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1 - The Psychology and Politics of Mothering: Alice Rühle-Gerstel's Das Frauenproblem der Gegenwart

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2024

Katherine E. Calvert
Affiliation:
University College Dublin
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Summary

Psychoanalysis Captured the public imagination during the Weimar period and reached a wide audience among both specialists and the general public. While the theories of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) were particularly influential, alternative ideas also emerged during this period. One such alternative theory is presented in Alice Rühle-Gerstel's Das Frauenproblem der Gegenwart (Women's Issues in Contemporary Society, 1932), a left-wing study that sought to combine Marxist and Individual Psychology theories to understand women's psychological development. Das Frauenproblem der Gegenwart offers an innovative contribution to discussions of motherhood by questioning biologically essentialist notions of women's personality development while underlining how mothering happens within a specific social and political context rather than in isolation. This work merits attention in light of both its radical positioning and its anticipation of ideas, such as the notion of gender as a social construct, that returned to prominence only in the feminist discourses of the 1970s onward. Rühle-Gerstel's text considers women's experiences broadly, discussing childhood, work, politics, and marriage among other topics. By focusing primarily on Rühle-Gerstel's application of emerging theories of women's psychology to motherhood and women's experiences in the domestic sphere, my analysis in this chapter relocates her radical reimagining of women's mothering within wider discourses of motherhood from the Weimar era.

Alice Gerstel was born into a middle-class German-speaking Jewish family in Prague in 1894. She became interested in socialism around 1917 and remained involved with and supportive of socialist politics throughout her life. Yet she never became a member of a political party. In 1921, she married Otto Rühle, a left-wing politician, former Social Democratic (SPD) member of the Reichstag, and educational theorist. Following the completion of her doctorate, also in 1921, Rühle-Gerstel became acquainted with and studied under Alfred Adler, who developed the theory of Individual Psychology. Rühle-Gerstel and Rühle left Germany in 1932, moving via Prague to Mexico, where Otto's daughter from his first marriage was living with her husband. Rühle-Gerstel struggled to feel at home in Mexico, and Jutta Friederich notes that her letters to friends increasingly hinted at suicidal thoughts. In 1943, Alice Rühle-Gerstel took her own life on the same day that Otto Rühle died of a heart attack.

Rühle-Gerstel's work represents a radical position within Weimar-era discussions of women's role in society, but Frauenproblem should also be viewed within a tradition of left-wing political and philosophical studies of women's place in society.

Type
Chapter
Information
Modeling Motherhood in Weimar Germany
Political and Psychological Discourses in Women's Writing
, pp. 27 - 51
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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