Women have lighter brains

Louise Otto-Peters

"The degree of female emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation of a society." A completely new social order is to be conceived: The demand of the bourgeois revolution for equality and freedom must focus on that population group for whom it seemed most unthinkable that its members, in the sense of Kant, [2] would become mature subjects of society. How revolutionary - that is, fundamentally transforming the existing values ​​and orders - this Fourier's proclamation was, becomes clear in the ruling discourse on the "female sex" in the 19th century, as it was in statements and treatises penned by politicians, scientists and journalists whether Democrats or Conservatives, was expressed. Proponents of the right to vote for workers, for example, polemicized in discussions on the question of "carrying out democracy in every respect" that the introduction of the right to vote for women would also mean one for "children and fools". [3] The essays on the female physique were innumerable, from weak muscles or nerves to the lighter brain, which meant that women by gender should not be suitable for public political engagement or science. [4]

In addition to voices like Fourier, who thematized a fundamentally new creation of social coexistence, there were also proposals in the progressive gender discourse of the 19th century [5] that referred to the inclusion of women in existing institutions of the bourgeois order. These two attitudes, which can be understood in terms of revolution and reform, lead - sometimes dialectically connected - into the discourses that women and men have been raging internationally since the last decades of the 18th century: Is women's emancipation or women's liberation or the solution the "women's question" possible within the framework of the bourgeois-capitalist social order? Or is there a need for a transformation of politics, economics and sexual relations in the direction of something that has not yet been tried out, i.e. a utopia that was contemporary associated with the terms socialism, anarchism, communism? [6]

Gender - a category of the first order

The discourse about a people- and thus women-friendly future in the 19th century was accompanied by great emotions [7] which may seem strange to us from today's perspective. [8] The central focus was the "harmony of humanity", which was not established as long as "another person (...) was legally or socially hindered" or "made more difficult" by others to "develop and use himself and his abilities" Interest in oneself in free self-determination "as well as in the service of the general, in" subordination and devotion ", as Louise Otto-Peters put it. [9]

The structural socio-political core that provoked various "questions" in the course of the 19th century - in addition to the "women's question", among others the "social question", the "peasant question", the "Jewish question" - is in the contradiction of bourgeois modernity Find. On the basis of the philosophical thought structure of the Enlightenment and the fundamental changes in the European world since the middle of the 18th century, the transition from the class to the bourgeois society began. The realization of the "free and equal-born human being" who, beyond all "God-willed" boundaries, had the obligation to free himself from "self-inflicted immaturity" [10] contained an unsolved paradox: the obviously existing collective differences between people such as social positioning, ethnicity, nationality, and gender. [11] As a result, the "gender" category became the first-rate structural category that had a lasting impact on bourgeois modernity. Since the beginning of the 19th century, social areas (institutionalized politics, science and education, military) have been organized along the gender line according to the inclusion or exclusion, and the man has become the "head" or "guardian" of in the family rights of the civil codes Women definitely. Most family rights and women's access to the military were only reformed in the last third of the 20th century, and access to institutionalized politics and higher education came earlier. However, in the transformation processes into parliamentary republics after the First World War, a gender order was established in which the same political rights applied, but social inequality was maintained - with lasting structural effects to this day. [12]

The development of gender into a category of the first order, which established power relations to the detriment of women, was the result of negotiations and struggles. [13] Decisive for this were the political conditions that were up for discussion in the mostly militant clashes - called "revolutions". [14] In the context of the comprehensive socio-political transformation since the middle of the 18th century, which the historian Reinhart Koselleck defined as the (first) "Sattelzeit", the event "Revolution" acted as a catalyst for the development of bourgeois modernity. [15] These transformation processes as well as the revolutions are to be understood as "social spaces" in which gender orders were also negotiated - which Koselleck did not address and the androcentric, i.e. male-centered and dominated historiography long after the pioneering essay by the historian Karin Hausen in 1976 negated . [16] Questions about the importance of gender in the practice of the course of the revolution, about the actors of the revolution and the gender-specific demands and goals were also neglected. It was not until the history of women and the sexes, which emerged in Central Europe in the 1970s, that questions were asked about the habits of gender characters and gender relations, drew attention to the structural processes and developments in the 19th century and sought to change historiography profoundly.