Desiring Emancipation

New Women and Homosexuality in Germany, 1890-1933

By Marti M. Lybeck

Subjects: Lesbian / Gay Studies, European History, Women's Studies, German Culture, German Studies
Series: SUNY series in Queer Politics and Cultures
Paperback : 9781438452227, 300 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9781438452210, 300 pages, July 2014

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. “Are These Women?” University Students’ Quest for a New Gender
2. Experiments in Female Masculinity: Sophia Goudstikker’s Masculine Mimicry in Turn-of the-Century Munich
3. Asserting Sexual Subjectivity in Berlin: The Proliferation of a Public Discourse of Female Homosexuality, 1900–1912
4. Denying Desire: Professional Women Facing Accusations of Homosexuality
5. Emancipation and Desire in Weimar Berlin’s Female Homosexual Public Sphere

Uses historical case studies to illuminate women’s claims to emancipation and to sexual subjectivity during the tumultuous Wilhelmine and Weimar periods in Germany.


Desiring Emancipation traces middle-class German women's claims to gender emancipation and sexual subjectivity in the pre-Nazi era. The emergence of homosexual identities and concepts in this same time frame provided the context for expression of individual struggles with self, femininity, and sex. The book asks how women used new concepts and opportunities to construct selves in relationship to family, society, state, and culture. Taking a queer approach, Desiring Emancipation's goal is not to find homosexuals in history, but to analyze how women reworked categories of gender and sex. Marti M. Lybeck interrogates their desires, demonstrating that emancipation was fraught with conflict, anachronism, and disappointment.

Each chapter is a microhistorical recreation of the actions, writings, contexts, and conflicts of specific groups of women. The topics include the experience of first-generation university students, public debates about female homosexuality, and the stories of three civil servants whose careers were ruined by workplace accusations of homosexuality. The book concludes with a debate between the women who joined the 1920s homosexual movement on the meanings of their new identities.

Marti M. Lybeck is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse.