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Hedwig Dohm, "What the Pastors Think of Women" (1872)

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You yourself tell the story of a savage people whose men lie in bed shortly before their wives give birth. If these savages were able to express themselves in an educated fashion, they would certainly describe their behavior as deriving from an immutable “law of nature.” And isn’t it right that these laws “that cannot budge an inch” have now determined for centuries that the day laborer’s wife has had to choke down her dry bread, year after year, under the sweat of her brow, while the rich countess or the princess ruins her nervous system with fancy foods and idleness?

These unfortunate laws of nature appear to be the scapegoats for all the outrageous nonsense, for all the malice generated by people and the times. Custom by no means follows the laws of nature; it is more often the product of prejudice than sound judgment. You know just as well as I that custom merely constitutes the form in which the spirit of a certain period reveals itself – whether this period encompasses a decade or three millennia!

But that is the tragic side of our social conditions, that their forms often outlast the spirit that once informed them. And precisely these dead forms, these ghosts, have the incredible presumption of wanting to dominate living spirits in the broad light of day!

On top of that, Mr. v. Nathusius, when the first women were created, there were probably no houses or homes at all – and there were perhaps no homes, no clothes, and no fire, either, for millennia thereafter – and one may assume that, had nature assigned women solely to the home, then it would have provided them with little hearths, sewing tables, and brooms to start out with in the world.

Or perhaps by virtue of some mysterious revelation you know something about those thousands and thousands of years that preceded these lousy few millennia with which the rest of us are familiar? [ . . . ]

“Supporting the home,” you continue, “has been the man’s duty since the
end of paradise” etc.

As already mentioned, no one except you knows anything about the primordial state of humanity, even though it would appear that our modern women resemble those of primeval times as little as today’s candidates for the higher civil service or lieutenants resemble lake dwellers. Let us stick with the present, however.

“It is man’s obligation,” you say, ‘to maintain the home.’

Why do you forget here to hurl your condemnatory thunderbolt at men who marry wealthy women? [ . . . ]

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