Prostitution and the New German Woman, 1890–1933
Publication Year: 2014
During the late nineteenth century the city of Berlin developed such a reputation for lawlessness and sexual licentiousness that it came to be known as the "Whore of Babylon." Out of this reputation for debauchery grew an unusually rich discourse around prostitution. In Berlin Coquette, Jill Suzanne Smith shows how this discourse transcended the usual clichés about prostitutes and actually explored complex visions of alternative moralities or sexual countercultures including the “New Morality” articulated by feminist radicals, lesbian love, and the “New Woman.”
Combining extensive archival research with close readings of a broad spectrum of texts and images from the late Wilhelmine and Weimar periods, Smith recovers a surprising array of productive discussions about extramarital sexuality, women's financial autonomy, and respectability. She highlights in particular the figure of the cocotte (Kokotte), a specific type of prostitute who capitalized on the illusion of respectable or upstanding womanhood and therefore confounded easy categorization. By exploring the semantic connections between the figure of the cocotte and the act of flirtation (of being coquette), Smith’s work presents flirtation as a type of social interaction through which both prostitutes and non-prostitutes in Imperial and Weimar Berlin could express extramarital sexual desire and agency.
Published by: Cornell University Press
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Introduction: Berlin’s Bourgeois Whores
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In the winter of 1988, the women of Hydra organized a “Whores’ Ball” (Hurenball) in West Berlin. Hydra, a support organization founded in 1980 by prostitutes and their advocates, actively lobbies for sex workers’ civil rights and the elimination of the social and moral stigma attached to prostitution. The 1988 ball raised funds for Hydra’s social initiatives, including extensive outreach to economically disadvantaged...
1. Sex, Money, and Marriage: Prostitution as an Instrument of Conjugal Critique
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“As long as marriage exists, so will prostitution,” wrote Georg Simmel in an essay published in the Social Democratic weekly Die Neue Zeit in 1892.1 As Simmel’s proclamation suggests, turn-of-the-century debates surrounding prostitution were inextricably linked to discussions of the current state of marriage and its possible reform. Although on the surface bourgeois morality dictated that prostitution...
2. Righteous Women and Lost Girls:Radical Bourgeois Feminists and the Fight for Moral Reform
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In 1907, the Berlin feminist Anna Pappritz published a collection of prostitutes’ biographies entitled Die Welt, von der man nicht spricht! (The World of Which One Dares Not Speak!). A tireless critic of regulated prostitution, Pappritz directed the Berlin chapter of the International Abolitionist Federation (IAF), an organization that fought to end state regulation, its policing of prostitutes, and its implicit protection...
3. Naughty Berlin? New Women, New Spaces, and Erotic Confusion
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If traditional bourgeois morality and social structures came under fire in Wilhelmine Berlin, then the First World War, the political revolution of 1918 and 1919, and the inflation years that followed “destroyed conventional notions of respectability and faith in authority.”1 Turn-of-the-century activism on the part of social reformers and progressive feminists certainly laid the groundwork for change...
4. Working Girls: White-Collar Workers and Prostitutes in Late Weimar Fiction
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In the later years of the Weimar Republic, public offi cials grappled with the overt expression of female sexuality and struggled to redefi ne prostitution in light of new public health legislation. On October 1, 1927, the Law to Combat Venereal Diseases (Reichsgesetz zur Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten; RGBG) went into effect, and with it, prostitution was offi cially decriminalized. Former “morals...
Conclusion: Berlin Coquette
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Without question, between the years 1890 and 1933, Berlin was known as a city of whores.1 Berlin-based writers, artists, social reformers, journalists, municipal politicians, police officials, and prostitutes themselves acknowledged this, and many of them fed this image. Consider, for example, the voices that emanate from various documents of the Weimar era: “Sexual intercourse with prostitutes is unavoidable...
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Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth