Should men have a revolution

Women's movement

Dr. Mechthilde Vahsen

To person

born 1965, studied German and political science, additional studies in women in law, doctorate in literature; freelance editor for science, fiction and non-fiction; Editor of the magazine "Wir Frauen"; Focus: aging in contemporary literature, women's friendships, women's history and women's politics.

The French Revolution promised freedom - equality - fraternity. Not for women, however, as they quickly realized. So they had no choice but to open up themselves and fight for their civil rights.

At the beginning of the 19th century, virtue, modesty and hard work were declared to be typical female characteristics. The place of women was supposed to be the house, here they had to ensure a cozy domesticity. Photo credits (& copy AddF)

The French revolution

In the 18th century, Europe was divided into many feudal countries and states. This political and social structure was dissolved by the French Revolution of 1789. The revolution set a process in motion that aimed at human rights, concepts of democracy and their implementation. The all-determining catchphrases were: freedom, equality, fraternity.


During this time, more women took part in the revolutionary actions in Paris and elsewhere. For example, they took part in the march to Versailles and called for an improvement in the food situation. Some even became campaigners for women's rights: for example, Olympe de Gouges with her declaration of women's rights, Théroigne de Méricourt, who called for armed women's battalions and fought, or Charlotte Corday, who murdered the revolutionary Marat for political reasons. The booming news system in the form of newspapers, journals, lending libraries and reading circles ensured that the events in France became known throughout Europe. With Napoleon's coronation as emperor, the French Revolution ended in 1804.

The situation of (bourgeois) women in Germany around 1800

In the course of the 18th century, which is generally regarded as the "Age of Enlightenment", some things changed: In the first half of the century, the Moral Wochenschriften propagated the image of the learned woman. This role model envisaged a woman who should be educated and intellectual - although there was no systematic education for girls at the time. At the end of the century, this role model was replaced by the so-called "natural gender character" of women, which has been described in detail in philosophy, theology, medicine and other areas. Accordingly, women had no subject status, were not responsible, autonomous people, but required gender guardianship, exercised by their father, brother or husband. Due to the "natural sexual characteristics" assigned to them such as virtue, modesty and diligence, the role now assigned to them was that of wife and mother. This new role concept separated the social spaces: the place of women was the house, the place of men was the public.

The fact that the ideology of the "natural sexual character" was aimed primarily at the women of the bourgeoisie - not least as a demarcation from the nobility - is particularly evident from the fact that this ideology did not work for women of the working class. Their gainful employment was needed to support the family, so that the concept of the economically inactive (bourgeois) housewife and mother was drastically opposed to this reality.

The model of socially separated gender roles did not go unchallenged. Under the influence of the French Revolution and the rapid political changes, its representatives found it difficult to explain. Alternative concepts were developed, such as the so-called equality concept. It assumed that women, like men, are autonomous subjects. In other words, women and men are the same. A representative of this direction in Germany was Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel, who in 1792 published his work "On the bourgeois improvement of women".

Women and the Literature Market

Interestingly, around 1800 there were some women in Germany resp. Switzerland, who made a name for themselves as authors and editors, as newspaper publishers and playwrights and earned their living with this work. With the help of literature and the media, these women interfered politically, if not always radically, but also in the sense of the bourgeois role of women. One representative of this direction was Sophie von La Roche, who was able to win a large, mostly female reading audience with her numerous contributions to the education of girls and her educational books. Women were soon an indispensable part of this market, they produced, negotiated with publishers for their fees and became increasingly professional.

Germany after 1815

With the onset of the so-called wars of liberation against Napoleon, numerous women's associations were founded throughout Germany for the first time. Its members worked in hospitals, made clothes for the soldiers and took part in collection campaigns. Even after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, some of these women's associations continued to exist, making them the forerunners of the later political women's associations.

In 1830, Europe was set in motion again by the July Revolution in France. In many countries there were also revolutions, in the course of which constitutions and a new social order were called for. This unrest also spread to Germany: The Hambach Festival of 1832 gathered people who wanted to change politics in favor of a nation state with a liberal constitution. The German Confederation tried to stop the reform movements, but it did not or hardly succeeded. The political landscape also differentiated itself during these years: Conservative, socialist, democratic, liberal and Catholic groups were founded. These groups preferably formed associations, because this new form of "association" offered the opportunity to network. It is interesting that in the new clubs women made up to 40 percent of the members. Above all, the free religious communities recorded an increase in female members who actively participated and saw here an opportunity to get involved politically.