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Colloquium 3 Abstracts 

Women Fighting: Warriors and Terrorists


Conceptions of War, Masculinity and Femininity in Germany in the Long Nineteenth Century
Ute Frevert, Yale

The lecture will look at how conceptions of war and gender evolved, in close connection to one another, between the late 18th century and World War I. This was a time that was marked by the prominence of war both in real life and in people's imagination. The period actually started and ended with major wars. At the beginning, there were the Revolutionary Wars since 1793, or, more narrowly, the anti-Napoleonic wars (or War of Liberation) in 1813/15 that shook off French occupation. They left a huge impact and were remembered throughout the 19th century as a cornerstone of national self-determination and nation-building. They were also remembered as the first wars that were fought by citizen-soldiers. Every young man was called up, emulating the French example and borrowing from revolutionary and inclusive rhetoric.

This introduced a radically new facet into the gender order that was crucially remodelled during the 19th century. Gradually, the army developed into what was called by contemporaries a “school of manliness”. Apart from being a “school of the nation”, it also set out to mould the citizen as an exclusively male being whose masculinity was both a prerequisite and an effect of military socialization. In contrast, women were excluded from the military experience (which at least some of them had still enjoyed in 1813/15) and from political citizenship alike. The figure of the “woman warrior” became a nightmare: It posed a serious threat to a “nation in arms” (Volk in Waffen) that was perceived as masculine. Interestingly enough, it was appropriated by those who meant to constantly remind male citizens not to renounce their gendered duties and live up to the job that had been staked out for them since 1814.    


'Den tapfersten Helden im Kampfe gewachsen'. The German Reception of the Amazon Myths from Hederich to Bachofen
Daria Santini, Oxford

This paper aims to provide a cross-section of the most significant portrayals of ancient women warriors in the German writings about myth of the 18th and 19th century. I begin by analyzing the various entries about Amazons in Benjamin Hederich’s Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon of 1724 (the 1770 edition of this text would prove an invaluable source of knowledge about the classical world for Goethe, Kleist and Grillparzer among others). Whereas Hederich offers a rational view of myth and focuses mainly on the mythological characters themselves as well as on the literary versions of their stories, Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s interpretation of Greek sculpture reveals an idealized view of women warriors. His description of Calamis’ statue of the amazon Sosandra in his Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (1764) is an illuminating example of Winckelmann’s emphasis on harmony and measure, in which the elements of violence and disorder inherent in the Amazon myth are viewed only in terms of feminine beauty and submission. Gustav Schwab’s influential work Sagen des klassischen Altertums was first published between 1838 and 1841. This book, on which many generations of German school children gained their knowledge of Greek mythology, offers a poetic and heroic image of the woman warrior. Schwab’s vision of the Amazons as creatures of great courage and tremendous beauty will be challenged, ten years later, by Johann Jakob Bachofen’s Das Mutterrecht: eine Untersuchung über die Gynaikokratie der alten Welt nach ihrer religiösen und rechtlichen Natur(1861). In this seminal and controversial work, the Swiss anthropologist presents ancient myths as stages in an organic historical process in which the Amazonian principle is the first, extreme and transgressive phase of the evolutionary process that lies at the origin of matriarchal cultures. Other relevant works through which I examine the development of the German scholarly representation of Amazons in this period include Karl Philip Moritz’ Götterlehre (1791) and Ludwig Preller’s Griechische Mythologie (1854).


Warrior Women and the Foundation of the State - Libussa, Wanda and her Sisters
Ritchie Robertson, Oxford

A series of early nineteenth-century German dramas focus on the legendary Czech princess Libussa who was said to have ruled an ancient state with a company of warlike maidens before submitting to domesticity on marrying Primislaus, the founder of Prague. This myth provided material for Zacharias Werner, Wanda, Königin der Sarmaten (1808); Clemens Brentano, Die Gründung Prags (1815); and Franz Grillparzer, Libussa (1848). These plays create myths about the founding of the state and the accompanying (re)allocation of gender roles. They evoke a range of female types: while Libussa is imagined primarily as a wise civil ruler, her maidens Wanda (represented by Werner as queen of the Poles) and Wlasta (an important minor character in Brentano) are much more warlike, and thus focus the conflict among the roles of woman warrior, queen, lover, and wife. Another female role evoked, especially in Grillparzer, is that of priestess (represented by Libussa’s two sisters) in harmony with nature: by rejecting the new, male-dominated state, the priestesses help to define it as culture in opposition to nature, and thus deny it the legitimacy which it might otherwise have had by posing as the natural order. The woman warrior meanwhile stands apart from the social order by remaining virgin, and this special status helps to make her the representative of her nation: here Werner’s Wanda invites comparison with Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Besides articulating complex and multivalent founding myths, these plays raise other issues which I hope to touch on:

  • the mythologization of medieval history, namely the conquest of Eastern Europe by the Teutonic Knights and other crusaders: this is most famously expressed in Werner’s Das Kreuz an der Ostsee, but it is also a theme in Brentano’s Die Gründung Prags through the female polarity of the pagan sorceress Zwratka and the missionary martyr Trinitas.
  • the psychology of the woman who kills her lover, as Wanda does, invites comparison with the tangled psychology of Hebbel’s Judith.
  • in the context of ‘Women and Death’, the spectacular death of Wanda, who plunges into the Vistula, invites comparison with that of Grillparzer’s Sappho (very probably inspired by Werner’s example), and with the deaths of such later operatic heroines as Tosca.

'Amazonen sind ja keine sportgirlischen Frauenrechtlerinnen!' The Reception of Bachofen's Amazon Myth in the Work of Women Writers
Peter Davies, Edinburgh

This paper explores some responses by right-wing women writer to the images of warrior women portrayed in the work of Johann Jakob Bachofen. Contrasting a group of writers sympathetic to Nazi ideology with the work of the feminist writer 'Sir Galahad' (Bertha Eckstein-Diener), the paper argues that the adoption of Amazon myths should not be read simply as an attempt to 'reclaim' the myths, but that the myths are employed strategically to claim rights of entry to nationalist political movements, or in wide-ranging critiques of modernity and of left-wing and liberal feminism.


Wearing the Trousers
Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, Oxford

Central to representations of the warrior woman is that she usually wears men’s clothing and thus breaks an ancient taboo, expressed forcefully, for instance, in the Bible. The idea that a woman killer should not instantly be recognisable as a woman arouses great male anxiety, for how can her seductive and dangerous power be guarded against if she cannot even be recognised?  Though her male clothing can function as a kind of shorthand for the manly virtues she exhibits  - physical courage, resolution or steadfastness -, in general it connotes transgression. The woman warrior has by definition left her proper sphere and colonised the male sphere, something her clothing makes visible, and this usually means that she is transgressive in other ways too.  Crossdressers and transvestites are therefore depicted as unnatural women in general: incestuous like Semiramis (Stainhöwel, 1474), barren and sexually voracious like Grimmelshausen’s Courasche (1670) or prepared to sacrifice their children and emasculate their menfolk like Lohenstein’s Sophonisbe (1666). If cross-dressers are ever allowed to be heroic figures, they must be virgins and martyrs: Lohenstein’s eponymous heroine Epicharis (1665) and C.F.Meyer’s Gustav Adolfs Page (1882) are two examples.

The crossdressed woman warrior, bearing weapons and clad in armour or in male, often figure-hugging, attire, has always been and still is erotically titillating, whether in literature, art, or film. Provided her male counterpart either tames her physically, dominates her sexually or defeats her in death, the reader or theatre audience can allow themselves to be fascinated by the violence, gender disquiet and perverse eroticism on display.

Since one of our questions is to what extent the phenomenon we are investigating is specifically German it is significant that it was the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) who coined both of the terms ‘transvestism’ and ‘transsexualism’. 


Crazed Furies and Patriotic Ladies: Representations of Revolutionary Women in the German Press (1798-1794)
Julie Koser, Berkeley

This paper reconstructs the German reading public’s general attitude towards and anxieties about women’s participation in politics and martial activity by examining the German press’s depiction of women in the political violence and social turmoil of the French Revolution. Expanding upon Helga Brandes’ 1991 investigation of the images of revolutionary women in a handful of German periodicals, this analysis explores the German press’s reduction of the diversity of female participants in the Revolution to two contrasting groups: the violent, armed Weib (woman) of the working class and the dutiful, patriotic Bürgerin (female citizen). Drawing upon mythic figures such as the Bacchae, the Furies, and the Amazons, the German press vilified and exaggerated the actions of women who took up arms and actively participated in the public sphere. This specter of the crazed Fury, when juxtaposed against the image of well-mannered, subdued, patriotic female citizen, created an even more ominous warning to readers of the dangers of women bearing arms. The press’s negative framing of armed female revolutionaries, coupled with its privileging of docile female patriots, foreclosed the possibility for German women to adopt the image of active, armed women upon which to fashion their desires for civic participation.


Germania in Armour. The Female Representation of an Endangered German Nation
Bettina Brandt, Bielefeld

If Germania is remembered today, it is as a warrior with sword and breastplate. However, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that the motif of an armoured Germania became predominant, capturing the popular imagination. Since the early modern period, images of the mother or the virgin bride Germania have always been connected to war and to narratives of a (morally, culturally, politically) threatened German nation which had to be liberated by its sons or lovers. In the late 18th century, when Germania turned into the motherly genius of middle class men, her strength at war was represented as a natural disaster, but not as a woman at arms. What made the warrior type so attractive from the 1860s onwards? In my paper, I will analyse the semantic potential as well as the limits of this motif from the military founding of a German nation state to the Great War. The »Siegesbraut« Germania, as she was presented around 1870 in poems and pictures, appeared as an erotic promise for the fallen soldier, who in return became part of her armour. With every man who died for her, Germania's body grew stronger. The representation of Germania fighting, however, needed a licence which was achieved through the use of ›humour‹. Nevertheless, it didn't take long until a militant Germania became problematic. This development corresponded to a desire for completing the state-founding with an ›authentic‹ symbol meaning a heroic male figure, and it ran parallel to the adaptation of the powerful mother Germania by the women's movement. According to the advocates of a rising right-wing cultural criticism and antifeminism, a femininity which threatened to transgress gender (and political) boundaries was endangering the nation. Germania's armour, however, remained ambivalent between transgression on the one hand, and the enclosure of the feminine on the other.


Miss(ing) Saigon: Women in West German Representations of Vietnam (1966-1973)
Mererid Puw Davies , London

The proposed paper is part of a larger analysis of representations of the Vietnam conflict in the culture of the FRG in the 1960s and 1970s. Many West Germans perceived parallels between their country and the similarly divided Vietnam. Furthermore, memories of recent war and atrocity in Europe meant that in the Federal Republic, perceptions of war and atrocity elsewhere were strikingly overdetermined. Thus, a symptomatic reading of responses to conflict in the present is highly revealing not about Vietnam, but about the post-war Federal Republic itself.

I analyse images of women in West German writing about Vietnam, notably protest poetry and travelogues, because, as the critic Susan Jeffords has put it in relation to writing from the US: “Although war might [...] seem to be a ‘man’s world’ [...] the representational features of the Vietnam War are structurally written through relations of gender.” [Susan Jeffords, The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War, Bloomington, 1989, p. xi.] Close readings demonstrate extraordinarily consistent, schematic representations of Vietnamese women which contradict both what was known at the time of the real, historical situation of women in Vietnam; and changes in and challenges to women’s lives in West Germany too. Indeed, so strong is the pull of such representations that even texts which draw on documentary sources showing Vietnamese women engaged in fighting and resistance re-write those sources in a way which is both spectacular and surreptitious.

The paper proposes ways in which these images of women may be understood in the context of German (literary) culture more broadly, and post-war West Germany in particular. They may be understood as (unconscious) recourse to, and replications of, the anxieties of immediate post-war West Germany; and of the high and popular culture which encoded them. In particular then, these images cast light on fissures and ambiguities in the writing, politics, psyche and memory of 1960s protest movements; and on those movements’ generally unacknowledged and problematic participation in a longer tradition of post-war memory in which gender is a key touchstone.


Soldiers and Mothers in the Bundeswehr
Ruth Seifert, Regensburg

In 2000 a decision of the European Court, which judged the practice of the German Federal Armed Forces to be a breach of the Equal Treatment Dircectives of the European Council, forced Parliament and Bundeswehr into action. This was not initiated by social or political developments in Germany or in the Bundeswehr, but was enforced from outside, i.e. the process of Europeanization. In the history of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, it had always been understood that gender equality should not extend to the military and that the military was the place in society where gender differences should be guarded and maintained. There was no debate about that in German society. From the left to the right there was a unanimous decision that women should be exempt from the military. From the left to the right this was legitimated by women's motherly and caring role and function. Even after the Bundeswehr was forced to open itself to gender equality, the idea of "woman as mother" has played an important part in the integration process and has, indeed, made it difficult for female soldiers to find a professional role in the Bundeswehr.

Embedded Art: Elfriede Jelinek and the Farce of War
Elisabeth Krimmer , UC Davis

This paper reads Elfriede Jelinek’s Das Werk and Bambiland as critical interventions in contemporary discourses of war. Both Das Werk and Bambiland do not attempt to represent warfare, but rather seek to de-naturalize common representations of war. In order to effect her critique, Jelinek relies on farce and mimicry.

My analysis focuses on the following issues:
1) In Jelinek’s texts, warfare and genocide are not the antithesis of civil society but integrated into its very core. Interestingly, in Jelinek’s texts, this core comprises canonical works of Western literature and philosophy as well as trivial forms of mass entertainment and popular culture. Thus, on the one hand, Jelinek is interested in the nexus of warfare and the sublime and of violence and genius. Das Werk, for example, links Goethe’s Faust and “geballte Fäuste” and connects the motif of “wandern,” in frequent allusions to Schubert’s Winterreise, with the restlessness of a “Volk ohne Raum.” On the other hand, Jelinek characterizes modern society’s attitude to war as casual and banal and presents warfare as yet another form of mass entertainment. My readings show that Jelinek’s works stage calculated interruptions of the discourses they mimic, a process that Jelinek has described as “zur Kenntlichkeit entstellen” (Sturm und Drang 49). Sifting through the debris of televised images and normalizing discourses, Jelinek seeks to present “falsche[r] Spiegel eines schon Falschen” (Janz 86).


Judith and the 'Jew-eaters'. Dramatic Fights against the Evilpropheticmoral Principles  
Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza, Toronto

“Holofernes has besieged/Bethulia, the powerful city./But because in Judith he trusts,/his head in bed she cuts off.” This is a succinct version of the story of Judith and Holofernes, composed by Hieronymus Oertel in 1605. Written by an unknown author in the second century B.C.E., the story of Judith is the story of an unprecedented success. Fated to represent “Judea, that is, the Jewish people,” as Martin Luther puts it in his 1534 Bible, the figure of Judith has over the centuries received countless treatments in the fine arts, literature, and music. After providing a look into the story’s rich reception history, my paper examines a barely known phenomenon of the German Volksschauspielbühne: Judith and the rise of anti-Semitism. With the appearance of the anonymous drama Judith und Holofernes (Zerbst 1818) and Johann Nestroy’s travesty/parody Judith und Holofernes (Vienna 1849), a decisive change in the perception of the Jewish narrative takes place. For the first time ever in German and Austrian literature, the story of Judith is connected with the German Jewish Question and is used to undermine the process of Jewish emancipation. In this paper, I consider the intertwining of concepts of gender, race, ethnicity, and nation from a functional theoretical perspective. My reading of the anonymous drama focuses on two aspects: the author’s fight for a “refined” Christian nation and against the “evil Talmudic or evil-prophetic-moral principles,” as well as his rewriting of the story, in particular, the containment functions of Judith, the devil’s servant, on his dramatic stage of “abhorrence.” My reading of Nestroy’s travesty likewise has a dual focus: first, its provocative play with anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic stereotypes by which it transforms the cross-dresser Joab, Judith’s brother in Judith’s clothes, into a mouthpiece of contemporary “Jew-eaters,” and finally the subversive potential of this pugnacious travesti en femme whose fight against the Assyrian “Jew-eater” Holofernes helps battle the stereotypes with which reactionary forces tried to justify the re-ghettoization of Viennese Jews and women.

Ulrike Meinhof. The Representation and Legitimacy of Violence in a Woman, and the Perceived Validity of Language as a Weapon in the Later Twentieth Century
Sarah Colvin, Edinburgh

In my paper I address Research Question 2 (What ideas are mobilised to legitimise the woman who bears arms?) and discuss the representation of Ulrike Meinhof by those who wanted to legitimise her.
I look specifically at representations of Meinhof as Joan of Arc, as a virgin mother, and as the incarnation of purity and seriousness, and assess the choice of her defenders (e.g. Klaus Röhl and Stefan Aust) to avoid the erotic potential outlined in Research Question 5. Meinhof is further portrayed as afraid of guns and incompetent at breaking into cars; her phallic potential (guns, cars) is played down.

I then go on to address Research Question 6 (What are the weapons of the fighting woman? Is language one of them?).
Language is perceived as one of the major weapons of the terrorist. How far is language Meinhof’s weapon, in her earlier career as a journalist and later as a terrorist? As a journalist she appears to believe that the high-register rhetoric of the educated middle classes will function as a weapon or tool for change. In the course of her most gender-aware project Bambule she shifts her perception of high-register language; it is now the language of division, and of hierarchy not solidarity.
In the adolescent-sounding linguistic explosion of the early RAF texts low-register language is tested for its validity as a weapon.
This difficulty sharpens in her prison writing. She develops a belief in what she calls the neue schreibe: a language of the personal (the revolutionary subject). But over and over again language seems to use and support the structures of hierarchy and of paternalism.

How does this contribute to our project?
Röhl and Aust want to represent Meinhof as a woman warrior (as legitimate) not as a terrorist (as illegitimate). It seems that some kinds of woman warrior are acceptable – the condition is that they are sexually pure and/or maternal (archetypes such as the virgin mary, the lioness protecting cubs, the woman warrior giving her all for a male god/king [in a pseudosexual giving of herself/her body]). But Meinhof’s own struggle in and with language is quite separate from that. She at no time shows any interest in constructing her own image as a woman warrior, or as pure or maternal.

I have found no demonisation of Meinhof because she is a rhetorician (a language warrior). All my knowledge of rhetoric suggests that a woman who uses language as a weapon ought to be perceived as a problem, but Meinhof is not, and language is not represented as one of her weapons. All the images of Meinhof with a pen are very tame and well behaved – not very phallic. It is the gun in her handbag that makes her phallic. Why is language not a problem as a weapon? Has the 20th century lost any belief in the power of language over the power of guns and bombs, and is the notion of language as a weapon barely threatening any longer, even or especially when used by a woman?