Gender studies provoke more people than any other scientific field. Why?
In general, many people have an opinion about gender studies. But most of them have never attended a single course or lecture in this research field. As a former student of gender studies, I noticed that even among students and professors there is a tendency to reject feminist research although most of them have not read a single book or article written by a feminist or queer scholar. This is puzzling to me. Consequently, many people think that they know what gender studies is but they are unable to formulate sound arguments against it.
The so-called gender ideology
The Hungarian government has removed gender studies Master degrees from the list of accredited subjects on October 12, 2018. At the European Feminist Research Conference in September in Göttingen, I attended a talk with Andrea Peto. She is a professor of gender studies at the Central European University in Budapest. According to Peto, the institutions teaching gender studies were given only 24 hours to respond to the proposal. The interference of the Hungarian government into university curriculums is a dangerous undertaking. Scientific research should be free and accessible to everyone. The Hungarian government claims that gender scholars do not find a job in the Hungarian labor market but it does not provide any evidence to prove its point.
Anti-gender advocates call gender studies an ideology. However, this accusation lacks scientific evidence. In general, an ideology is a mindset based on normative ideas and values. Gender studies programs have no ideological framework. It is an interdisciplinary study field. This means that it uses the same methods and theories as other research fields and it adds a focus on gender. For instance, I attended classes with students from economics, political science and history. We analyzed how gender, race and class have an effect on individuals and social groups.
Generally speaking, gender studies does not only pay attention to the social position of women. It also addresses the situation of migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, old people, people of colour, homeless people, people in former colonies etc.
The claim that gender studies is only about LGBTIQ* interests is simply not true. Scholars in the research field do not want to demolish the European family structure consisting of a mother, father and their biological children. However, scholars acknowledge that there are different family structures out there, such as single parent households, homosexual couples and patch-work families. These people have different interests and it is important to listen to them.
Furthermore, the formation of the nuclear family emerged at the same time as capitalism. It is no natural form of being. Beforehand, European families used to live in bigger groups on agricultural land. In the global South, this family structure is still very common. So far, many development worker and foundations neglect such realities. For example, the promotion of girls’ education is a nice development goal. But women also need suitable jobs, health insurance and childcare facilities. This goal is not even achieved for all women in the Western hemisphere. Consequently, many development projects fail because they do not consider the whole picture.
Furthermore, gender studies acknowledges the existence of various sexual orientations. Despite accusations by the anti-gender movement, homosexuality is not a new phenomena. Just think about the same-sex sexual relations in ancient Greece.
Transgenderism is also not a modern invention. For example, the culture of Indian hijras is more than 4,000 years old. In Southeast Asia, there is a ladyboys culture.
However, the present understanding of gender roles is a consequence of religious beliefs, colonialism and capitalism. All over the world, various sexual orientations have existed beforehand and they continue to exist. For example, the scholar Bisi Alimi sheds a light on them in the African context.
The current plan of the U.S. government to not recognize transgender people is based on an ideological understanding of sexuality. Currently, there are 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender. Despite the claims of anti-gender hardliners, biology is not on their side. Biologist Fausto-Sterling found out that human sexual development is not always dichotomous. It is a continuum.
The gender movement
Populist parties, such as the AFD in Germany, argue that a united gender movement is overtaking institutions. This is a wrong accusation. Feminism has never been a unified project. There are many different groups active in the field, such as liberal, radical, Marxist, queer and anti-colonial feminists. They have different perspectives and advocate for different aims. For example, Ivanka Trump has a different understanding of feminism as Angela Davis.
This diversity of perspectives is prevalent in gender studies as well. However, feminist science unites a post-positivist standpoint. This means that gender scholars reflect upon their social position. However, this is a normal procedure in the social sciences nowadays. As a scholar, you have to be able to explain why you choose a certain research topic, method, or theory.
– Statement from the Department of Gender Studies at the Central European University, Budapest
– image by canva