Weltschmerz and women: the ugly reality

As a kid you might have adored the soundtrack and aesthetic campness of the Wizard of Oz. As an adult you might have realised the dark reality behind the filming. Torturous costumes, significant injuries, and an overall toxic working environment- it seems this fantasy is not what it seems once you pull back the emerald curtain.

The contrast between your idealised expectations of life and the world, and the reality of the state in which you live- is what the Germans call weltschmerz.

Or more specifically, is a term coined by Jean-Paul in his book Selina, that was published posthumously in 1827.

A new understanding of weltschmerz came into being during the romantic era in which Jean-Paul wrote. A period that dominated Germany, influencing not only literature but philosophy also.

But why is a concept that gained popularity in the 18th century still pestering us in the 21st?

Weltschmerz translated literally from German to English means ‘world pain’.

Psychological studies suggest that weltschmerz, or feeling world-wearied occurs as a result of disillusionment- the psycho-emotional disappointment you experience when discovering something to be of less good than expected.

It often takes its form in feelings such as apathy, pessimism, or melancholy. These emotions have been explored throughout the years by writers, with a recent example being Caroline Criado Perez.

Perez’s 2020 book Invisible Women navigates social inequality and its physical manifestations, emphasising that the world is built in ways that can exclude and oppress women.

While not writing directly about weltschmerz, this book opens up a socio-political commentary, backed by data. This allows it to be viewed as a pinpoint map for the ways in which the world we live in has fallen short of the ideal, especially in regard to women.

A glimpse into the book includes data from workplace discrimination to gendered manufacturing. It’s in this way that Invisible Women speaks to the notion of weltschmerz.

The statistics in this book are factual and impact women every single day. Weltschmerz isn’t about wondrous, naïve notions of the world you imagined as a child, it’s about the realisation of the world you have grown into. It’s about seeing the horrific truth of the world that erects barriers and obstacles against your personal freedom.

That dawning feeling of weltschmerz is manifested in the belief that you are inadequate to meet the challenges of the world. But the only way to combat it is to progress towards change, believing instead that the world is unfit or unwilling to meet your needs.

But when bad news seems to be circling like a predator, it can be difficult to see the silver lining.

My boyfriend likes to read the news every morning, usually over breakfast, and as we eat he reads out headlines and sentences that he thinks will catch my interest.

So while I’m crunching marmite toast, preparing for the day ahead, I’m hearing about climate change, political corruption, poverty and violence. Before the day has even begun, I can’t help but feel how bleak the world is.

I’m thankful that I have passed the stage of general apathy, but sometimes I do wish I could care a little less about what’s going on in the world.

Sylvia Plath sums up this feeling in her hit novel, The Bell Jar.

“The world itself, is a bad dream.”

The Bell Jar

This nightmarish reality is only worsened when it comes to women.

Balancing the pressures of the feminist ideal and trying not to perpetuate stereotypical domestic roles can be exhausting.

And this only continues into the professional world, where in many cases women are expected to be “outstanding” while cis, white men can float by on the privilege of their gender.

Even the news itself is especially heinous to women. Between 1985 and 2019, 70% of serial killers victims were female ( G and B Magazine ).

While we can assume that many woman are world-weary, what to do with this information is a bit more unclear.

It seems women in contemporary society are limited to two options when it comes to tackling weltschmerz.


While I would like to call this option self-improvement, the psychological reasoning behind these decisions makes it seme more like a protective measure, then area to work on.

Laura Browder explores a similar concept, arguing that women view true crime media as a “how-to guide for personal survival”.

Obviously some people consume true crime as a form of dark entertainment, but it could also be that some view education on the subject as a protective measure in avoiding being a victim.

At the other end of this spectrum are those who avoid consuming any negative media, whether it be news or true crime books- in a way creating an illusion that the world isn’t as negative as it seems.


These are the women that commit their time to the growth of the greater good of the world overall. They are actively working towards improving the conditions that we live in.

This may be in a career capacity such as a humanitarian aid worker but it also includes those involved in activism in causes such as feminism, climate change, poverty and classism, racism etc.

Notice how neither option caters to the damsel rhetoric of a hero swooping in and saving the day.

Women are more inclined to weltschmerz because they often don’t have the fair opportunity to exist and thrive but instead have to fight to survive.

To then consider women who are also part of minority groups e.g ethic minorities or sexuality minorities, creates a plethora of reasons they may be feeling world-weary.

But until I can figure out a way out of weltschmerz, I guess I’ll try to focus on the brighter things in life.

Featured image credit: Pexels

A/N: Leave comments of your favourite tips to get rid of world-weariness/ Weltschmerz? e.g a favourite song, coping technique, affirmations, habits etc.


leave comments of something you saw/heard/did that made you happy this week 🙂

Author: Chloe

21 year old queer poet and journalist 😎

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