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Abstract

A substantial amount of literature dealing with conceptualisations of the nation has neglected the importance that gender and the politics of reproduction play in the construction of national identities. Analysing images of political campaigns and activists as well as public discourses on motherhood, abortion and childcare, I will illustrate the importance that gender and sexuality assumed in German nation-building projects before and after its unification in 1990.

After 1949, East and West German ideas of nationhood were premised on opposing ideas of gender roles, in that politicians within these two German nations mobilised distinct gender identities to assert their respective political system as superior and progressive. While in East Germany, the progressiveness of the socialist project was measured along the lines of women’s integration into the labour force; in West Germany, the idea that a woman’s identity was primarily rooted in motherhood played an influential role in nationalist discourses. Once East and West Germany reunified in 1990, these opposing ideas of gender roles clashed. This became particularly visible in the context of political debates around abortion and childcare. An analysis of these debates suggests that the “new” unified German nation was premised upon a story in which the West German idea of the housewife-breadwinner model prevailed. This was diametrically opposed to what was framed as the East German “woman-worker” who had free access to abortion, and was abjected as immoral and backward. Analysing how such a national story was constructed is highly valuable, as it elucidates the ways in which gender has become a constitutive and structural element in the nation-building process of unified Germany to the present day.

Note on the Author

Yvonne Frankfurth is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, Department of Sociology. Her research examines the regulation of reproductive technologies in Germany, specifically the prohibition of egg donation and associated ideas of motherhood/nationhood. Using ethnographic fieldwork, she documents the experience of German intended mothers traveling to Austrian fertility clinics for treatment (see www.repro-travel.com). Her research is funded by the Department of Sociology and the ESRC. Broader research interests include medical sociology, gender, reproduction, health and immigration.

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