Humanities Brown Bag Seminar

Monday, December 5, 2022
12:00pm to 1:00pm
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Dabney Hall, Garden of the Associates
Power over One's Body: Childbirth Activism in Divided Germany
Jennifer Rodgers, Research Assistant Professor of History, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Caltech; Einstein Papers Project,
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Abstract: In late 1961, the Berliner Zeitung published an article on the importance of educating women about childbirth. It highlighted the leitmotif of an East German obstetrician's recently published booklet: "Knowledge is power and knowledge about one's body is power over one's body." Barely a decade later and spurred by the women's and women's health movements, birth activists in West Germany began promoting a similar message. East and West Germany engaged with and produced a large corpus of domestic and transnational print and film media about demystifying parturition, empowering women, and restoring bodily autonomy in childbirth. This talk examines how the experience of childbirth evolved in East and West Germany after 1950 as well as how Cold War tensions shaped it. It considers how factors such as shifting social structures and cultural norms helped reframe women's expectations of childbirth and upend normative medical and gender hierarchies. It also explores how childbirth activism created discursive spaces for women and a means to openly protest state structures. But childbirth was not only being renegotiated in divided Germany: birth activism was a transnational movement that transcended the Cold War divide. This talk thus probes how obstetric knowledge circulated within the two Germanies, what influence external agents had on German birth cultures, and, finally, how East and West Germany exported childbirth activism, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at cecilial@caltech.edu.