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since June 19, 2001


The Wife at his Side

The following is a translated excerpt from Karin Jäckel's book that ended a two-year interval during which the author couldn't get any of her books into print.  The publishing boycott against Karin Jäckel was apparently the result of the prior publishing of her book The Secondhand Man: Loved no Longer and Pillaged, Fathers After Divorce and Separation.   That book caused some considerable concern in feminist circles, who had tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent it from being published, too.

The Beginnings of the Women's Movement

The recognition that men's power grew out of the interplay of power and weakness, the offering of protection and the need for it, of domination and dependence, became in the second half of the twentieth century the driving force of the so-called "women's movement," which became from now on a noticeable power in society. [1]

The official history of the women's movement began in connection with the social and democratic revolutions of 1848/49.  In all of Europe as well as in the rest of the world that was fashioned after European values, the signs of change and turmoil became noticeable.  In 1848 Karl Marx founded the "Neue Rheinische Zeitung" (New Rhenish Newspaper), and published, together with Friedrich Engels, the "Communist Manifesto" in London, England.  The writer Ferdinand Freiligrath wrote the Revolution Poems and treatises like "The Dead to the Living" or "The Republic."  In Berlin the Workers' Congress got formed, whose central organization became dissolved through a Federal Decree in 1854.  In May of 1848 the Prussian National Assembly took place in Berlin.

While bloody revolutions occurred in Paris, Naples, Tuscany, Prague, and Vienna — and were put down, in Franfurt, Germany, under the leftist leadership of Robert Blum the revolution of the Frankfurt National Assembly broke out.  Blum was shot in Vienna at the end of 1848.  In France, the constitution of the Second French Republic was announced in November of 1848.  Switzerland, Texas, New-Mexico, California and the USA received a new federal constitution.  California was flooded by the first massive waves of immigration in connection with the gold rush.  In December of 1848 the Prussian National Assembly that had been founded in May was dissolved.

In the year of 1849 the upheavals of the previous year continued.  The most important events in Germany at the time were that Prussian troops put down an uprising in Dresden, that a three-class electory law was introduced, [2]  and that the Grand Duke of Baden fled from rebelling troops under the leadership of Heinrich Hecker and Gustav Struve.

At the same time new technical, industrial and scientific innovations were made.  The first iron-ore smelter fired by coke was constructed in the industrial area at the Ruhr.  The first telegraph lines were established between Berlin and Frankfurt/Main.  In England the first weather maps were produced, based on weather data collected via telegraph lines.  In London, Israel Beer Josaphat founded the news agency which later became world-renowned under the name "Reuters."

In 1850, the so-called "Erfurt Parliament" was supposed to materialize Prussian plans for a union.  While Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander located stars by means of a mini-telescope of only seven-and-a-half centimeter diameter, Leon Foucault demonstrated by means of a pendulum that the Earth rotates, Isaac Merrit Singer improved the sewing machine, and Heinrich Goebel invented an electrical light bulb that was powered by batteries, the German Bundestag came into existence in Frankfurt/Main.  Bismarck was the Prussian Ambassador there from 1851 until 1859.

In all of the political turmoil and the inventions that revolutionized the economy, the power of female members of the work force grew, almost unnoticed.  The founding of the Red Cross promoted by Henry Dunant, of the First Internationale of the International Workers Association brought to life by Karl Marx, as well as the creation of the Geneva Convention for the Improvement of the Situation of the Wounded in War, all happened at about the time of the founding of the General German Women's Association.

That association was brought to life under the leadership of Luise Otto-Peter [3]in the year of 1865.  The main goal of the association was to be of use to society and progress, through its fight for the right of women to self-determination, majority, as well as education and jobs.  Women, just like men, were to receive the voting franchise.[4]   Additional demands of the association extended to better educational opportunities for girls in addition to equal opportunities in the work force and to equal pay for equal work.

Already under Ottilie Baader and Clara Zetkin, the most prominent fighters of the proletarian and later socialistic women's movement, the original, all-encompassing concerns of the association were reduced to focus on the labour movement.  The Leading principle expressed in the slogan "Woman and Worker have in common that they are oppressed," identified the political liberation of the proletariat in connection with the political and labour-laws liberation of the woman -- although what was meant by that weren't all women in general, but merely women who were employed.  The main goal of the efforts was the voting franchise for women.

England became the fighting example to be emulated by the German women's movement.  German women noticed with angry pride the first arrests of women's right activists in England in the last years of the 19th century.  From 1903 on, under the leadership of Sylvia Prankhurst, the suffragettes became visibly more aggressive.  An external sign was the war of the fashion over the substitution of the more clinging suffragette-silhouette for the traditional crinolines.  Malicious cartoons of goat-faced, skinny women without bosoms and bottoms amused the male world and those women who were excluded from the women's movement -- namely the non-employed housewives.

Lastly the voting franchise for women materialized, although not at first in the England of the suffragette pioneers, and in addition at a different time.

Finland became the herald in 1906.  Germany approached the issue in small steps and introduced in 1908 the Reich Union Law.  That permitted women to participate in political meetings and rallies.  Even though the English women continued to fight vehemently, it was Russia which in 1917 became the first country to introduce the voting franchise for women.[5]   Germany followed in 1918 at the end of World War I;[6] the USA joined in 1920.  Great Britain was still a laggard.  Although in  1918 it granted all women over 30 the voting franchise, it wasn't permitted until 1928 for all English women to vote.  France delayed women's right to vote until 1944.  Switzerland became the tail light in 1971.

So it was that for German women the great breakthrough came in 1918.  From now on they weren't only allowed to cast their votes, but they were also permitted to be nominated as candidates for elections.  When in consequence of the lost World War I the Weimar Republic was declared and the Weimar constitution was accepted, things had changed considerably for women.  During the war they had been employed in the armament industry, where they occupied the job positions vacated by the men who died in the trenches. [7]  In comparison to their working hours during peace times, women's working hours had increased by 130 percent to eight to ten hours daily.

It was therefore no surprise that the women's movement, which favoured women in the labour force, was assured of numerous women's votes.  So it was that there were more women in the Parliament of the contemporary Weimar Republic than there are in the present one of 1999.  Their goals were the acquisition of important justice positions and the establishment of comprehensive rights of co-determination for women.  What was wanted was to admit women to positions on the benches of the courts, as well as to secure better social security and incomes for simple female labourers.

In spite of the circumstances of a chain of politically motivated murders and trials that shook the first years of the Weimar Republic, the women's movement materialized its social and political goals with steadily increasing success.  In 1922 women were admitted to public law offices.  A year later it was accomplished that women working in the cottage industry achieved security through a Cottage Industry Law and thereby obtained stronger protection.  When the high school became a new type of school in about 1925, the women's movement was decidedly responsible that this was accessible by girls as well.  In 1927 the women's movement became engaged in the promotion of the laws for the protection of mothers [that is, working mothers] and achieved that women workers, too, were covered through the newly introduced unemployment insurance.

Aside from the political jostling, the long women's dresses finally fell into obscurity.  Exposed knees, sleevelessness, low-cut dresses became suddenly as acceptable as did long strings of pearls down to the navel, clanking bracelets in afro-style, feather boas and long cigarette holders.  The "bell hat" made its appearance, under which the permed curls emerged which could be made to last on account of the recently invented perm.  With long sashes tied on their hips and smart tresses rimming their dresses, the girls of the time ruled the dance floors of the youth that had become through the war starved for entertainment.  The brazen rhyme "Now I'll make myself a slit in my dress, and to heck with morality," was promoted to a not-so-risqué favourite expression of the women who became more and more aware of their femininity.

That not only the full life beckoned was evident in the rapidly escalating inflation.  While the inflation demanded its victims and long queues waited at the soup kitchens of Berlin and other German large cities, the hunger for life  grew inexorably.  The fashion dance "Jimmy" appeared as the precursor of the "Charleston," whose dance steps swept the sticky prudery of the past from the dance floors.

In everyday life the couture of the French "Garçon-line" catered with models from Chanel, Patou and Lelong to the general post-war slimness.  Partially forged by the hunger, partially driven by the maleness mania, and partially a result of the sports enthusiasm that was escalating since the times of gymnast father Jahn, the slim body silhouette reflected the new ideal of beauty.  It emphasized the strongly masculine oriented self-awareness of women just like the fact that motherhood wasn't held in particularly high esteem any longer.  After all, 200,000 illegal abortions took place in Germany in 1924.

[The Wife at his Side (German title: Die Frau an Seiner Seite), by Karin Jäckel, Ph.D., pp. 76-81, posted with permission by the author.]


Translator's notes and comments:

  1. See also The Great Train Robbery for a another perspective of the so-called oppression of women during the Victorian Age.
  2. In essence, it was based on proportional representation based on assets owned by voters -- a system that until just a few years ago existed even in Canadian municipal elections, preventing anyone who wasn't a property owner from voting.

    According to The Penguin Atlas of Recent History (by Colin McEvedy),  

      "One in every eight Englishmen had the vote in the early nineteenth century, a proportion that the Reform Bill of 1832 raised to one in five. [1] ...only one in 300 Frenchmen had the vote in the 1820s ...the Belgians ...with a British-style Parliament elected a one-in-fifteen franchise.

      Note 1.) Things were not so good in the other parts of the United Kingdom: the post-Reform Bill proportion in Scotland was one in eight, in Ireland one in twenty."

    See also: Gale Encyclopedia of US History: Disfranchisement -- "By the time most white women won the vote, nearly all southern black men and many southern white men had lost it."

    It is worth noting that, according to Elections Canada, Canadian men gained the universal voting franchise in 1920, after Canadian women did.  See "When did men and women have the right to vote in Canada?"

  3. It looks as if even in those days feminists had an affinity for hyphenated names, although in my experience it had then not yet become the mania it is now.

  4. Again, it must be recognized that in Europe the voting franchise did not exist for all men at the time.  It ranged from one vote in eight in England to one vote in 300 in France, due to it being tied in to assets and income.  People without assets or with only small incomes were generally without vote or at best had only a vote that didn't carry much weight. It may be also be of interest to look up a paper discussing:

    How Dramatically Did Women’s Suffrage Change the Size and Scope of Government? by John R. Lott, Jr. and Larry Kenny, Law School, University of Chicago; John M. Olin Law & Economics Working paper No. 60 2nd Series.

    The paper can be downloaded without charge (209 kB PDF file)

    The Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection (Abstract)

    If you have problems downloading the paper, let me know, and I'll send you a copy of the file.

  5. In connection with the communist revolution that overthrew the Czar.

  6. Again in connection with a socialist revolution that overthrew the Kaiser.

  7. History repeated itself.  Even Aristotle, in "Politics," reported very much the same circumstances in connection with the Spartan Wars.  Although then it was mostly slaves or people who were not members of the aristocracy who performed all of the work in the absence of men who went to war, it turned out that when the wars came to an end, the surviving men came home and found that in their absence women had pretty much become accustomed to ruling the roost.  The consequence of that was that Sparta's power fell into total disrepair and vanished shortly thereafter.

    German Casualties in World War I

    Men mobilized 11,000,000
    Men who were killed or died in action 1,773,700
    Men wounded in action 4,216,058
    Men taken prisoners or who went missing 1,152,800
    Men who became casualties 7,142,558
    Casualties in percent of total mobilized men


            Source: Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia

Update 2007 12 15: The promotion of women's rights is all nice and good, but the rights and concessions given to women were and are largely promoted and paid for by men and children.  At the very least, there were no comparable rights or concessions given to men.  Men were cannon fodder during the first world war and even far more so during the second world war and throughout any other war since.

Women were given the choice to work, to stay at home or to work part time, while the corresponding choices for men still are, as they always were, to work full time, to work full time and to work full time.  Given that, and given the fact that military draft is compulsory only for men, men still are as oppressed as they ever were — all the more so the more rights women gain.  Men have a long way to go before they catch up to women in gaining a comparable extent of equal rights concessions.  As of now they fall farther and farther behind.

From the perspective of any self-respecting feminist there is nothing wrong with "equal" rights being given only to women.  After all, the more men maim and kill themselves on their jobs and in war, the greater the power of the vote exercised by women.

Women most definitely have become "liberated" from their biological design and their traditional weaknesses ("liberated" in that context means that society is no longer permitted to pay respect to the reality of women's biological design).  The big question now becomes why women who exercise their choice of no longer being the bearers of life still need male protectors and providers and why women who claim to be just as strong and good as and even better in everything as men are still need men to make concessions for them?

To round out the historical overview a little more, look at the picture of the Victorian Age that Michael Crichton paints in The Great Train Robbery.  

See also Working on the Railroad, a view of the working conditions for men who worked on the steelheads of the railway construction jobs during the Victorian Age, under conditions that would today without any doubt bring intervention by the Geneva Human Rights Commission.

Posted 2000 01 12
2000 06 03 (to install link to Communist Manifesto)
2001 01 29 (format changes)
2007 12 15 (reformated; added update 2007 12 15)