Posts Tagged With: imperial germany

The Making of the Jewish Middle Class

Kaplan - Jewish Middle Class

Kaplan, Marion A. The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

In this entertaining cultural history, Marion Kaplan explores the ways in which Jewish women were instrumental in the formation of the Jewish middle class in the German Kaiserreich (1871-1918). Her study highlights the ways in which these women navigated their lives in a manner that shaped religious, national, gender, and class identities for their entire families. This book calls into question the notion that Jews in imperial Germany simply assimilated into German culture. Instead, Jewish identity was renegotiated and reconstructed during this period, and Kaplan shows that this negotiation took place largely in the private sphere thanks to these Jewish women.

The dynamic of separate spheres is important to Kaplan’s work, and she shows that the private and public spheres were actually only rarely separate. While Jewish men went into new professions to earn more income, and thus position their family more firmly in the middle class, “it was in the household and family…that the most marked embourgeoisement took place” (4). Jewish women were expected to reign over the bourgeois realm of domesticity, and keep up appearances of respectability. They were meant to rear good, cultured German children who knew good manners and would conform to the expected bourgeois standards. In essence, the home and family members were supposed to display the family’s Bildung, or “authentic respectability” gained through self-cultivation (9). Kaplan argues that too many historians have focused only on men in their studies of Bildung because, until the twentieth century, women were barred from higher education and most jobs. But, this focus overlooks the central role that women played in setting the tone for the family’s Bildung: teaching manners, exuding Gemütlichkeit, and steadying support of her husband and family (25).

The home was an important site for another reason; this is where the mothers practiced acculturation, rather than the full-scale assimilation that has been suggested in other studies. By looking only at the public sphere, one gets the impression of assimilation, of Jews trying to become as “German” as possible. But turning one’s gaze to the private sphere, one sees that many women “continued to perform rituals, cook special Jewish dishes, and think and act in terms of Jewish life cycles, family networks and the Jewish calendar” (63). Women picked and chose how “German” their families would become, and by no means did they intend to give up their Jewish heritage. In fact, Kaplan argues that as the number of men going to synagogue and sticking to Jewish rituals steadily declined, women increasingly became the sole guardians of Jewish traditions in the German middle class (64). With the development of “optional ethnicity” for Jews, the “significance of women’s religious practices moved from periphery to core” (84).

The second half of Kaplan’s book describes the difficulty Jewish women faced when trying to enter the public sphere by entering higher education or the work force. In both of these ventures, they faced double discrimination as women and as Jews. These chapters remind readers that anti-Semitism was an everyday aspect of life in imperial Germany. One area that Jewish women were able to flourish in was social work. This endeavor explicitly connected the private and public spheres by extending the feminine (private) care of the sick, impoverished, or hungry in the public arena. “They then insisted that their traditional household duties extended, with the blessings of religion, to local and then national benevolent duty” (226). Kaplan sees this as a secularization of Jewish philanthropy, a transformation from religious to national duty.

Ultimately, Kaplan shows how these developments shaped not only Jewish middle class life, but also German middle-class life in general. Bourgeois Jewish leisure activities, higher average marriage ages, expanded role of domesticity and motherhood, and other factors all impacted German culture at large.

For more books on the history of modern Germany, see my full list of book reviews here.  

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Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany

Fout

Fout, John C.  “Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: the Male Gender Crisis, Moral Purity, and Homophobia,” in Fout, John C., ed.  Forbidden History: the State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Subject: A reevaluation of the fight between homosexual rights advocates and moral purity reformers in late Imperial Germany.

Main Points: In this chapter, Fout gives a good deal of biographical information on many of the leading homosexual rights advocates (Hirschfeld, Kraft-Ebbing, etc) as well as the emerging moral purity groups of the period.  What makes his chapter interesting is that he argues that while the medicalization of sexuality was obviously a central issue in the story of modernity and sexuality, the role played by Protestant moral purity organizers was just as, if not more, important in shaping understandings of homosexuality (at least in Germany).

This is because Fout’s main focus – and he argues that it was the purity organizers’ focus as well – is gender norms, not “sexuality” in the form of object choice determined by biology.  In this sense, “the moral purity organizations increasingly saw their role as championing the existing – and, in their minds, divinely ordained – gender order” (261).  He goes on to say that the “debate was only outwardly about the sins of sexual vice; in reality it reflected an implicit crisis in gender relations, primarily in the form of a growing concern about eroding gender boundaries on the part of a large segment of the middle-class male population as well as a part of the male working class” (262).

Fout makes clear that an important part in this history is the purity organizations’ relationships with the Protestant and Catholic churches.  These close ties with the Church allowed the organizations to speak with authority in restating the dominant sexual and gender paradigm (277).  This paradigm called for traditional, “natural” roles:  sex was procreative only, and only allowed in monogamous, heterosexual marriages.  Men were meant to be hardened and masculine, dominating over the private, weak and feminine women.  This is why homosexuals were seen as abhorrent, because they blurred gender divides.

While studying these organizations more closely, Fout discovers what he argues is an underlying cause for the widespread homophobia in the late years of the German Empire.  100% of membership in these organizations was men; moreover, 70% of membership had a university education; only 4% came from the working class.  Therefore, the idea of “normality” that these organizations were campaigning for was a very specific, bourgeois notion of acceptability.

Moreover, Fout argues that it was sexism that was underlying these organizations’ homophobia and overall plans.  The “moral purity movement was in reality a male-dominated, clerical-led response to the growing presence of women of all classes in the workplace and in the public domain” (279).  The attack on homosexuality, then, was a tool in the overall attempt to keep women in the private sphere.  “The concern was to “keep men on top” literally and figuratively, and that meant the preservation of the myth of male sexual dominance and female submissiveness in all things sexual” (280).  Male homosexuals threatened this dominance by transgressing gender and sexual norms by being sexually passive.

A last interesting point:  Fout concludes that contrary to Hirschfeld and the entire sexology movement, which sought to establish an essentialist understanding of (homo)sexuality (that homosexuality was inborn and had existed throughout all of history), the moral purity movement advocated for what we would now call a social constructionist view of sexuality: that society and individuals could shape and define appropriate sexual behavior.  “While homosexuals in part may have been victims of their biological makeup, the individual’s intellectual and moral capacities made it possible to overcome the body” (288).

My Comments:  Overall, I thought this was an interesting chapter.  I hadn’t read anything in much detail about the opposition to the emerging homosexual emancipation movement in late 19th century Germany (all of the stuff I’ve read tended to be very focused on the emancipation organizers themselves).  I also thought it was important that Fout reminds us that homosexuality was only one of a number of issues that these moral purity organizations were concerned with.

But, the chapter left me with a couple of questions. Number one: where are the women?  Of course, this is a male-dominated story, but you can’t have a chapter about “sexual politics” and never mention lesbians (or never even mention that you’re not going to mention lesbians).  Did they not receive attention from these purity organizations because they weren’t seen as eroding masculinity (but what about the fact that lesbians were taking “their” women away from them and cutting men out of the picture?).

Also, I’d like to know what middle class women had to say about homosexuals – men and women.  Did they view masculine lesbians as an infringement on traditional femininity?  Or would scholars like Marcus and Vicinus say that there was no “lesbian” at this point in time – only a number of female-female relationships that were seen as acceptable?   \

 

For more books on modern German history or the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Practicing Democracy

Anderson

Anderson, Margaret Lavinia.  Practicing Democracy:  Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Positioning herself firmly against the Sonderweg thesis, Anderson reconstructs an entirely new understanding of imperial Germany.  Unlike Wehler, who views assemblies like the Reichstag as nothing more than the symbol of a sham constitutional monarchy, Anderson takes the Reichstag and its members seriously.  She does so because she argues that the members themselves took their positions seriously.  If we accept Anderson’s argument, we are forced to see imperial Germany in a whole new light.  Instead of a power hungry, conservative elite manipulating the German populace into submission and onto a “special path,” we see an active Mittelstand that took advantage of every opportunity given to it.  Moreover, assemblies like the Reichstag were not shams at all, but instead vital institutions that created and fostered a democratic culture in imperial Germany.

Bismarck implemented universal manhood suffrage for Reichstag representatives in 1867 as a way to implement (and control) socio-political reform from above and use the power of the masses for his own gains.  But Anderson argues that the Reichstag representatives (and the men voting for them) took the position seriously. The dual nature of the German system meant that the Reichstag neither chose nor could depose the government (10), and so Bismarck thought that he could tap into a larger power base without the uncertainties of democracy.  But, according to Anderson, the very fact that a democratic institution with universal male suffrage now existed began to cultivate a democratic culture among Germany’s male population.

So, the existence of universal male suffrage politicized millions of Germans beginning in 1867, but another important step came in 1903 when Chancellor Bülow granted secret ballots for Reichstag elections.  This was important, because up to that point, community leaders and bosses would use their influence to pressure voters to vote a certain way.  Making the ballots secret removed communal pressure and thus made Germany’s democratic institution more individualized.  Another challenge to communal pressure came in the form of the nationalist associations, which encouraged voters to throw off the chains of local pressure in exchange for larger, more nationalistic goals.  “It was not in the exercise of individual freedom, but in competition between groups that democratic practice took hold in Germany” (417).  Anderson argues that the first minority to fully politicize its members were the Catholics (84).

Moreover, as time went on the existence – and the growing power – of the Reichstag became not only taken for granted, but expected to be an integral part of politics.  And when men felt that their votes were being abused by unwanted influence, they appealed to the Reichstag and the government.  Anderson argues that the sheer number of appeals and vote challenges on any number of issues shows just how seriously people took this ‘experiment’ with representation (33).  And by the time the government threatened to do away with the Reichstag in the 1890s, they were continually thwarted, and the illegality of the government’s attempts seemed abhorrent to a group of men for whom a democratic sense had already been cultivated (247).

Ultimately, the Reichstag elections (and the corresponding political mobilization of the masses) acted as a legitimizer – both for the imperial institutions that created the Reichstag, but also for the opposition who now had a legitimate way to voice dissent.  Anderson’s work shows that while the Weimar Republic was Germany’s first democratic state, it wasn’t the Germans’ first experience with democracy.  They had “practiced” democracy for decades.

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