Bir­git Sauer

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - PROFILES -

Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Science, Univer­sity of Vienna

“Democ­racy is al­ways about emo­tion; we can’t ex­clude emo­tion from pol­i­tics. It’s about pub­lic dis­course and de­bate, where peo­ple can ex­press their hopes, fears and anger.”

Grow­ing up in Ger­many, Dr. Bir­git Sauer be­came aware of gen­der in­equal­ity at an early age. In high school, al­though she and a fel­low fe­male stu­dent were the best in physics and math­e­mat­ics, she no­ticed that teach­ers would still make jokes about girls not be­ing able to ex­cel in these ar­eas. Hav­ing come of age af­ter the 1968 stu­dent protests that chal­lenged and up­ended so­ci­ety’s con­ven­tional norms, it didn’t take her long to be­come “politi­cized and mo­bi­lized,” as she put it. Thus, study­ing po­lit­i­cal science at univer­sity seemed a nat­u­ral choice. But even there, in the late ‘70s, she still found her­self in an en­vi­ron­ment where it was mainly “the men [who] were do­ing the talk­ing,” she re­called. Now, as a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science, spe­cial­iz­ing in gen­der re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of Vienna, she is happy that times have changed. In her depart­ment, ap­prox­i­mately 50 per­cent of both pro­fes­sors and stu­dents are women. “Women are more out­spo­ken now,” she said. “They know what they want.” As an aca­demic and ac­tivist, Sauer feels it is im­por­tant that her stu­dents feel able to mo­bi­lize. “I want to tell them that, as cit­i­zens, they have agency, and if they want to change things, they can. This is ob­vi­ously their mo­ti­va­tion for choos­ing po­lit­i­cal science in the first place.” Based in Vienna for the past 20 years, Sauer, 60, has been able to ob­serve some of the pros and cons of Aus­tria’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. For ex­am­ple, she was im­pressed by the gen­der equal­ity poli­cies of Jo­hanna Dohnal, the first Min­is­ter for Women’s Af­fairs, who was re­spon­si­ble for Aus­tria be­com­ing the first coun­try in Europe to in­tro­duce a law against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. On the other hand, she has wit­nessed that Aus­tria’s rel­a­tive small­ness and there­fore close re­la­tion­ships in pol­i­tics, tend to­wards “a cul­ture of com­pro­mise that does not re­ally lend it­self to a cul­ture of con­flict.” But for Sauer, the lec­ture hall seems the right place for a lively di­a­logue. She’s proud to have wit­nessed gen­er­a­tions of her stu­dents go into gov­ern­ment at the lo­cal and na­tional level. Her daugh­ter, 28, is a fem­i­nist and ac­tivist. “Of course, some­times she ar­gues against me,” Sauer said with a laugh, “but that’s a good thing.”

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