The New Woman:
- The new woman is a multi-layered figure of both cultural and social value. She is the new feminist ideal
- Shell-shocked population after the aftermath of WWI not only because of the horrific nature of war that saw unseen mass destruction but also that Germany lost the war
- The Weimar period was perhaps a crisis of masculinity.
- During the war, many women were in the labour force, working in factories and supporting the economy.
- During the early 20th century, many western societies of Europe and North America began to have protests and demonstrations to fight for the women’s right to vote.
- The typical role of women was to stay at home and perform domestic tasks, but during the Weimar Republic, more and more women were out on the streets, which was very unusual and atypical of what was the norm.
- Many women began to dress more loosely and had more freedom to what they wanted to wear, and at that time was seen as quite sexualised but appalling because women had clothes that revealed more of their body. In addition, they decided to cut their hair shorter and even shave their legs. Engage in more material consumption including driving cars. Some even were cabaret-like and having short haircuts and pencil skirts
- Many men were physically or psychologically wounded and had a difficult time to go back to the workforce or even to vote. That meant that women could take over some of the jobs men used to do or for instance, they began to fill more jobs that were visible throughout society, such as tram conductor and department store clerk, as well as factory workers, lawyers, and doctors.
- As women gained more power in both society and government, gradually cofusion of roles for women and men started to confront society as the once sex-segregated workforce (although some professions still had more men than women) became less segregated.
- The paradoxes of the new woman were that they were seen as both the villain and victim in the new modern age.
The new woman was a crisis of modernity but was she the victim or villain?
- The new woman was an economic dependant and independent one in the sense that the economy in the Weimar republic and during WWI depended on women in the labour force but they were also independent themselves.
- The new woman had to balance motherhood and family with work and that could be seen as the victim. They struggle with a double burden both from home and work. Also, they were expected to be the saviours and salvations of society which was a heavy expectational burden placed on women
- However, because they had to balance all of this, they themselves were rationalised and in turn more mechanised and machine-like losing, or at least societies fear of women losing their nurture and caring which at the time, many men perhaps needed to be nurtured after the war, which could be seen as the villain. They were the avant-garde of modernity
- Men were perhaps a bit overwhelmed and feared the power of these women and how they could be both efficient and mechanised yet also nurturing and taking care of both the household and work.
- After women gained the right to vote, the Neue Frau or the New Woman became a trope in German popular culture, representing new discourses about sexuality, reproduction and urban mass society. However, despite getting the right to vote early on in the Weimar Republic the urbane, sexually liberated working women who wore androgynous clothes and cut their hair short, were widely seen as very apolitical.
- These were some of the many social and cultural forces shaping the new womanhood and new woman. Below is a photo demonstrating the New Woman:
This image shows many of the underlying attitudes of the New Woman. The woman is depicted as being both confident and strong because she is not only smoking a cigarette but also wearing an outfit designed for riding the bicycle seen behind her. This would typically by the men’s role or stereotype. However, on the other hand, The man is doing the laundry and is bowed down conveying a submissive pose and perhaps is wearing a bucket. The woman is at a higher pose and so asserts her dominance of the man which would be the complete inversion of what was expected of the role of men and women.
One of Hannah Höch’s works is her photomontage called MOnument one in the series of Aus einem ethnographischen Museum or From an ethnographic museum.
According to MOMA:
Monument I is usually dated to 1924, but the left leg of its figure derives from a 1928 BIZ photograph of actress Lilian Harvey and friends at the beach. (The source for the figure’s other “leg”—as yet unlocated—is an upended reproduction of a bent female arm and hand.) The head was snipped from a photograph of a mask from Gabon (now in the Barnes Foundation) while the torso and arm derive from a reproduction of a stone statue of a Theban goddess. By precisely trimming and fitting these various body parts together, Hoch created an illusion of cohesive wholeness that is nonetheless immediately subverted by the variously colored component paper scraps. The eerie, hybrid figure in this way functions, like the other figures in the Ethnographic Museum series, as a psychological irritant of the first order.
Below is my reverse collage of this painting where I have cut the artwork into different pieces, which of course Höch did but reassembled for contextualization. I have annotated each individual piece on what the image is, what it represents and the significance.
Monument I by Hannah Höch is a photomontage that integrates both the ethnographic studies of exotic cultures of women and female or New Woman imagery that results in an eerie hybrid figure. höch creates an illusion of cohesive wholeness using the pedestal, however, that is subverted by the various colour scraps from other contexts. This re-contextualisation brings critique of the New Woman and ethnographic studying of exotic cultures but also perhaps their similarities. During the Weimar Period, museums displayed artworks of exotic cultures but were heavily misrepresented and the objectification of sometimes real people created erroneous representations. The new woman which was a multi-layered figure of both cultural and social value was the new feminist ideal of the republic. The photomontage displays pieces of African culture such as the head originating from a mask form Gabon and the torso from a stone statue of a Theban goddess, and western women with dismembered body parts of photographs from popular magazines. The sort of dance-like poses connects to a trope of the New Woman being a dancer and the juxtaposition of the two cultures creates a fragmented, grotesque and humourous montage of multi-cultural fragments. The pedestal is a framing device to put the scraps of paper into a museum exhibition context and pedagogical context for education and instruction. This is not a religious or social function but rather the plinth or pedestal elevates these figure to a worshipped places and ancient culture to be studied. However, that western object d’art prevents true understanding and appreciation of the object. Through the visual culture of two vastly separate cultures as interchangeable, Höch may have tried to compare this ethnographic studying to the roles of women in which women were expected to be worshipped and be saviours to societies in similar ways to statues. Höch made a critique and ridiculed typical gender roles and racial stereotypes through her photomontage that re-contextualised the vary stereotypes she attempted to look at from a different lens.
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