Gender studies in danger, says subject pioneer
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 in Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, 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.