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 regimes
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.
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”
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”.
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?
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 friendships
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”.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-pedagogical
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 citizens
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.
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”
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.
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”.
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.
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’.
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 home
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.
‘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 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:
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”.
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.
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”
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”.
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,
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.
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”.
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 rational
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’.
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.
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”.
Many authors during the last thirty years have described the concept of “organised motherhood” as problematic or ambivalent.
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”
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”
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,
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”.
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”