Journal Article

Rebellious Girls and Pitiable Women: Abortion Narratives in Weimar Popular Culture

Cornelie Usborne

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 23, issue 3, pages 321-338
Published in print July 2005 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online July 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Rebellious Girls and Pitiable Women: Abortion Narratives in Weimar Popular Culture

Show Summary Details


This article argues for the value of popular culture for the historian, both for its own sake but also for the light it sheds on attitudes to topical issues of the past, in this case abortion. This was one of the discursive obsessions in Weimar Germany, having been at the centre of debates on gender identity and reproductive rights since the First World War. It was the new medium of film which provided the earliest platform to air the dilemma of §218 to a mass audience. The popular women's novel, often also serialized in high circulation journals, followed suit. Both spoke to thousands, sometimes millions, because of the allure of the moving image or the cool, contemporary tone of the Neue Sachlichkeit fiction, but also because the cinema and the illustrated press exploited the existence of a female spectator and reader for mobilizing her interest in the topic and her desire for melodrama. Taking as an example Martin Berger's popular film, Kreuzzug des Weibes (1926) and Irmgard Keun's bestselling novel, Gilgi, eine van uns (1931), the article explores how far fictional abortion narratives supported or challenged dominant views, and whether they diverged from the experiences of ordinary men and women as they emerged in the courtroom during abortion trials. While both these, like most other works of popular culture, perpetuated medical constructs (such as the tragic nature of all abortions, or the danger of all back-street operators) or left-wing propaganda (where the working-class aborting woman was always a victim), a more careful reading between the lines or, in the case of silent film, a prioritizing of the visual image over the written word of the sub- or intertitles, reveals a hidden, more subversive meaning of the story. We can only speculate how women spectators and readers reacted to such abortion stories, especially if these contradicted their own lived experience.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.