Gender and Diversity

 

What is “gender”?

The term “gender” highlights the fact that gender identity, gender roles and expectations are social and cultural constructs. In this context, a distinction is often drawn between “sex” as biological gender and “gender” as social gender, although deconstructionist research approaches have pointed out that supposed “biological” and “natural” gender is a social construct as well (cf. Butler 1990; Voss 2010).

The belief that only two separate, clearly definable genders exist and that, within this binary classification of gender, a person’s physical gender automatically corresponds to their gender identity is called “heteronormativity”.

Gender does not exist separately from other identity categories and power relationships (see "intersectionality"), and is culturally and historically determined; this means that gender as we know it is not necessarily organised and/or does not necessarily exist in the same way at all times and in all places. 

 

Intersectionality

“Intersectionality” is a term that describes the interaction and the mutually causal relationships between categories of difference such as gender, “race”, class, sexuality and disability.

The concept of intersectionality originated in the political, activist and scientific debates and critique of Black feminists. Thus, back in 1851 the former slave Sojourner Truth already criticised the exclusion of Black women by the white feminist movement with her question “Ain’t I a woman?” and argued that the fights against racism, sexism and other dimensions of dominance and repression are inextricably interwoven.

The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw at the end of the 1980s. Using the metaphor of a crossroads or intersection, Crenshaw highlights the fact that US anti-discrimination laws are based on a one-dimensional understanding of difference which causes exclusion, as they cannot encompass the specific discrimination experienced by Black women. Crenshaw describes this paradox by using the image of a crossroads where different dimensions of power meet one another and the risk of an “accident” – i.e. discrimination – is thus increased. However, the specific situation which arises from this concurrence of circumstances cannot be covered by the law, as legal protection from discrimination is based on isolated existing dimensions of power. In the examples discussed by Crenshaw, the discrimination experienced by Black women is thus rendered invisible and anti-discrimination laws are powerless to protect them, as the interaction between sexism and racism is not acknowledged (cf. Crenshaw 1989).

 

Women’s and Gender Studies

Gender Studies as an independent field of research developed out of the feminist research of the 1970s and often take an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach. Gender Studies regard gender as a central structural and perceptional category in social relationships and are concerned with researching the construction and powerful impact of gender in its interaction with other differences.

In its statutes, the mdw is committed to promoting the development and expansion of Women’s and Gender Studies (Women’s Advancement Plan [FFP] 2011, § 11).

An overview of courses in this field of feminist theory, gender and queer studies at the different universities in Vienna can be found in the current “Frauen*forscherin” feminist course guide (SoSe 2017). You will find an overview of gender and gender-sensitive courses at the mdw here.

 

Anti-genderism

Anti-genderism refers to “an ‘anti’-attitude, an opposition to gender or to the concepts which are imputed to this term” (Hark / Villa 2015: 7). Anti-genderism is a partly violent fight against the concept of gender and against the people and institutions who work with this concept, and whom their opponents like to accuse of “gender mania”. Anti-genderism manifests not only in continuing attempts to discredit Gender Studies as an “ideology” or “pseudoscience”, but also in defamation, hate messages and violent threats against individual social scientists. Anti-genderism is thereby closely linked to right-wing populist discourses and rhetoric.

 

Bibliography

Butler, Judith (1990): Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. (German title: Das Unbehagen der Geschlechter, 1991)

Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989): Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. In: University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989 issue, No. 1, 139-167.

Davis, Angela (1983) Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage.

Hark, Sabine / Villa, Paula-Irene (Ed., 2015): Anti-Genderismus. Sexualität und Geschlecht als Schauplätze aktueller politischer Auseinandersetzungen. (“Anti-Genderism. Sexuality and gender as arenas of current political debates”) Bielefeld: transcript.

hooks, bell (1981): Ain't I a Woman. Black Women and Feminism. London: Pluto.

Portal Intersektionalität (“Intersectionalty Portal”): a research platform and practice forum for intersectionality and interdependencies: http://portal-intersektionalitaet.de/startseite/

Voss, Heinz-Jürgen (2010): Making Sex Revisited. Dekonstruktion des Geschlechts aus biologisch-medizinischer Perspektive. (“Making Sex Revisited: Deconstructing sex from a biological and medical point of view”) Bielefeld: transcript.