The Portrayal of Woman in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna

Topics: Vienna, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt Pages: 8 (3105 words) Published: May 2, 2011
We cannot begin to understand the response towards the contemporary patriarchal attitudes and theories toward women that the artists of the Vienna Secession manifested without discussing the men whose eyes interpreted the women of fin-de-siècle Vienna. During fin-de-siècle Vienna women were beginning to gain ground towards emancipation from oppressive patriarchal order of the Viennese society. The manifestation of these contemporary patriarchal attitudes is a complex one and rather difficult to define for many of the artists of the Secession had different ways of manifesting their personal attitudes toward women of the time. It could be argued that the artists of the time responded with a split image of women; the split between love and admiration and the threat that an independent woman could create within the identity of men (Natter 74). We could also argue that they created images of emancipated women in their works. To engage us on these concepts we can look at secessionist artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and how they engaged in representing women through their personal vision as men and why feminists did not necessarily accept them. We can also look how the secessionist engaged themselves with the female enterprise and visual responses to female emancipation attempts. The men of fin-de-siècle Vienna also created a resurge of the femme fatale image and created a link of psychological hysteria with femininity as a way to retaliate toward women’s rights movement. These protection mechanisms that men produced were a way to control women and give reason for their actions. Needless to say men of the time had plenty to express through actions and art. Women were finally beginning to assert themselves in fin-de-siècle Vienna. They were now permitted to attend the University of Vienna in1897 despite the fact they could not take a degree (Sengoopta 32). They were also gaining control of their own lives such as owning property, smoking, riding bicycles, and participating in politics, which to some men of the time was extremely apocalyptic (West 86). Women were grabbing foothold in the society that they lived in, but the changing shift within the society was a cause for men in Vienna to launch their own form of retaliation on women. Like we still do today, women learn about what it means to be a woman and how to act from art and other media forms. Men controlled these aspects of Viennese society and culture and therefore created the image of women, for the women. This created a difficult hurdle for Viennese females to climb in terms of psychological emancipation along with equal rights. Men started to using psychological theory to prove that women were unintelligent, inferior, unable to govern themselves, and unfit to participate in society (West 86). They were told by medical theory scholars in Vienna that women were considered functional only in the roles of a mother or prostitute. Friedrich Nietzsche argued emancipation would lead to the degeneration of women, making them incapable of their “first and last profession—to give birth to strong children” (Sengoopta 30). Body and mind of the female was believed to be designed to carry out the need to procreate the human species only (Sengoopta 30). The German psychiatrist Paul Julius Mobius had clamed that the female mind was naturally inferior and weak compared to that of the male whose mind was designed to be intelligent and create and participate in society (Sengoopta 31). Mobius also goes on to state, “creative intelligence in a woman was not a sign of superiority but of degeneration of the female kind”. It was thought that woman who chose to engage in education and literary circles were not normal or, for that matter, healthy. It can then be argued that women, and what they could create competitively if educated, threatened the men and the image of themselves in Viennese society. For example, Gustav Mahler requested of his composer-fiancée Alma Schindler that...
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