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Helene Stöcker, "The Modern Woman" (1893)

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as yet been born – at least, he has never revealed himself to her in any way – she bestows her gifts upon others. She worships the maternal friend who showed the temperamental child a shimmer of understanding. She embraces with the fire of indeterminate passion some sundry, sweet, young thing who – half flattered, half bemused – in exchange grants her the friendship she so hotly desires. She educates her sisters, who are similar in temperament and intelligence, with more than maternal pride. After all, she sees in them a common front, a world-conquering future. And finally, she finds herself in closest communion with like-minded, equally striving female compatriots.

Thus, it has become possible for her – despite the terrible realization “I must love because I live” – to survive the first passionate blush of youth without giving herself away, due to her need for intimacy, to any man who may happen by but is not “her” man. And yet, while living free and independent in the heart of the big city, enjoying what she so craved – life with her intellectual equals – she has made an odd discovery. Formerly, she had always seen women as the more conservative force [in society] – but now she is forced to learn that, with respect to women, the man is far more conservative still, that in mind and nerves he more closely follows in the tradition of not only his grandparents, but also his great grandparents. In the most reactionary, narrow-minded sense, he can see in the “new, free” women no more than the whore and the housewife, so that he looks startled when she wants to speak to him about [Tolstoy’s] “Kreutzer Sonata.” [That said,] she has made the sobering discovery that women themselves view that which is modern and future-oriented as no more than a nebulous abstraction, and that even the most modern among them can, in practice, be terrible philistines who do not take their own ideas seriously.

[The modern woman] admittedly also makes an unprecedented demand: that she no longer be subjected to the petty humiliations of the ballroom nor viewed as man-like. Yes, she is an exacting creature. She wants to be a woman, to receive love and to give love, yet she wants to do more than listen in silence when clever men speak. No, no – no formula has as yet been found for such a creature. And yet, I know it for a fact: the salvation which a forlorn, anxious age seeks from a future redeemer must come from the woman, from the woman who, through her own strength and in total disregard of men, has laid claim to her own humanity!

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