Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "Equal but not the Same": The Struggle for "Gleichberechtigung" and the Reform of Marriage and Family Law in East and West Germany, 1945-1968
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This dissertation explores the interplay of political, social, and economic factors that first prevented and later led, despite all resistance, to the reform of family law in East and West Germany in the 1950s and early 1960s. After 1945, Germans inherited a Civil Code that dated back to 1900 and had designated women as second-class citizens in marriage, parental rights, and marital property. In the postwar period, in the context of the founding of the East and West German states and the rising Cold War, female activists in both Germanys revived the old feminist goal of reforming civil law, but faced fierce resistance from Protestant and Catholics. After much struggle, legislators in both states replaced the old law with two new, competing versions that purported to expand women’s rights in marital and familial matters. I argue that the East-West German competition in the Cold War provided the momentum to finally accomplish the long-desired reforms. In both states, allusions to the other Germany’s treatment of women marked political discourse and were a key factor in all negotiations and decisions on family policies. The project demonstrates that gender and the family were important markers of difference between the two Germanys and, more broadly, battlegrounds of the Cold War. This dissertation widens scholarly understandings of gender and the family in the two Germanys and Central Europe in two crucial ways. First, while scholars have previously conceived of women’s roles in East and West Germany as largely dissimilar, this project shows how family law linked and complicated the bond between the two states. At the same time, this study acknowledges the key differences between the East and West that ultimately set the two states on divergent paths regarding family law and gender roles. Second, this project challenges current understandings of gender, politics, and citizenship in the 1950s by showing that female activism in East and West Germany reemerged after the end of the Second World War, meaning that feminism was alive and well long before the 1970s.