Gender studies under threat worldwide, says subject pioneer

Joan Wallach Scott warns of a ‘vision of the world in which men are superior to women’ in final protest against CEU expulsion from Hungary

December 4, 2018
People protest at the parliament building at Budapest on April 4, 2017

A prominent historian warned of the threat posed to gender studies programmes worldwide as part of a last-ditch protest against the expulsion of the Central European University from Budapest.

Joan Wallach Scott, one of the pioneers of gender history, said that it was “no accident” that gender studies was coming under attack from authoritarian, right-wing politicians, because entrenching gender differences was a way of “legitimising their notion of power and authority”.

She spoke to students protesting against the imminent relocation of parts of the CEU’s operations to Vienna. A “Free University” set up in front of Hungary’s parliament has been hosting lectures in tents to illustrate the subjects that organisers say will be lost if the CEU leaves Hungary, and because of the government’s defunding of gender studies programmes.

The animus against gender studies was not just a “side issue” for the far right, Professor Scott, professor emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, told students. “It’s a vision of the world in which men are superior to women, inequality is the name of the game and tradition is what’s being protected by these authoritarian rulers,” she argued.

“What is happening all over the world, and especially in countries ruled by authoritarian types, is an attack on higher education,” Professor Scott later told Times Higher Education.

Although the expulsion of the CEU was likely to be “unique” and “not likely to happen elsewhere”, the outlawing of gender programmes was “going on all over the world”, she said, pointing to events in Brazil. There, the country’s new far-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, has signed agreements promising to combat “gender ideology”.

The Free University was hosting lectures on topics including “gendering migrant memories”, the “foundations of feminism” and the “institutional economy of authoritarian populism”. On 3 December, CEU confirmed that incoming students would be enrolled in Vienna, after the Hungarian government failed to sign a deal guaranteeing the university’s legal status.

Max de Blank, a Dutch master’s student at the CEU who was helping to organise the Free University, said that it had been set up to show “what Hungary will be losing when it forces CEU out the country” and prohibits the teaching of gender studies.

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Reader's comments (2)

Academic freedoms need to be preserved which includes exploring area that not everyone finds relevant to everyday life... although I must admit to finding 'gender studies' a peculiar beast, driven more by ideological feminism than pure academic inquiry, and often seems to promote a vision of a world in which there is inequality between genders rather than address it with the intention of redressing perceived inequality. As a side-branch of history there may be some merit to it, in analysing a past male-centric world, but it seems often to perpetuate differences between the genders when the modern concensus is that men and women are equals.
Judging by the comments made on social media by gender studies lecturers from various English universities and the graduates they've produced, I seriously doubt there's anything academic about gender studies. Or anything particularly feminist either. Pomo claptrap that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

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