Weimar's crisis through the lens of gender : the case of prostitution / by Julia Roos.
Why study the history of prostitution in the Weimar Republic? How can the topic of prostitution deepen our understanding of this period, and especially of the crisis of Weimar democracy and the rise of Nazism? As I show in this study, German attitudes towards prostitution in the 1920s and early 1930s represent a microcosm of Weimar society's major problems and tensions. I focus on the impact of the rhetoric of Weimar's alleged “moral decline” on the stability of the new democratic order, and on the links between anxieties over shifts in gender relations after the First World War and political struggles about prostitution in the Weimar period. Prostitution served as a powerful symbol of a more general and fundamental crisis in gender relations, and fears about the loss of a stable sexual and moral order played a crucial role in Weimar democracy's demise. Changes in established gender roles and sexual mores precipitated a powerful conservative backlash. Reforms in 1927 entailed gains in prostitutes' rights and marked a radical break with their precarious legal status under the old system of police-controlled prostitution. Despite certain limitations, the 1927 reforms represented a major political victory for feminists, socialists, and sexual reformers. This explains why prostitution became such a central target of right-wing (and ultimately Nazi) attacks on Weimar democracy. In addition, this study offers a more complex picture of the extent of changes in gender roles than suggested by the existing literature on gender in Weimar, which has tended to exaggerate the continuities between the Weimar and Nazi periods. As the example of Weimar prostitution reforms shows, feminists and left-wing sexual reformers successfully challenged the sexual double standard and misogynistic rationale inherent in state-regulated prostitution.
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