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Conservative Criticism of Women's Activism (1852)

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The same reproach can be levelled against many of our contemporary gentle and pious women’s associations, whose purpose is to heal every kind of moral and social damage. The proper women’s association is the home. If a well-to-do woman is all alone, let her first look around to see whether in her clan there is not a family she could move in with as an “old aunt” and work in the household. This is still a nobler and more womanly sphere of activity than being the president of several women’s associations. If she cannot be an old aunt, maybe there is a monastery where she can raise and educate poor children, and live and work with the other nuns as though in a large household. But if the monastery is not an option either, in God’s name let her found and run women’s associations. I know full well how much womanly kindness, womanly charity, womanly sacrifice lies contained in these women’s associations as though in a precious vessel. But I also know that quite often the hyper-feminine desires to imitate the men lurk behind it, and that the most splendid ideas of comprehensive associations to provide help for our social needs are often made a mockery in these women’s clubs and thereby rendered impossible. There are also many women who believe that joining a charitable, pious association is a way for them to escape the home without pangs of conscience. But one day their conscience will wake up and will tell them that a woman cannot be justified before the Lord if she was not first justified before her household. In the end it is merely a minor difference, conditioned by upbringing and way of life, whether one escapes the house by entertaining oneself in a club with plans for helping the suffering classes, or whether one reasons about liberty and equality in a literary club.

Peculiar testimony to how thoroughly the notion of the seriousness and dignity of the marital vocation has been submerged in the over-dainty hyper-femininity lies in the fact that the refined ladies feel most flattered if someone thinks they are not housewives and mothers. It is here with the womanly vocation the same as though the tailor were ashamed to be called a tailor – true social philistinism! What has happened to the pride of women in marriage as the “true estate,” in the blessing of a large family and many relatives, in the house and all that belongs to it, in self-woven linen, which women used to be as ambitiously intent upon possessing in large quantity as the farmer was intent upon having the largest manure pile. For both were the surest emblem of excellent management.

Source: Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, Die Familie, 2nd ed. Stuttgart and Augsburg: J.G. Cotta, 1852, pp. 67-71.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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