The Fair Sex in Berlin
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 10/11/2023Back to Blog
Newspaper “Voice of Cyprus,” December 25, 1891
Those Berliners! Recently, we reported the disrespect of the police towards the ladies’ attire (fines for long dresses touching the ground and raising dust). Today, we report on further measures by the city’s merchants towards the female employees in their shops.
It was decided that saleswomen and cashiers must:
a.wear a uniform black attire,
b. comb their hair not in the current fashion but simply, without any volume at the back, and
c. not wear any jewelry.
Anyone not complying with these rules will be dismissed and not accepted by other shopkeepers. But why such severity, Berliners? Are your aristocratic ladies afraid of competition from the poor girls? Do you think that saleswomen are prettier than the buyers? Or do the ladies of the merchants envy them? Is it perhaps to protect their morality through these measures? Which of these three is the primary motive!
I must admit that the above news, published on Christmas Day in 1891, surprised me not only for its content but also for the progressive spirit of its author. In 19th-century Cyprus, recently liberated from Ottoman rule, with few educated citizens, someone had the courage to criticize the oppressive behavior of Germans towards the saleswomen of that era!
The director and editor of the newspaper “Voice of Cyprus” was Mr. G. Nicolopoulos. I believe he is the author of the news because at that time, there were probably not many journalists participating in the publication of a weekly newspaper. It was the work of one man. Mr. Nicolopoulos, 122 years later, a fellow countrywoman congratulates you on your free spirit! Well done!
Now back to the content of the news. If we imagine the attire of Berlin’s saleswomen, we might associate them with nuns or prisoners. Mr. Nicolopoulos’s comments are very accurate. It was inevitable that from such a culture, the Third Reich would later emerge.
This news from 1891 reflects part of the oppression women experienced in the 19th century, not so far from today! And even more recent are the dates when women gained the right to vote and the right to have a say in public affairs, as shown below.
In 1891, the women’s liberation and suffrage movement were already underway. In Europe, this right was established in the early 20th century, at different times for each country. New Zealand was the first country globally to grant women the right to vote, in November 1893. Exactly a hundred and thirty years ago. Old Europe moved more slowly, perhaps because conservatism and puritanism were deeply rooted in societies.
In Cyprus, women officially voted for the first time in the 1950 referendum and later in 1959 for the election of the Republic’s president. However, they had voted once in 1905 under peculiar conditions, and details can be found in the reference following this text.
In Greece, women had the right to vote for the first time in municipal elections in 1934 and in parliamentary elections in 1952. In the United Kingdom, women gained the right to vote in 1918, the same year this right was granted in Germany. Perhaps the last country in Europe to give women the right to vote was Switzerland, as strange as it may seem. Women voted for the first time in 1971!
Today, women in advanced societies must be very grateful for the freedom and independence we experience. It was not always like this, not even in the most “civilized” countries. Of course, not everything is perfect in our time either. The struggle must continue. Many women are still oppressed and unfairly treated, especially in Muslim countries.
What matters is for each of us to recognize our nature and assert, with dignity, courage, and solidarity, what we demand.
As for the “dress code,” it exists today. It’s not always bad; it tries to maintain a level of dress in the professional sector. However, it should never compromise the dignity of the female nature. It should be, at the very least, empowering.
Each separate paragraph of this text could be a topic for discussion. However, let’s accept them as headings, and those interested can write their opinions. They are always welcome.
Have a good day!