Enlightenment in Germany: New Public Spheres, Gender as Difference


The Enlightenment was characterized by new forms of communication and participation, but it also brought new forms of demarcation and exclusion. The Enlightenment elite, which consisted of the bourgeoisie and the reform-minded aristocracy, shifted the defining markers of identity away from the status quo and toward its own understanding of culture. Members of the elite distanced themselves from the French-influenced, courtly aristocratic world but at the same time skeptically observed the circulation of new knowledge into the lower middle classes. The new elite used social boundaries to position itself, and it inscribed difference into its own identity. In feudal society, gender relations had depended on social status. So-called bourgeois culture created constructs of masculinity and femininity that were ostensibly universal and dichotomous. Femininity belonged to the German cultural nation [Kulturnation] but was considered physically and mentally inferior and therefore “non-political” or “non-creative.” Educated women participated in the creation of these norms, even if some of them also believed that women were entitled to independent thoughts and opinions.


  1. < Sophie von La Roche
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