European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview

8
Nationalizing Feminisms and Feminizing Nationalisms, 1890-1914

The rise of nation-states and nation-centered thinking since the French Revolution had opened new channels within which feminist action could develop. Aspiring patriotic and nationalist groups sought--quite successfully--to enlist women's energy on behalf of aspiring statehood, providing them with carefully channeled opportunities to act in the public domain and, occasionally, offering them the hope of eventual decision-making power. At the same time, these maledominated groups could set in place new barriers, even fostering backlashes with peculiarly national cultural characteristics. Women's lot was closely tied to the making of nations: the Bohemian Czech writer Josefa Himpal Zeman insisted, speaking to the 1893 World's Women's Congress, that "whatever they do, for whatever they may long, [the women] never forget their obligation to the nation, and are first patriots and then women."1

During the nineteenth century, as the previous chapters suggest, in cities and towns throughout Europe, feminist challenges coursed along an explosive trajectory. Feminists and feminist organizations multiplied rapidly, developing identities and characteristics that were culturally distinctive and context-specific--what historian Amy Hackett has baptized "national feminism." 2 Recent scholarship has paid increasing attention to the particularities of feminist political cultures, which more often than not developed their case in a series of relational arguments framed in terms of rights and duties, to the nation, to men, to children.

Internationalist efforts likewise developed, spinning a dense web of contacts between women of different nations and cultures. If Roman Catholicism and the Second International Working Men's Association took strong and internationally influential positions, pro and con, on the emancipation of women in the late nineteenth century, the now increasingly visible independent feminist international organizations accelerated their activity, calling a series of general conferences and joint ven

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