Women in Men's Clothes

Forgotten champions of emancipation

The Third Sex Issue 3, article 6 (February 1931)

If today a woman has to fight in court for the right to wear men’s clothing that is more appropriate for the exercise of her profession, as happened recently in Paris, one wonders why such a thing is still necessary today. Because today women have so much equality with men in almost all civilized societies that masculine extremists1 claim that the emancipation of men is inevitably necessary. But how young is this equality for women! Less than a hundred years ago, women who dared to strive for emancipation were showered with ridicule and scorn. In September 1846, for example, a note went through the German newspapers under the headline, “The wrong world”

The writer Aston (whose literary achievements, by the way, are largely unknown today), who not only dresses like a man, but also also smokes, rides and drinks like a man, has been expelled from Berlin and has married a man in Dresden. He can cook, knit, sew and spin and is exceptionally happy in a skirt.

Of course, the addition about marriage is a malicious invention because even few authorities today understand the metatropism2 and transgender identities3 involved here. At that time, however, such a man would probably have been put under lock and key very quickly by the pre–March 18484 police.

But this long–forgotten Ms. Aston wasn’t the only extreme suffragette of her time. Because a few weeks later, the German newspapers reported a second case, which is also opened with malicious lies. It says:

The well–known Madame Lehmann, who delighted the Königsbergers with her public appearance in men’s clothing, smoking cigars, etc., has been forbidden by the police under threat of punishment from appearing in such abnormal costume because this could result in street crowds and the like. Madame Lehmann then submitted a complaint to the government against the police chief Lauterbach. In it, she ascribes both the four months’ imprisonment that she endured because of her alleged participation in political machinations and the measure currently taken against her because of wearing trousers to Mr. Lauterbach’s personal animosity against her, connected with previous circumstances. They ask the Government to protect her against further interference by this Lord in her human rights. The complaint aroused varied interest because of its naive wording and because of the persons concerned and is circulated in many copies.

So back then in Königsberg people made fun of this woman, who is so controversial for her fight for her own human rights — the phrase reveals the nearness of the great revolution!

And this woman probably came to her behavior not only through disposition, but also through fate. This is revealed by the remark about what she says was her supposed “participation in political machinations”. During the period of the Polish November 1830 Uprising5, many women put on men’s clothing, partly out of enthusiasm for fighting, partly to evade the brutalities of the Tsar’s Cossack hordes. Even today you can find a picture of a Countess Emilia Plater in an Uhlan cavalry uniform here and there, even on the Rhine, dating from that time.

  1. männliche Extremisten 

  2. metatropism was Hirschfeld’s term (related to heliotropism) for reversed gender roles in heterosexual relationships, where the woman is sexually aggressive and conquering and the man is passive and supportive. 

  3. Transvestitismus 

  4. vormärzlichen Polizei. This refers to the repressive Metternich–era police state before the March 1848 revolution 

  5. Polenschwärmerei