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Changes In The Women Roles In The Weimar Republic

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After Germany lost the First World War, a new democratic government was declared in the small town of Weimar. The Weimar Republic, a period from 1919-1933, was characterized by new social freedoms and artistic and cultural upheaval, as well as severe political and economic hardships. During this period the Weimar Republic rejected the old imperial traditions of society and embraced modernity and democracy. This also era proved to be remarkable in transforming the lives of women. After many demonstrations from women demanding the government the right to vote, in 1919 a new Article of the Weimar constitution declared that men and women have equal rights and duties as citizens, allowing women to vote and hold positions in office. In the first elections of 1919, there were more women voters than men, in part because many men had died or were severely injured after the War.

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Ultimately, about 49 women were elected for the parliament and the number continued to increase in future elections. Another significant change was women’s increased participation in the labor force and in jobs that were once considered for males. By 1923, more than 11 million women worked, accounting for about 36% of the German workforce. Still the society faced inequality, as women only filled lower paying and lower skilled jobs regardless of education and training.

More than economic and political changes, women sought to change the old imperial traditions that maintained them outside of the public sphere and confined them to marriage and motherhood. This period placed greater emphasis on women’s emancipation and freedom and the rejection of traditional roles. In art and in its cultural upheaval, women were depicted as Americanized, they wore makeup, had short hair, short skirts, and smoked in public. This “New women,” now was an independent worker, a political figure, and an active participant in the public sphere that had previously only accepted men. However, most women still faced societal pressures to adhere to the traditional roles that praised them as wives and mothers, many often leaving the workforce. Conservative groups rejected this new-found freedom and behavior, as they believed that it will destroy morality and traditional German societal norms. They believed that maintaining traditional roles of men and women will bring back social stability.

During the last years of the Weimar Republic, the 1929 great depression in the U.S triggered hyperinflation, high unemployment, food shortages, severe economic hardships and political unrest ultimately resulted in its collapse and the founding of the Nazi era. Once the Nazis came into power, Hitler sought to create a New Plan that would reduce imports, make new trade agreements with other nations and end unemployment. Part of his strategy was keeping women, Jews, and men ages 18-25 out of the workforce and employment figures. Under Nazi Germany, women’s role in society was to be child bearers of a new pure race that would make up the most powerful and fittest soldiers. The government dictated all aspects of women’s lives including whom they should marry, their weight, appearance, and social upbringing. The Nazi regime glorified traditional German values and roles of men and women. Hitler’s main goals was to keep women out of the workforce, increase the population of an enhanced racially pure nation, and restored the old imperial traditional values that kept women out of the public sphere. He achieved this through marriage loans, preventing girls from attending schools, prohibiting marriage of people with disabilities or from “impure” race, awarding medal of honors for women who had 4 or more children, providing marriage loans and vouchers for newlyweds in exchange of the women to stop working, and supporting out of wedlock illegitimate children.

Through compulsory membership in the Nazi League of German Girls, from a young age, girls were socialized to become mothers and obedient wives. The Nazi regime utilized the National Socialist Women’s Union and German Women’s Agency to promote propaganda encouraging women to have many children and to dedicate their livelihoods to being wives and mothers. Previous behaviors like smoking, wearing makeup, and revealing clothing were highly scrutinize among women. The slogan “children, kitchen, church,” known as the 3 Ks was utilized by Hitler when he described the roles of women in Germany. However, when the second World War was declared in 1939, the construction and infrastructure plans were still unfinished, many men had to abandon work to become soldiers. This forced the Nazis to abandon their initial plan to confine women to the kitchen, children, and church, prompting women to join the military and the workforce. After the rearmament declaration of 1935, there was shortages of workers and Germany was forced to transition to a war economy with a temporary contradiction of past policies and roles for women. Young women were mandated to do free labor known as “Duty Year” in farms and in factories. By 1945, the German forces had about 500,000 women in the military.

After the War, traditional roles were still considered the ideal. The Germany society preserved a male dominated model social, politically, and economically. However, compared to western Germany, women in eastern Germany participated in the workforce as the Soviet government implemented social reforms like child care, vocational training, legalized abortions, and accommodations for working women. In the east, about 90% of women worked outside the home, and about half were members of the two-major political organizations. In many ways women under the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany lived in contradicting spheres. Once in a world that positively reinforced their freedom and their autonomy, away from the subordination of men in power and the roles of mothers and wives, to a rejection of this freedom by the traditional societal norms. Finally, women’s roles were in contradiction during Nazi Germany from their departure to confine women to the homes and maintain their roles as child bearers to their critical role during the second War forcing many to work and join the military. The effects of these contrasting political agendas continue to surface in the present world. Germany women still hold unequal spaces in the workforce, are traditionally inclined to work part-time, and hold traditional values and role as societal’ ideal norms.

01 February 2021

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