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Helene Stöcker, "The Modern Woman" (1893)
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As little as even the modern man is able to understand this woman, as infrequently as he thus takes her for his companion, however, so does the modern woman rarely give herself to the man. She demurs not for reasons of asceticism or aversion, but for a more external reason. All that awaits her, namely, under the still cumbersome, regressive domestic and economic conditions of our time suffices to keep her eyes wide open. Behind the joy [lurks] the kitchen and the playroom (not that she would not love her children); out of a free human being there emerges a beast of burden with the most unbelievably ponderous responsibilities. And [yet] she thirsts for freedom just as much as for love. Only the two combined can grant her the peace characteristic of the truly liberated human being. Thus, she possesses the necessary critical distance not to be overwhelmed by her young, impassioned senses and perhaps, after a brief thrill, to make herself and others miserable. And yet, she only knows too well: The best which life has to offer can only blossom within a community of two free human beings, between man and woman, without question, without a doubt! She encounters it often enough that others react with pity and surprise when she suggests that [the woman] must become more honest, open, natural, that she must finally be taught to be conscious of her womanhood. They look with a patronizing smile: “What an innocent you must be!”

Thus, she holds her very self for the great fortune after which she has so ceaselessly striven and has, beyond all expectations, finally found. She now knows that everyone who wants to become free can only do so through his own devices. She holds fast to what she has – to reason and art and science, the greatest of human strengths – so that no one should take her crown! Her goal is to be a fully human being to whom nothing is foreign! But she also hopes for a time when her association with a man can one day become a [true] union.

Source: Helene Stöcker, “Die moderne Frau” [“The Modern Woman”], Freie Bühne [The Free Stage], Jg. 4 (1893), pp. 1215-17.

Original German text reprinted in Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel, Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914 [Berlin Modernity, 1885-1914]. Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 152-58.

Translation: Angela A. Kurtz

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