A Celebration of Women Writers

"Marriage Prospects in Germany." by Miss Kathe Schirmaches.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 181-183.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 181] 

MARRIAGE PROSPECTS IN GERMANY.

BY MISS KATHE SCHIRMACHES.

The marriage prospects of every woman depends as a rule upon three circumstances. the first of which is the number of eligible men living in the country. In this respect the German women are not particularly favored, for their number exceeds that of the men by a round one million and a half, so that it is impossible every German woman should marry, unless you institute polygamy, put a tax on bachelors, or forbid young men to emigrate.

The second circumstance the marriage prospects of a woman depend upon, is the more or less facility her countrymen find in founding a household of their own and supporting a family. In this direction the prospects are not bright. All over Germany you hear the same complaint; the needs are great, money and employment scarce, no new openings to be found, and the possibility of making both ends meet less than before. Under these circumstances the number of marriages is likely to decrease, and it actually does.

I come to the third point to be considered. It is of a less material character than the two preceding ones, but of a still more vital interest. It implies the views the two sexes hold on marriage in general, and the ideal type they expect one another to live up to. Now, what is, as a rule, a German man entitled to expect his wife to be? The answer is very short–his inferior, but a pleasant one; inferior, but at the same time one who is a lady and meets with all the outward marks of respect due to a lady, yet remains an inferior. This is no exaggeration.

Consult the church in Germany, she says. The Christian wife is an obedient wife. Consult the German law; it says: The German wife is a person supported by her husband, has in all circumstances to submit to his will, and in affairs of greater importance may not act without his permission.

Consult the army; as the most privileged and most highly considered class of Germany, it will answer. A wife is a very pretty, rich and lovable object, but incapable of doing military service. Consult the men of science, and except some of broader views, they will pretend, should it be the teeth of fact, that a woman is incapable of rough work, high intellectual training, and high intellectual achievement. Consult the German government; it has hitherto shut out women from the university as a student, from the upper classes of girls' high schools as a teacher, from the school board and advisory councils, in all public affairs and all public functions. A German woman is no citizen Consult the German press, and except some liberal papers and reviews, they but reach the judgments quoted above, and even liberal-minded editors of great liberal papers are taken aback at the idea of a woman discussing political economy and politics. Consult German literature, and you will find it only knows of one relation between men and women, the relation through love and passion. The relation through thought, opinion, work, seem to be perfectly unknown hitherto. Then, after having consulted all these authorities, address yourself to a German average man on the point of getting married, and ask him what he expects his future wife to be. I think he will answer: "Pretty and gay, ignorant of life, able to follow in my thoughts. but by no means independent." Now, a modern woman may be pretty, and she may be gay, but she is never ignorant of life, and always independent. Therefore, her marriage prospects in Germany, and all the countries sharing the German ideal. are bad ones. This is the chief point where her difference from the older type lies. Hitherto a German woman on the average had but one way of getting happy, useful and respected–through marriage. She could attain this without a special training of her faculties, or a thorough development of her character.

A modern woman, on the contrary, does not consider marriage as her inevitable fate; nor is she convinced that it be ever woman's chief gift, to fu]fill the duties of a wife and a mother; nor does she believe that without a special training of her faculties and a thorough development of her character a woman can be able to fulfill these duties as they should be. She therefore asks as her right, considers as her personal duty, considers as a general necessity that a woman should, in the first place, be a character and full-grown personality; should, secondly, make sure of her chief gift or capacity, train it so as to know what regular work means, and be able to support herself. Then, having attained this, she asks for the liberty of choosing marriage, if she feel particularly disposed toward it, and of refusing it if she see another way of being more happy and more useful to the world. And this latter decision she wants to be allowed to take without being pitied by the world, nor blamed for it. A modern woman, having thus developed her brains and her will, there is still one quality she cannot do without–a warm heart. She must have a feeling of fellowship toward all other women, pulling, so to say, at the same rope with her; the wish to help all those striving in the same direction with her, who may be less gifted or less fortunate than she, or to help all those who, loosing courage, have ceased to fight. Unless she have the backbone of a conviction and the feeling to stand with others for a cause, and to claim justice, she is no modern woman. I now repeat my question: Is this modern woman the wife her German countrymen expect? And I repeat the same answer as before, No; she is not; and therefore her marriage prospects are bad in Germany. Yet, though the modern woman knows that marriage at its actual state of development in Germany is not meant for her, yet she is not at all averse to marriage in itself.

Being a full-grown and fully developed woman. she is perfectly capable of love, of passion and devotion. She does not pride herself on being insensible of love, nor affect a lofty and ridiculous disdain of men in general. On the contrary, knowing how hard it is and how much it has cost her to make her way, to grow a character, she will fully appreciate a man, who, having done the same, expects the same from her, with whom she may share her ideas, thoughts and feelings, her experiences, her tendencies, perhaps even her profession; whose comrade she will be and whose wife, for the modern marriage is based in the first place on comradeship and mutual understanding

Unless the modern woman find a man to appropriate her strength of will and tenacity of purpose, as she does his; unless he admit her on a footing of perfect equality, for the simple reason that she is his equal; unless she be sure to find all this and be asked to give all this, I think she will not marry. For what outward motive could else lead her to that resolution? She supports herself, so does not want to marry in order that she may be provided for. She is fond of her work, absorbed by it, makes friends by it, is respected for it, so need not marry in order to obtain the regards due to a useful member of society. That at times she will suffer from being alone, that she will have her hours of temptation, crisis and depression, the modern woman is far too upright to deny. Yet, so far as I can see, a character of this stamp, a modern woman, will cherish liberty above all, and will be happier still when living alone, free to think, to feel and act as she likes, as if, having married for marrying's or passion's sake a man she does not thoroughly agree with, feels bored by his presence all her life. And the modern women begin to be somewhat bored. Hitherto they were taught to look up to man, and on a whole they did. How this innate feeling of respect for a man as such is more and more declining in the soul of modern women, and this change I consider as most destructive for the marriage prospects to our sex. It is no change one could rejoice in. It is very painful to realize, for who would not prefer admiring, venerating with all her heart, to blaming judging and condeming?

Yet this change from innate respect to downright indifference is actually coming about. It cannot be avoided, for it is the natural result of the modern woman's deepening experience of life. It is the knowledge of the realities of the world. It is this knowledge which mostly estranges woman from man. It comes to a woman who has come to know by direct personal experience what this world actually is like; what she may meet with, in spite of being a lady, when trying to make her way by herself and going out unprotected by a great name or a chaperon.

A woman comes to realize that there are two moral standards, and that what is morally wrong with her is allowed to men. A woman that has looked into the depths of society and understood its sham and shame, such a woman is not likely to consider men as her superiors nor to be satisfied with the world's standards from her own experience; her own reflection, a quiet, concentrated and very earnest protest, is rising. Taking into account her character, how could it be otherwise?

But considering the views of the German husband, this state of affairs can but displease him. For women leading independent lives, holding certain decided views of their own, women with ideas and principles, women that, before they got married, have brushed their own wings and fought their way in the world; women judging men and asking them to account for various very unpleasant things of the world–such women are, in Germany at least, a very great and startling innovation, and therefore, I repeat, their marriage prospects are bad ones. Things will not always remain like that. The modern woman is superiorly organized. The weather all over Europe is black, and times of storm and stress are always favorable to the rising types. Let the modern woman stand the test of our troubles to come, and she will see her claims admitted; let her exemplify the survival of the fittest, and she will be respected; let her be that woman and she will be desired. Until the time come when the modern woman shall meet the modern man, we have to work to sow and plant with a never-resting hand that there should grow great characters for the world, characters able to grapple with the great problems at issue; it is character we want. Walt Whitman says, "Have great men and the rest will follow."

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom