” in a historically appropriate manner, then this can certainly be done systematically using the example of conflicts over care and education as thematising a fundamental social conflict. For example, in her study “Frauenbewegung und Sozialreform 1890-1914” (“The women’s movement and social reform 1890-1914”), Iris Schröder showed clearly that the social work of middle-class women around 1900 was used in the attempt to establish ‘education’ and ‘work’ as higher values in the ‘belief in a better world’. The definition of work was thus opened up and used equally for all activities of significance to society – for domestic economy, care, educative work as well as wage labour and professional work. Thus the actors involved in the women’s movement not only critically questioned specific separations and hierarchies in social spheres and worlds of work, they also explicitly recognised and valued care work or demanded its recognition and appreciation.

Much the same can be said for the term ‘education’: the concept of “social education,” as elaborated by Alice Salomon, for instance,Cf. Alice Salomon, Soziale Frauenbildung, Berlin 1908. expresses a double perspective which relates education both to the individual and to society, politics and the state – and thus certainly has an affinity to classic concepts of education in regard to ‘responsible citizenship’. The reformulation of this idea of education at the beginning of the 20th century within the context of social work and for women expresses the contemporary hope for the “generalisability of the bourgeois project.”Iris Schröder: “Arbeiten für eine bessere Welt” - Frauenbewegung und Sozialreform 1890-1914, Campus: Frankfurt 2001, p. 334.

This ambivalence – the vision of universal political participation and the idea of the middle-class way of life as a specific lifestyle model – is also revealed in the socio-pedagogical ideas and practices of the bourgeois women's movement:

Social work and welfare, women’s welfare and the common good, female idiosyncrasy, religiousness, education and work, these were the central values and guiding principles that determined the bourgeois project of the women’s movement and its involvement with social reform, which was carried out by men.Iris Schröder: “Arbeiten für eine bessere Welt” - Frauenbewegung und Sozialreform 1890-1914, Campus: Frankfurt 2001, p. 329.

The reference to “women’s welfare” in particular obviously proved a creative, elastic formula that made it possible to thematise the social connection between ‘education and care’. Schröder’s work has shown that within the context of the middle-class women’s movement around 1900, a “genuinely new link between welfare and politics” was formulated – and to a certain extent realised – with the aim of transforming society. This link became evident, for example, in the call for ‘social rights’ for all, especially for women; however, it did not remain limited to this. Rather – starting from the thematisation of social issues and the realisation of social work – the awareness of social problems (and problems of the social order) was associated with far-reaching ideas of justice, which first became evident in the conflicts prior to the enactment of the German Civil Code (1900) and subsequently surfaced in all of the women’s movement’s later struggles for justice and rights (the right to education, the right to vote, the right to work, the right to secure one’s livelihood independently, protective rights, and so on).

Incidentally, the reformers’ thought envisaged a “highly complex interplay of self-help and help from others, of state intervention and individual responsibility”.Iris Schröder: “Arbeiten für eine bessere Welt” - Frauenbewegung und Sozialreform 1890-1914, Campus: Frankfurt 2001, S. 331. The idea of ‘social self-help’, which was conceived of and realised primarily as “mutual assistance among women” within the context of the women's movement (for example within the framework of legal protection offices, professional bodies representing the interests of particular trades, educational initiatives), introduces a dimension that is collective on the one hand and decidedly informed by the ideals of civic society on the other.

Andrea Bührmann also points out the 'double link' between women and the emerging social state, a link concerned on the one hand with “equal use” of the said state; at the same time, following the development of modern social work and the emergence of a social infrastructure, women became (co-)decision makers on state social policy during the first third of the 20th century. This certainly goes for Gertrud Bäumer, but also for Marie-Elisabeth Lüders, who later became a member of the Reichstag, and for Marie Juchacz, the founder of the Worker’s Welfare Association and Clara Zetkin’s successor as editor of the journal Die Gleichheit (Equality) following the split of the Social Democrat Party in 1917. In this context, Bührmann also speaks of the “limited individualisation”Andrea D. Bührmann: Der Kampf um ‚weibliche Individualität‘. Zur Transformation moderner Subjektivierungsweisen in Deutschland um 1900, Westfälisches Dampfboot: Münster 2004, p. 229. which was linked with the concept of “intellectual” or “pedagogical motherhood” – be that as it may, at the same time the women involved in the women’s movement used this concept both to articulate firm and detailed criticism of the social conditions and to transform the broader social context itself.