Starving Women – The Power of Hunger in Postwar German Texts

44th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)

March 21-24, 2013

Boston, Massachusetts

Host Institution: Tufts University

The depiction of hunger and food in German literature after 1945 exposes gendered power dynamics: while suffering hunger becomes primarily a female concern during the early occupation, the access to food as a metaphor for patriarchal power is given to male characters both as members of the Allied Forces and bread winners in texts featuring the economic miracle. Marta Hillers’ recently republished autobiography *A Woman in Berlin* has become a prime example in challenging the notion of women as passive victims of hunger and rape during the early occupation in Berlin. In Hillers’ work, starving women actively choose their rapists in order to climb the food ladder, which grants women a ‘semi-desirable’ power position during a time of supposed physical surrender. The (voluntary) participation of women in the exchange economy of trading their bodies for food offers a change for females to alter the rules of a male-dominated society after 1945 and beyond. Multiple paradigm shifts in the depiction of hunger, food and sexual abuse as female experiences after World War II in literature and film suggest that applications of essentialist power dichotomies are insufficient for a diversified understanding of Germany’s past. How do women fight for survival? Were women simply passive victims of hunger and rape during the early occupation in Berlin? What were women’s roles in immediate postwar food distributions? How did women use their bodies to guarantee survival? Other aspects could be hunger, rape and prostitution during the early occupation, overconsumption in the time of the economic miracle, and East German women as bread winners.


Anja Wieden

Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures

State University of New York at New Paltz

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The 2013 NeMLA convention continues the Association's tradition of sharing innovative scholarship in an engaging and generative location. The 44th annual event will be held in historic Boston, Massachusetts, a city known for its national and maritime history, academic facilities and collections, vibrant art, theatre, and food scenes, and blend of architecture. The Convention, located centrally near Boston Commons and the Theatre District at the Hyatt Regency, will include keynote and guest speakers, literary readings, film screenings, tours and workshops.

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