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A compilation of 20 portraits of women

Woman ( Middle High German  frouwe , from Old High German  frouwa "noble, high woman; mistress", like Old High German frō and Gothic frauja , "Lord", to Germanic fraujan "Lord"), Latin and technically also Femina , designates a female adult . Female children and adolescents are referred to as girls . The polite form of address for a woman in German is Frau followed by the family namethe addressed. In some sports, the designation as a lady is still common.

Women with typical genetic development have an XX chromosome pair and, unlike men , are usually able to become pregnant and give birth to children from puberty to menopause . The female anatomy, unlike the male, includes the fallopian tubes , ovaries , uterus , vagina , vulva , paraurethral gland , and Bartholin's glands . The adult female's pelvis is wider, the hips are wider, and the chest is larger than that of an adult male. Women have significantly less facial and other body hair, higher body fat composition, and are smaller and less muscular on average than men.

Throughout human history , traditional gender roles have often defined and constrained women's activities and opportunities (compare femininity ). Especially with the achievement of universal suffrage for women , the role restrictions in many societies loosened in the course of the 20th century (compare gender order ); Women were given access to careers, opportunities for advancement and higher education and were no longer restricted to traditional housewife roles.

The word "woman" refers to the biological sex "female", in more recent usage also to a female gender identity , for example in the case of transgender people who identify as women (compare gender ). A transgender woman was assigned the male gender at birth , while an intersex woman may have sex characteristics that do not fully correspond to typical characteristics of female biology.

biological characteristics

Genetic Traits

karyotype of a woman

From a molecular -biological point of view, the woman differs from the man through the XX chromosome pair in the sex chromosomes . This difference results in sexual dimorphism , forming chromosomal sex . The meeting of an X chromosome from the mother's side ( egg cell ) and an X chromosome from the father's side ( sperm ) in the zygote results in the formation of the sexual organs during embryonic development. Women usually have two X chromosomes in their chromosome set , while men usually only have one X and the sex- determining Y chromosome , on which the sex determining region of Y (SRY) lies and in men it is responsible for embryonic production of the testis- determining factor (TDF ), a protein , is responsible. When TDF is formed, male characteristics are formed. In the absence of the TDF, female characteristics form. Due to various genetic causes, an embryo can exceptionally develop into a female baby despite having a 46,XY chromosome set (see also XY woman ).

Morphological and physiological features

pregnant woman
woman with infant

Females differ physically from males in the primary and secondary sex characteristics , the somatic sex. The primary sexual characteristics of women are the actual female sex organs , most of which are located in the body and are used for reproduction. Female secondary sexual characteristics include, for example , breasts , body shape, less body hair, and voice.

The internal sexual organs of the woman consist of the uterus located in the body with the paired fallopian tubes and the female gonads , the ovaries , in which the egg cells are created and mature as female germ cells. The uterus is connected via the vagina to the vulva , which forms the woman's primary external sex organs. The vaginal exit lies between the small and large labia in the vaginal vestibule , into which the urethra as the outlet of the urinary bladder also opens. The clitoris is located on the front fold of the labia minora as a cylindrical, erectile organ formed by cavernous body tissue, which is interspersed with sensitive nerve endings and is therefore particularly able to react to touch.

After the birth of a child, breast milk is produced in the female breasts , which together with the mammary glands in them belong to the secondary sexual characteristics and only develop during puberty . can be fed.

Besides the different reproductive organs and breasts, there tend to be some other physical differences between males and females, also known as tertiary sex characteristics. For example, the female bone structure , especially in the pelvis , differs significantly from that of men. The facial skeleton differs slightly, and the proportion of muscles and the distribution and expression of fatty tissue is usually different than in men. Woman's body tends to be less muscular than man's ; while the proportion of skeletal muscle tissue in women averages about 23 percent, it is around 40 percent in men. The difference is mainly due to the effect of the male sex hormone testosterone , which has a strong muscle-building effect. As a result, an average woman can only develop about 65% of the muscular strength of an average man. Also hormonally related is a higher susceptibility of women to the bone-degrading disease osteoporosis , which affects about 25% of women after menopause and is mainly due to the lack of production of estrogens after menopause . This disease can also occur in men, but occurs less frequently and usually at an older age.

There is another striking difference between the sexes in the frequency spectrum of the human voice due to the different size of the larynx and the length of the vocal cords.

The degree to which physical characteristics, if they are also individually present, are regarded as "typically female" depends on upbringing and conditioning. All women also have so-called "male parts" - and vice versa (see femininity and masculinity ).

Hormonal characteristics and menstruation

Schematic representation of the ovarian cycle

A major difference between men and women is formed by the hormonal makeup and the menstrual cycle that is controlled by it . The hormonal regulation is mainly due to the interaction of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH hormone), which is formed in both sexes in certain cells of the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland (adenohypophysis), and the estrogens and progesterone formed in the ovaries in follicles and in the corpus luteum as well as due to the luteinizing hormone .

The cycle consists of a regular and approximately monthly rhythm, in which the maturation of an egg cell in an ovarian follicle in the ovary until ovulation takes place about halfway through the cycle period. As the ovum moves down the fallopian tube to the uterus, the follicle becomes the corpus luteum and eventually completely degrades. Parallel to egg maturation, an endometrium and a mucous plug ( cervical mucus ) are built up in the uterus and in the area of ​​the cervix , which in the case of fertilization can absorb the zygote that is then forming and nourish it as placenta . If fertilization and embedding of the egg cell does not occur, the endometrium is broken down again at the end of the cycle and leads to the woman having menstrual bleeding .

In addition to the changed levels of the hormones involved, which in the case of FSH, LH and estrogens have their highest value at ovulation and in the case of progesterone rise and fall during the second half of the cycle, as well as the organic changes in the endometrium and cervix , the woman's basal body temperature also changes, rising after ovulation and falling again before menstruation begins.

The Woman in Cultural History

The role of women in society differs depending on the different cultures and has changed significantly over time and the development of cultures.

Women in prehistory and in primitive peoples

Caring for children restricts women's mobility ( Yanomami women with children)
Mandan Girls Picking Berries (Edward S. Curtis, c. 1908)

The role of women is different in recent and historical primitive peoples . In most peoples, they mainly take on the role of raising and educating children and therefore usually stay close to the settlements. In hunter-gatherer cultures , she is usually the person who tends the fire and prepares the food. In addition, she collects or collected plant food and small animals in the vicinity of the camp as a basis for food and prepares the food, while the man usually works on the is hunting and provides the protein-rich meat. In traditional digging and chopping block cultures , most of the work to provide food is done by women, which means that matriarchal structures often prevailed in these peoples. In contrast, it plays a lesser role in the procurement of food among nomadic pastoralists .

Some anthropologists , such as Margaret Ehrenberg , assume that prehistorically women were more respected than men. For the early groups of hunters and gatherers, female members were possibly economically more important due to the greater consistency of income as gatherers compared to the changing success of the hunters. With their ability to give birth, women contributed to the maintenance of the group. The fact that the mother of a child can always be named without a doubt, but this does not apply to paternity, is said to have strengthened the role of women within the group. However, it is disputed whether one can speak of a gender hierarchy for prehistory at all.

In foraging cultures , men were responsible for the hunt. Meat, with its protein and fat, was a valuable food, especially in cold, northern latitudes. Women secured the basis of nutrition by collecting fruits, herbs and seeds; however, female hunters have also been identified. While the men roamed, women took care of the rest of life: preparing food, tending the fire after it was tamed, caring for supplies, building huts, nursing the infants, and raising the young children in groups. Women formed the group's more stabilizing, tightly knit network .

The first cults and religions , in which ancestors and mainly female deities were worshiped , are said to have arisen in the Palaeolithic to enable women to give life . This notion serves as a basis for the widespread, but not undisputed, idea that prehistory is to be assumed to be a matriarchy . With archaeological means, however, it is not possible to make such far-reaching statements about the form of society.

According to Ehrenberg, women are said to have had a significant share in the development of agriculture and other cultural techniques or to have invented them. In the Neolithic Age , the new way of doing business was accompanied by significant population growth, since production surpluses could be hoarded for the first time. As a result, the first social differences emerged. In this process, which lasted several thousand years, it is assumed that the symbolic or actual priority of women or the equality of the sexes shifted in favor of men. This was probably due to an increased involvement of men in agricultural plowing and harvesting, along with large and small livestock and husbandry, which weakened the position of women.

women of old age

Classic antiquity was organized patriarchally and the role of women was subordinate to that of men. In ancient Greece , women were confined to their household chores and had limited legal capacity.

This was also true in ancient Rome , where women were subordinate to their father or husband to a large extent without rights . In the house, however, she was self-employed and a married woman enjoyed social respect. Around 100 BC their legal status was progressively improved.

The Teutons and other peoples were also organized in a strongly patriarchal way. Here the woman had no legal capacity and passed from paternal power to that of the husband. However, respect for the woman, who was also viewed as a potential seer , and a woman's duty to protect , mitigated the harshness of the law and potential punishments by man.

women in early Christianity

There are indications in the letters of Paul that women may have played leading roles in early Christianity . It is true that Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians contains the "Pauline commandment of silence" for women in the church community. However, there are suspicions that it was only added later, since the same letter writes about how women should pray or prophesy.

In principle, however, the role and position of women did not change in the early church , with the growing importance in Rome. It was considered the "vessel of sin". Until the time of the Frankish Empire in the 5th to 9th centuries , men had legal gender guardianship over their wives . This increasingly decreased towards the Middle Ages and became an obligation to provide assistance and to act as an administrator in legal matters.

Women in the late Middle Ages to modern times

In the later Middle Ages, due to wars , feuds , and disease, there arose a severe excess of women in society, which led to sociological problems. There were 1,150 women for about 1,000 men, a surplus of about 15%, and women became more important in the town's economy and trades. The reputation and social position of women increased up to around 1650 due to the trades newly founded by women from around 1300 onwards . Legally, women were given equal rights to men in trade, for example in the Hamburg city law of 1603.

Albrecht Dürer 1491: The four witches

However, some of these laws were withdrawn in the late Middle Ages and early modern period , and by the revival of ancient ideals in the Renaissance , as well as by contemporary interpretation of Roman law and witch -hunts . The latter in particular led to massive bondage of women, who ran the risk of being persecuted and killed on accusations of witchcraft and “sexual anomalies”. About 100,000 women fell victim to this persecution.

From about the second half of the 17th century, women from the upper social classes increasingly succeeded in gaining access to higher education and thus established the status of "scholarly" and later of "gallant women". In the Rococo , it was above all these women who helped determine social and intellectual development. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, women like Rahel von Varnhagen and Bettina von Arnim became central figures in literary salons , and some women like Anna Luise Karsch and George Sand were able to establish themselves as writers. At this time, the political women's movement began, which campaigned for legal equality for women and their independence in public life. Only with the General German Commercial Code of 1897 did women regain their former legal status in commerce, at about the same time and shortly thereafter women in individual countries gained the right to stand as a candidate and later also the right to vote .

The woman in society

Social role and emancipation

In many cultures , especially non-Western ones , there is a more or less pronounced gender division of labor . In many traditional societies , women are generally assigned predominantly reproductive tasks and men productive tasks. The reproductive tasks in a society include in particular the upbringing and care of children, but also the care of sick and old people, the provision of food, clothing, etc. This division of labor is very old and did not necessarily go hand in hand with women being subordinate. The conditions that led to women becoming economically and socially dependent on men and having to submit to them can only be answered in the historical context of environmental conditions, culture, worldview or religion, society and economics.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in all European countries only men were legally capable of acting, and an unmarried woman required a guardian . This is still the case in many countries outside Europe. The question of the right to self-determination over one's own body and the classification and scope of the rights of Nasciturus in the event of pregnancy is still controversial today , although a number of states introduced more liberal abortion laws in the course of the 20th century .

The women's movements in the USA and Europe since the end of the 19th century and the emancipation of women they triggered called into question traditional patriarchal gender roles in the western world . Today women, especially in Western countries, have access to any vocational training and in most countries they are legally equal to men. In Germany there are some laws (e.g. § 56 Para. 2 Clause 8 SGB VI, § 2 BGG) which women prefer in order to implement actual equality between women and men.

In societies in which the status of a woman is defined, real or supposed, partly by her beauty, a veritable "beauty craze" can arise, which can lead to mental disorders such as eating disorders .

women in the world of work

Nurse in Ethiopia preparing an injection Metal worker at lathe, manufacturing wartime aircraft, USA, 1942
Nurse in Ethiopia preparing an injection
Metal worker at lathe, manufacturing wartime aircraft, USA, 1942

The labor market in Western Europe is gender segregated , with an above-average number of women in reproductive and service occupations: educational and training occupations, nursing occupations, sales and commercial occupations. One also speaks of women's domains . Gender segregation is also evident within occupational fields that are typical for women, so that, in relation to the total population in the occupational field examined, there are an above-average number of women in management positions. In addition, in professional fields such as nursing or lower school teachers, despite intensive political efforts, the wage level has so far been lower than in professional fields in which an above-average number of men work, such as construction or production.

women in politics

In most countries of the world, women are underrepresented in government and politics. In January 2019, the average proportion of women in national parliaments globally was 24.3%. The highest percentage of women in parliament was in the Nordic countries , at 42.5% , while the average for other European countries was 27.2%. The Pacific States have the lowest shares with 16.3%, the Middle East and North Africa with 19.0% and the Asian States with 19.9%. In southern Africa (sub-Saharan Africa) the shares were 23.9% and in the countries of North and South America 30.6%.

The right to vote as a civil right was denied to women in numerous western countries until the 20th century. In New Zealand , women were granted the right to vote in 1893 and the right to stand as a candidate in 1919 , thereby claiming to have been “the first self-governing country in the world” with women's suffrage. The newly formed Commonwealth of Australia , which was ceded to state sovereignty by Great Britain, followed the example of New Zealand in 1902, but at the same time introduced passive and active electoral rights. In 1919, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was the first Muslim-majority country to introduce women's suffrage equal to men. On April 30, 1937, the Philippines let women vote for women in a plebiscite , becoming the second country in Asia to give women the right to vote and stand for election. Women's suffrage was introduced in India in 1950 and in Iran in 1963 .

In Europe, it was well into the 20th century before women were allowed to vote in all states. In Switzerland, women's suffrage was not introduced until the 1971 parliamentary elections, and in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden , women were only given the right to vote in local affairs in 1991, after the canton was forced to do so by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. In Liechtenstein , the right to vote for women was introduced in 1984 through a women's election referendum. In the United States , women's suffrage was gradually introduced, first at the state and local levels. Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and beginning in 1920, women in the United States gained universal suffrage with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution .

Introduction of active women's suffrage worldwide (yellow = no women's suffrage):

women in science

Like many other areas of life, medicine and science were dominated by men until the 20th century and women, with some exceptions, played only a very minor role. Historical evidence of the existence of women scientists has been known since the earliest times. Depending on the region, epoch and social system, the work of the early researchers could gain more or less validity or experience a historical tradition up to the present day. In ancient times and far beyond, women created new knowledge primarily in the fields of medicine and chemistry or alchemy . For example, the Babylonian perfumer Tapputi from the 12th century BC is considered the earliest known chemist in the world. The botanist and physician Artemisia II discovered the healing properties of a number of plants around 300 BC. In ancient Greece , women were forbidden to practice medicine. The philosophers Pythagoras , Socrates and Epicurus questioned the role model and demanded that women be educated with the same intensity as men. However, some mathematical-philosophical schools of thought had many active female members. The mathematician Theano was a teacher in the school of Pythagoras and took over its direction after his death.

US nuclear physicist Shirley Ann Jackson at the 2010 World Economic Forum in China

The European Middle Ages separated researchers into two groups by gender and relocated female science to nunneries. Some women, especially nuns , gained some respect for their activities. Some women's monasteries were able to develop into educational institutions for the daughters of the nobility and also teach natural sciences and medicine there. In the modern universities of the early modern period , women were not admitted, with a few exceptions. In the centuries that followed, science centered itself in a small academic circle from which women were institutionally excluded through extensive gender segregation in the education system.

Since the late 19th century, women in many countries have gradually been admitted to academic qualifications for scientific work. However, there are still more men than women working in university and non-university research worldwide. In OECD countries, however, the lower proportion of female scientists contrasts with a largely balanced ratio of male and female students. In most countries, the participation of women in science is growing slowly and steadily. However, cohort studies indicate that more women than men leave the scientific community from one scientific career level to the next . For example, the proportion of female students in Germany was around 50% in an analysis in 2009 and remained at this level until graduation, although the proportion of women then increasingly decreased:

gender distribution

Old woman

Although slightly more male children are born during times of food sufficiency—the ratio is about 105 to 100—females make up the majority of adults. One of the reasons for this is that men of all ages have a slightly higher mortality rate - especially those under 30 years of age due to accidents. Women have about five years more life expectancy for various reasons, partly due to actual gender differences, partly due to social role.


Middle High German vrouwe , Old High German frouwa are (like the Old Icelandic name of the goddess Freyja ) female formations of a Germanic word for "Lord" that has disappeared in German and that only lives on in word formations such as Corpus Christi and corvee service. The actual meaning of the masculine is "the first"; it belongs to Indo -European prō̆- "forward, in front".

designations for women

Until the 16th century, only adult and/or married persons of the feudal upper class were referred to as "woman" . With the adoption of this form of address by early middle-class classes, the upper class in the 17th century switched to the term “lady” derived from the Latin domina , which is still used in German today as a polite form of address or to name women in sports ( women’s ice hockey ) . Until then, a female adult was referred to as a woman in general and without judgment . As a result, this word has been understood to this day - apart from its use in the adjective "feminine" - mostly as pejorative. The term faires weib, which is only rarely used today, is respectful (see Ode to Joy by Friedrich Schiller). Until the late 20th century, unmarried women were commonly referred to as Fräulein .

In German, many job descriptions such as professions are differentiated depending on whether they are carried out by a man or a woman. In contrast to other differences such as origin, no adjective is used for this, but there are derived ( promoted ) feminine designations for almost all professions, usually made recognizable by appending the ending -in : author, baker . An exception to this is about the carpenter to the carpenter (cf. also Freiin instead of Freifrau ). In the 23rd edition of 2004, the Duden lists all female forms of designation for the first time . If the designation ends in -mann , this is usually replaced by -frau : office clerk → office clerk (above: merchants ). Zimmermaid and Zimmerfrau (landlady) have different meanings , in this case without the easy possibility of forming a masculine form. Few occupations are not labeled differently by gender; so today, after the form of address Fräulein went out of fashion socially, the term Ober is used for both female and male waiters, since the female form Oberin is used in a different context. New designations were created for the female professional titles of midwife and nurse in order to be able to form masculine designations: maternity nurse , nurse (with the female form derived from this: nurse ); since 2020, however, the professional title of midwife has also been valid for male members of the profession (see also Equal linguistic treatment of men and women in professional titles ).

In cover letters and speeches, both the female and the male form of the designation are often expressly mentioned today (see gender-sensitive language and political correctness ). However, since this pair form (double naming) means a noticeable additional effort in longer texts, abbreviations are used in places in order to combine economy and correctness. The best known is the spelling with a slash: students, students (the official orthography only allows hyphens). Not covered by the official rules is the spelling with Binnen-I : students , as well as gender symbols that go beyond the dual gender such as gender gap (students) or gender star (students) . These want to include all genders and gender identities . Emphasizing the activity with participles is also used, so the plural students are intended to address all genders in a sexus -neutral way. In contrast, the so-called “ generic masculine ” is a habit in which grammatically male personal designations or pronouns are used in a generalizing sense ( generic ) if the biological or social sex ( gender ) of the designated person is unknown or should not be important.

In Austria and other German-speaking regions, women or daughters in particular are sometimes still addressed by the titles of their husbands or fathers, such as Frau Director, Frau Doctor or Frau Hofrat . However, this form is used less frequently, in Germany and Switzerland this form of address has largely disappeared. Rarely (not uncommon, but only common in certain parts of Germany and Austria) is the designation of a woman by adding -in to the family name , for example Lutherin or Hübnerin or vulgo names, for example Huberbäurin .

action days

See also

Portal: Women  - Overview of Wikipedia content related to women


web links

Commons : Frauen (women)  - Collection of images
Wiktionary: Frau  – explanations of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Women  – Quotes
Wikisource: Women  - sources and full texts


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  19. ↑ The dictionary of origins (=  The Duden in twelve volumes . Volume 7 ). Reprint of the 2nd edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1997 ( p. 203 ). See also: Friedrich Kluge : Etymological Dictionary of the German Language . 7th edition. Trübner, Strasbourg 1910 ( p. 147 ).
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