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Conservative Criticism of Women's Activism (1852)

In this excerpt from The Family (1852), Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl attacks "emancipated" women and any type of activity by women in public life. Basing his argument on the "natural" differences between men and women, he calls on women to rekindle pride in their "genuine calling" as wives and homemakers, rather than founding women's associations.

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In Germany, too, women came forward and made a profession of the doctrine of unshackling women’s manners and habits. Not only in Paris, but also in northern German cities, especially in the years 1842-1848, we have seen women strutting through the streets and carousing in the beer taverns in male coats and trousers, with spores and riding whip, a jaunty feather in the hat, a burning cigar in the mouth. We see Louise Aston – more so than others the “public personality” in this group – expelled, a “martyr.” She is accused of violating the press laws because her “Wild Roses” seemed too thorny. She resolutely answers the president of the Berlin police, Herr von Puttkammer, and expounds to him with great fluency her political, religious, and social views, not without a few theoretical excursuses about marriage and the liberation of the natural rights of women. Afterwards she becomes a woman again and joins the campaign in Schleswig-Holstein to help out in the hospitals and to nurse wounded soldiers. And this much-talked-of lady was not, mind you, a crazy girl or an old maid, but a wife – even if a divorced one, a mother. Marriage has its deepest effect in keeping a woman womanly. Hyper-femininity, however, no longer understands the seriousness of marriage; just as the sex indulges without restraint in its characteristics in this hyper-femininity, the individual does likewise. That leaves no space for the willingness to sacrifice for the great idea of the family and the house. That emancipated woman was the daughter of a German country parson, raised in the solitude of the village, leading a fanciful emotional life from early on, then married to a rich, sober English machine manufacturer, suddenly thrust from her loneliness into a strange world-at-large. Here all the prerequisites for hyper-femininity were in place.

If thousands of men are currently becoming socially derailed because, tenderly concerned about themselves, they believe they have missed the “right life” and the “right job,” thousands of women are being driven mad by the natural position of woman because, with the same sort of self-indulgence, they think they have entered into the wrong marriage. When it comes to the seriousness of marriage, in particular, we are on average much too sentimental toward our own, dear Self, too tender toward ourselves. This is the effect of hyper-femininity, which is also making men womanish. People used to be more fatalistic, or, if you will, submissive to God; they grit their teeth and clung to the vocation they had chosen, the marriage they had contracted as a fait accompli according to God’s way, and thus there were no Communist men and only few emancipated women. After all, the real salt of marriage is that once one has said yes, one cannot say no.

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