Marianne Zepp. Redefining Germany: Reeducation, Staatsbürgerschaft und Frauenpolitik im US-amerikanisch besetzten Nachkriegsdeutschland. Osnabrück: V&R unipress, 2007. 328 S. (gebunden), ISBN 978-3-89971-382-4.
Reviewed by Rebecca Boehling
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (January, 2009)
M. Zepp: Redefining Germany
Marianne Zepp has undertaken a very ambitious project: exploring the U.S. occupiers’ policy of reeducation together with the emergence of German women’s non-partisan organizations in Germany after the Second World War. Zepp provides an interesting look into how the Cold War and the consolidation of political parties and the founding of the new state(s) in the late 1940s weakened the initial momentum and independence of the non-partisan women’s organizations. She reveals how this transition coincided with U.S. Military Government, and later the High Commission, becoming interested in organizing and training (western) German women in democracy along the lines of less politicized U.S. women’s federated associations. The U.S. occupation authorities hoped federated non-partisan women’s associations in the West would counter the appeal of the Democratic Women’s Union of Germany or DFD, the centralized women’s organization that had been founded in the Soviet zone of occupation already in 1947. As a result, what had been rather loosely formed, democratic women’s associations that were political and politicized but non-partisan (not aligned with any specific political party), became centralized into federated associations, while state bureaus were set up to deal with women’s issues. By the early 1950s this limited the political role such associations played to one of preparing women for political participation rather than encouraging their active direct involvement in politics. Political parties were ultimately strengthened at the expense of other less hierarchical political structures by acquiring more of a monopoly on women’s issues, while the continuation of male authority in the family, parties and society remained fundamentally unquestioned.
Zepp’s stated goal is to re-examine reeducation through the lens of Frauenpolitik (p. 26). In this venture she examines wartime U.S. social scientists’ theories of German family and group dynamics, and then explores how these (might have) shaped American occupation officials’ views of German women and their potential, once reeducated, to further the hoped-for democratization process in western Germany. Zepp is certainly not the first scholar to get lost in the maze of Military Government planning, policy changes, jurisdiction, and policy implementation, but many of the details she depicts have little to do with her actual argument. There are significant gaps in her research on the American side. She refers, for example, to women working for the U.S. occupation in 1946 and 1947 who were supportive of German women’s politicization and political-consciousness building but never makes clear who they were or why they were unable to get Military Government to focus on German women prior to 1948. She never asks about the background and politics of the women who did work in Women’s Affairs. We are also told far too little about the model of American women’s organizations that such women were trying to bring to German women. Some of the answers are available in various essays in: Detlef Junker (ed.), Die USA und Deutschland im Zeitalter des Kalten Krieges 1945-1990, München 2001 or in: Helen Laville, Cold War Women: The International Activities of American Women’s Organizations, Manchester 2002.
Zepp's real contribution to the literature on western German postwar women is her chapter on institutionalized women's interests. Zepp shows how during the first two years of the occupation, before U.S. Military Government had a specific policy on German women, these groups and a number of their most prominent members developed their own concerns with and approaches to democratizing Germany. Some based them on an idealized maternalism that rejected the Nazi regime as a Männerstaat (men’s state) and held up female traits and maternalist methods as the best antidote to discredited male militarism. Zepp skillfully uses personal papers as well as political party and media archives to examine the developments within women’s non-partisan organizations, in particular those in Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt am Main. She traces how key women in these organizations came into conflict with party politics, especially those of the SPD, either because they did not feel that women’s interests were adequately represented within or by the party or because they were considered tainted by their involvement in peace movements, which allegedly did not take clear enough stands against those groups and individuals deemed to be communist-leaning. Unfortunately while exploring the background of mostly bourgeois women's movements in Germany prior to 1933 and downplaying socialist women Zepp obscures the long history of splits among working and middle-class women on the Left as well as between bourgeois and socialist women's movements.
Zepp poses very good questions but does not always answer them. Although her bibliography is quite long, she does not engage with or contest much of the secondary literature. For example, Zepp tells the reader that women were dramatically underrepresented in the first municipal and state parliaments (p. 150). Yet my own 1994 article on “Geschlechterpolitik in der US-Besatzungszone unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Kommunalpolitik” in Kulturpolitik im besetzten Deutschland explores the case of women city councilors in Munich, who in 1946 constituted 12 per cent and in 1948 constituted more than 20 per cent of the entire city council, or the case of the Franconian town of Kobersdorf, where the town council consisted only of women. The ways in which these women municipal councilors challenged traditional party discipline and male authority reveal that the behavior Zepp describes in the associations was not limited to these non-governmental, non-partisan structures, but actually could occur in an elected city council. By ignoring such phenomena Zepp may misinterpret the relationship between “party women” and non-partisan association women. Although she recognizes a small number of association women who were Social Democrats who held public office despite pressure not to critique party structures or discipline and to stress party solidarity over gender differences, Zepp does not delve into what went on in these parliamentary bodies. One is left wondering what the relationship of the women in the non-partisan association, the South German Women’s Working Group (SFAK), was to the Munich women city councilors, and whether there was any overlap in membership. These women city councilors collectively made formal inquiries and introduced motions on behalf of all the women in the Stadtrat, although they represented five different parties and earned the disapproval of their male party leaders for not following party discipline. They even met informally in Frauenfraktionssitzungen to discuss their common interests. More than half were over 50 in 1948 and most were single, complicating the picture that Zepp gives us of generations, a picture in which she omits any mention of the women’s socio-economic background or marital status.
Whoever was responsible for the final copyediting and review of this book as it went to press has done a real disservice to the historian’s craft. There are a distressing number of misidentifications of people, such as James Taylor rather than John Taylor, Robert Wolfe incorrectly being identified as the one-time director of the U.S. National Archives, Hedi Knoll rather than Helli, and frequent spelling or typographical errors in footnotes. A random sampling of the Index resulted in none of the pages listed even matching up with the terms. Yet despite these many errors and the problematic first two chapters, chapters three and four do provide new information and important insights into postwar German women, and raise even more questions that still need to be answered about their associations and politics.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/.
Rebecca Boehling. Review of Zepp, Marianne, Redefining Germany: Reeducation, Staatsbürgerschaft und Frauenpolitik im US-amerikanisch besetzten Nachkriegsdeutschland.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
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