Varieties of Feminism: German Gender Politics in Global Perspective

By Myra Marx Ferree | Go to book overview

politically regrettable, since it makes it more difficult to see the ways in which deep and effective democracy remains an unattained goal, even in states that pride themselves on being democratic. True democratic inclusion does require eliminating social obstacles to participation, but these are not merely economic and never have been. Women’s struggle for full citizenship went well beyond winning the vote, and it still continues today. The story here highlights how changes in family law, in employment rights, and in political representation are part of the democratic claim for personal autonomy and access to decisionmaking for which in feminists in Germany have successfully fought. Their claim for autonomy rests on liberal notions of individuals, rights, and representation and was radical in their context.

Because the German struggle is more often about women’s autonomy and collective representation and less often about gender equality than American feminism is, the comparison between the two movements is often used throughout the book to highlight the gaps and weaknesses of both approaches. By exploring how feminists in Germany—East and West—deal with the problems they considered most fundamental, namely, democratic self-determination and personal autonomy, this book offers an alternative understanding of the positive elements in liberalism. The German case, where liberalism is not as ubiquitous as it is in the United States, suggests that liberalism offers a valid critique of mere social protection, and a distinctive set of benefits that can be realized, even if to reach that goal will demand that certain socialist principles of equality be more institutionalized than they ever have been in the United States. In their participatory liberal challenges to the communitarian but patriarchal forms of Christian conservatism and democratic socialism, German feminists demonstrate the great value of being able to assume their government’s commitment to equality as a value and to build deeper democracy from that base, while Americans cannot. This difference in what levels of protection and freedom are secured matters for the development of both feminist movements and for the societal changes each accomplished over time.

While the book itself has taken a long time to be written, it has also grown with the passage of time from a story about a few organizations and issues in Germany at a particular moment to a longer narrative about how these organizations and issues have changed and changed their society. I have thus given the book a structure that highlights key events and their effects on the longer-term

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