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  • What Difference Does a Husband Make?: Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany
  • Barbara Bari
What Difference Does a Husband Make?: Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany. By Elizabeth D. Heineman (Berkekey: University of California Press, 1999. xviii plus 374pp. $45.00).

What Difference Does a Husband Make? rivets the reader’s attention from the book’s intriguing title to its dramatic insights into the ideologies and realities of marital status in Germany from 1933 to 1961. Heineman offers a powerful analysis of social constructs regarding women that crosses conventional political chronology and national boundaries. By focusing on the centrality of the family, the author finds important linkages among Nazi Germany, the Federal Republic, and the German Democatic Republic. Political regimes were distinct, but the condition of marital status was a common denominator for social and public policy. Governments not only labeled married and single women as separate, but they also assigned social status and apportioned material resources accordingly. Laws, programs, prohibitions, and benefits were manipulated to secure ideological visions and to shape productive and reproductive behavior. Using marital status as a category of difference, Heineman presents a unique conceptualization of gender politics and a comprehensive interpretation of divergent governmental systems. Her argument is compelling. Heineman has written a sophisticated and nuanced study that provides an innovative design for comparative analysis. The book is structured chronologically and thematically. Individual chapters consider the formation of the Nazi state, Germany at war, Allied occupation, construction of the Federal Republic, and the establishment of the GDR. Housewives and mothers who stayed home to care for complete families were highly regarded in Nazi Germany and the Federal Republic. The Communist regime in East Germany dictated that women promote family life while simulaneously contributing to the state by joining the labor force. “Women standing alone” was both image and reality in wartime and postwar Germany. Heineman adopted this concept from Meyer/Schulze, Wie wir das alles geschafft haben, Alleinstehende Frauen berichten über ihr Leben nach 1945 (1985). However, the author broadens the perception to frame questions about the role of marriage in defining women’s identity as the various governments sought to politicize private life. Marital status forms the conceptual continuity. Heineman reaches deep into laws and policies regarding marriage, divorce, widowhood, illegitimacy, welfare, pensions, and labor force participation to locate the multiple minutiae that determined women’s lives. With captivating subtlety the author reveals women’s resonance with state regulations that alienated whole groups who did not match prescribed norms. [End Page 465]

While Nazi ideology promoted marriage and motherhood, Heineman reveals how single women were actively sought for their special contributions to the state. These women were drawn into the labor force; they were organized into female service associations; and they were recruited for war duty. Dividing women into separate spheres according to marital status made it possible for many women to inhabit the traditional and private world of housewife and mother, while single women functioned in the public domain of work and war. Legal stipulations and policies were micrified to such a degree that practically all aspects of women’s lives were managed. The exception, of course, was married women’s resistance to work in wartime.

Heineman devotes three chapters to the postwar period and the reconstruction of West Germany. Interjacent are women’s war years, 1943–1948, when deprivation and destruction were most intense. “Women of the rubble” and “surplus women” became infomative stereotypes. Women’s activities and experiences were elevated as symbols for German national identity; heroes and victims were gender based. Reconstructing Germany also meant reconstructing the family by restoring marital status to a central place in political and social policy. Despite the guarantee of equal rights in the Grundgesetz, unmarried women were marginalized by provisions that afforded special protections for marriage and the family. Equality and protection were hard to reconcile, but the married housewife with children was normative regardless of the implicit tension. Although Heineman carefully considers ideological infusion in her treatment of the Nazi and Communist states, she should do more with the confessional framing of public policy in West Germany. Liberal democracy is a secular notion that masks...

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pp. 465-467
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