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New Left Review I/155, January-February 1986

Frigga Haug

The Women’s Movement in West Germany

Today the women’s movement in the Federal Republic of Germany is everywhere and nowhere. This ubiquitous non-existence has perhaps long been a feature of the new women’s movement, but the recent shifts may be best understood in the contradictory terms of a successful defeat. The State, initially under the Social Democrats, but currently also under Kohl’s right-wing coalition, has treated the question of women as a legal, financial and symbolic issue. There are now linguistic rules, such as that which stipulates that job advertisements must refer to both sexes; there are experiments making it easier for women to learn male professions; thrifty yet irreversible measures are being taken to finance refuges for battered women; new agreements have been reached between universities to improve the proportion of female teaching staff; the law obliging a married woman to seek the consent of her husband before taking up employment was abolished long ago. The Green party has a female leadership in Parliament. In Southern Germany, thanks to a local electoral law, women in the Social Democratic Party (spd) and the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) are making headway against lowly placing on candidate lists for the Landtag. Yet the stronger that women’s position becomes in public life, the weaker the women’s movement appears. Similarly, just as the importance of ‘new social movements’ in general is increasingly emphasized on the Left, the actual self-confidence of the women’s movement seems to diminish accordingly. Women’s bookshops, women’s newspapers, women’s publishing firms—none are escaping the crisis. Although events with feminist themes still attract a growing number of interested visitors, there is nevertheless a certain atmosphere of resignation. The energy drawn from many different sources seems to be yielding to a centrifugal force that is pulling it into the void.

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