Gender: Ambivalent In_Visibilities - Abstracts

Erzsébet Barát

The in/visibility of class relations at the intersection of sexuality and gender

For my talk, I would like to reflect on the current Hungarian debate around the visibility of class relations in feminist research; more specifically, the debate about the conditions of making class visible. The most vocal concerns foregrounding the disappearance of ‘class’ have attributed that invisibility to the neoliberal depoliticization of dominant approaches in feminist scholarship. In agreement with these concerns, I am going to argue for the importance of the choices we make when turning to existing scholarship. At the same time, I shall point out the destructive aspects of a normative demand implicated by such valid points of concern. I shall challenge the demand for the ‘right definition’ of gender in general and the discreditation of queer studies or transgender studies in particular. My main point will be that ‘self-stigmatization’ should not be on our political agenda considering the biologist logic of the stigmatization of ‘gender’ by the regime in Hungary. Rather, the aim should be to strive for a situated critique of the sex/gender system that maintains neoliberal hetero-patriarchy as the ‘obvious norm’.


Marlen Bidwell-Steiner

Blindfolded Justitia and Other Female Allegories in Early Modern Europe

In this talk I focus on a series of allegories of young beautiful maidens that are representing core values of the European identity. As will be shown, these figures not only resemble each other, but also are closely interrelated and even conflated in a history of longue durée. Tracing their trajectory in becoming hypostasized can be read as an example of Aby Warburgs theory of “Pathosformel”. My feminist reading unveils the pathos as an ongoing process of disabling and blinding women in patriarchal societies – from biblical Hagar to Early Modern Synagogue to Blindfolded Justicia. In a further step I will trace her nachleben in Postmodern digital culture. 


Eva Flicker

Ambivalent In_Visibilities: a Viscoursive Approach to Franca Settembrini’s Art Brut Painting “Feminists”

Franca Settembrini was an internationally well-known protagonist of art brut. Born in 1947 in Florence, she was first hospitalized into a Florentine psychiatric hospital at age 11. From 1976-1986, she painted at the art laboratory La Tinaia. When she was hospitalized in 1991 once more, she took up painting again, until her untimely death in 2003.

Franca Settembrini’s  pictures show a colourful universe of feminine worlds, women with captivating eyes, long hair, sharp fingers, mostly surrounded by the shining sun, birds and mysterious creatures. Her non dated painting “femministe” has affected and accompanied me since I first saw it some years ago. In my paper I will present my personal approach to the visual in the context of my sociological perspective on viscourse and feminism.


Rosalind Gill (keynote address)
Posting a perfect life: Affect, social media and fear of getting it wrong

In this talk I share findings from a new research project I conducted in Spring and Summer 2020. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to survey and interview a diverse group of more than 200 young people about their lives and experiences. Topics ranged from experiences of ‘lockdown’ to #BlackLivesMatter, from camera culture to body positivity, and offer an extraordinarily rich insight into young people’s lives on and offline.

Here I discuss the pervasive pressures many young women experienced to present a ‘perfect life’, showing how these went beyond imperatives to post beautiful pictures, but also extended to appearing popular, interesting, successful and positive. Anxieties around posting pulsed through the interviews, and were experienced viscerally via racing hearts, sick feelings and inability to sleep. I analyse these fears of ‘getting it wrong’ and and how to understand these experiences of intense and ubiquitous judgment in young women’s lives.

Rosalind Gill is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at City, University of London, and has written extensively about media, work, and intimacy. She is known for her work exploring the relationship between culture and subjectivity, developing ideas about the psychological turn in neoliberalism. Her books include Gender and the Media (Polity, 2007); Aesthetic Labour: Beauty Politics in Neoliberalism (Palgrave, 2017 with Ana Sofia Elias and Christina Scharff); and Mediated Intimacy: Sex Advice in Media Culture (Polity, 2018, with Meg-John Barker and Laura Harvey). Her most recent book is The Confidence Cult(ure) (Duke University Press, with Shani Orgad).


Sabine Grenz

In_visible epistemologies: Interviewing metaphysically, religiously or spiritually inclined persons

During the 19th century religion became feminised, embedded into the colonial encounter and played a key role in the development of psychology as a discipline. As a result, 'religions' were increasingly (re-)constructed as emotional, backward, irrational. This cultural archive still plays a role in current discourses and, hence, has an impact on research in this field. In my talk, I want to reflect on experiences of interviewing persons with a strong interest in new-metaphysical, religious or spiritual issues. These interviews exemplify how worldviews have become part of the intimate self. Thus, I argue for a more encompassing perspective concerning religion and intersectionality that also includes invisible forms of marginalised religions and religious experiences.


Christa Hämmerle

In_Visibility of a mass phenomenon: Nurses of the First World War – a paradigmatic story

The memorialization and historicization of war nurses of the First World War seem to offer a paradigmatic example of historical in_visibility. Only in very few countries these hundreds of thousands of women, who often worked very closely to the front lines and attracted much attention during the war, were remembered publicly after 1918, whereas in many others their war contributions were all but forgotten. The latter also applies to the Austrian case, which is at the centre of my paper. In a first step, I analyse contemporary discourses and visualizations of the new mass phenomenon of war nursing, which were rather ambiguous during the war. Against this background, I try to explain, secondly, why and in which contexts a remembrance culture that included these women either did or did not develop, and what role their agency played. From 1918 onwards, in_visibility ran like a red thread through the histories of these women. Analysing their history, we must take into account both the intersectional setting of gender, class, ethnicity, age etc. and the political instrumentalization of war ideologies. Since these interconnections and developments varied greatly in different countries, I finish my paper with a brief comparison of the Austrian case with other historiographies of World War I nurses.


Elisabeth Holzleithner

Injustice must be seen to be undone: The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the most visible lawyer of our time. As „The Notorious RGB“, she has become, particularly in the USA, a household name to many girls and young women, serving as a model of integrity and achievement. Her untimely death in September 2020 left a void. In this presentation I want to show how RBG achieved this visibility, first as the leader of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. In this role she developed strategies to render the evil of gender discrimination visible and intelligible to those she had to convince: male (Supreme Court) judges. This narration will be embedded into the influences RBG herself drew on. Here I am going to focus on the thinking and legal strategizing of her colleague Pauli Murray, a women’s and civil rights advocate, whose work has become nearly invisible. Murray was a major theorist of intersectional discrimination avant la letter, and I shall ask the question whether RBG, in using Murray’s approach of visibilizing sex discrimination by “reasoning from race”, did justice to its intersectional complexity.

Elisabeth Holzleithner is a professor of legal philosophy and legal gender studies, and she is head of the Vorständin des institute of legal philosophy. She is also chief financial officer of the Vienna Doctoral School ARS IURIS at the faculty of law, and principal investigator of the interdisciplinary research platform „GAIN – Gender: Ambivalent In_Visibilities“ at the University of Vienna. Her main areas of research are legal and political philosophy, with a focus on human rights, legal gender and queer studies, and law, literature and popular culture. In 2017 she was awarded the Gabriele Possanner state prize for gender reasearch. Further information:


Brigitta Keintzel

“Images of Grief” -- Fe/male War Reporting as an In/Visible Touchstone For Gender Issues

The entry of women into the professional field of war reporting has contributed to a new view: A traditional ideal of masculinity and a (gender-neutral) paradigm of objectivity as the hidden measure for war reporting have been questioned. In the first part of my lecture, I describe these changes, referring to the works of first-generation war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) and to Marie Colvin (1959-2012), one of the best-known female reporters of recent decades. In the second part, I ask what role pictures and visual-based experiences played in their reporting and how these experiences were made to speak.

I argue that Colvin's style of reporting is characterized by the fact that she creates a scenario with words that confronts the reader with the events of war almost in an intimate way. This confrontation does not take place in order to overwhelm the reader, rather her style of reporting create images of grief. These images oppose a monochromatic ideal of truth. With reference to Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag, I describe how images of grief can be discovered in Colvin’s war reporting and what their specificity consists of. Their coverage does not refer to images that seek to impose domination over thought by creeping quietly into our consciousness, nourishing fictions, ideologies, the idea of the fatefulness and inevitability of war, and the gender stereotypes that accompany it. Rather, their form of reporting generates images that address the viewer in a thinking-questioning way, making evident that knowledge is not only reduced to, but also produced by visuality. In my view, the latter can evoke images of grief that can be found almost paradigmatically in Colvin’s style of war reporting.


Angéla Kóczé

Gender, Race, Class: Invisible Labour in Academia

This paper is a critical reflection on and analysis of invisible labour of racialized female academics through the lens of intersectionality. Why are racialized women overburdened by invisible work in academia? Why are they an easy target for service and teaching work that is not equally rewarded in a promotion process? Using critical race feminist theory as a critical lens helps me to make sense of my own experience in academia as one of the first Romani women in Europe, who is not supposed to exist as a scholar and inhabit a space where knowledge is produced and validated. My critical self-reflection will be based on auto- ethnography which assists in connecting my autobiographical story to wider academic practices that invisibilize the work of racialized female scholars. 


Claudia Kraft

Brave New Universalist World: On the In_Visibilisation of Gender in the Former Second World

In my paper I will discuss how the political division between East and West during the Cold War had politicized gender as a category of critical social analysis. After the end of this ideological confrontation, the former “Second World” and the legacies of “socialist” gender relations were integrated into a discursive space where ideas of allegedly universal rights and abstract concepts of equality dominated. In this way, actual gender differences were made invisible or viewed in a temporalized perspective as part of a catch-up process with the “West”. At the same time debates on egalitarian gender relations and on the acceptance of non-heteronormative modes of desire became a venue for the struggle over the (il)legitimacy of the new political system - both within the respective post-socialist societies and with regard to their respective positioning in the “global West”.


Andrea Kriszan

Visibility/invisibility of gender in the politics of violence against women

This presentation will discuss the framing of gender equality in violence against women policy debates. It will focus on how the highly politicized debates around the ratification of the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention change the visibility/invisibility of gender equality in framing various violence against women policies. The discussion will focus on debates in 4 Central and Eastern European countries with high levels of controversy around the Convention: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Poland. This ne wave of politicization will be discussed both as a opportunity as well as a limitation on improving gender equality policies in these countries.  


Sylvia Mieszkowski

“Transparent” and the Optics of Identity

Object of analysis: Gender non-conforming director Joey/Jill Soloway’s TV series Transparent has been on the air since 2014, when it started out with a pilot followed by ten episodes. The series was completed, after four seasons followed by one feature-length finale that developed out of plans for season five, and is being made available by the streaming service Amazon Prime. After allegations of sexual harassment, actor Jeffrey Tambor (who played the show’s central character and had won a Golden Globe for his performance) was fired in 2018, and the showrunners brought the series to an end without him. Set mostly in contemporary LA (but occasionally interspersed with scenes set in the mid-1990s or in 1930s Berlin), the plot focuses on the Jewish-American (and very queer) Pfefferman family, as the father begins his transition from male (Morton) to female (Maura).

Hypothesis & connection to GAIN’s research goals: In a trans-phobic society, building/maintaining a trans-identity based on ‘being seen’ is characterized by constant negotiation. The heteronormative concern with ‘how things look’ leads to a need for invisibility and jars against the desire for visibility/intelligibility. This paradox gives rise to various, partly conflicting, practices of in_visibilisation. If the trans-person has been a parent for a long time, these practices can resonate or clash with the family members’ expectations of truthfulness and/or traditions of secrecy. Transparency, in this context, is a deeply ambivalent concept that is, moreover, multi-faceted.

Five facets of transparency: The show’s title’s double-entendre needs to be taken seriously. Depending on the stress one puts on the word, ‘transparent’ is either a noun that denotes a parent who is a trans-person (Transparent), or an adjective that denotes a see-through quality (Transparent). The latter of these two meanings, transparency, has at least five different dimensions: If it refers to a person, it suggests openness, accountability but perhaps also naivety or lack of complexity. If it is used in connection to a relationship, it refers to the absence of secrets. If it refers to a (political, administrative, organisational or otherwise power-structured) process in a neutral or favourable environment, transparency is the condition for accountability and a safe-guard against corruption. In a hostile environment, however, if enforced, for instance, by surveillance, makes protection of the vulnerable difficult or impossible. If transparency is the property of an object, it refers to the possibility of an uninhibited gaze that can reveal the object’s interior. If transparency is the property of a medium, – that of journalistic communication, for instance – that medium allows itself to be forgotten and enables a passing-on of facts without distortion. At the same time, in art, the medium’s transparency belongs to the aesthetics of realism rather than to that of modernism or postmodernism, both of which like to draw attention to themselves and do so by deliberately destroying the medium’s transparency.

Research questions: What roles does transparency – in all its multifaceted ambivalence – play in Transparent in relation to in_visibility and practices of in_visibilisation? What happens to the connotations of the five above-mentioned facets of transparency in the context of trans-parenting, that is, under circumstances that disallow a parent to be who they are/ need to be/want to be, and thus make obfuscation/deception/lack of transparency necessary?


Beátá Nagy

In_visibility of Women in Academia

Ambiguous tendencies dominate the gendered processes of Hungarian academia. Beside the global phenomena of horizontal and vertical segregations, there are less known and publicized tendencies and practices disadvantaging women. However, they lead to women’s invisibility in higher education and academic life.

The presentation will discuss the main factors limiting women’s visibility in academia. It will start with the practice of unequal state subsidy for majors at universities since 2012 giving priority to ‘hard’ sciences, compared to the ‘soft’ ones, and to go to the extreme of banning the accredited MA in Gender Studies. This disadvantageous academic climate is further destroyed by the ‘chilly’ climate at academic institutes offering women only ‘secondary citizenship’. Results show that these processes make women invisible and women’s efforts less recognized in academia. The study intends to contribute to the analysis of present-day anti-gender developments and to call attention to continuous waste of female talents in academia.


Birgit Sauer

Political Representation of women. Towards greater visibility of class and ‘race’ in feminist research

With this paper I am to critically assess gender Political Science research on the political representation of women in political decision-making bodies – including my own work. Empirical gender research in Political Science started to study the causes of women’s political under-representation in the early 1990s. Research identified factors that impact on political careers of women and studied the role of (different) quota regulations to improve descriptive representation of women. While the concept of representation has been highly contested in feminist democratic theory, empirical studies contributed to the knowledge about women in political power positions. Nevertheless, these studies created zones of invisibility in (at least) two aspects: first, they did not take intersectional positionings of women running for political office into account; second, the studies ignored other structures of domination, such as class, ‘race’ and religion, which lead to biases in political decision-making bodies or governments. Only recently, gender studies in Political Science became aware of this gap and started to conceptualize intersectionality in processes of representation. The paper wants to contribute to a more inclusive critique of gendered under-representation by visibilizing the multiplicity of structures of domination that influence, and possibly weaken, democratic procedures by making equality impossible.


Katharina Wiedlack

The comfort of in/visibility or rethinking the (post-sovjet) ‘queer closet’

In this short presentation I will revisit the concept of the ‘closet’ for the current realities of the post-soviet context from a queer and feminist perspective. The ‘closet’ has acquired a shameful and backward connotation in the ‘West’ and beyond. I will start my deliberations with two observations: First, contemporary – Western oriented – global queer political culture favors individualized visual representation to fight for social acceptance; and second, in many post-soviet and Western contexts this form of visibility is increasingly threatened by right-wing (and often state sanctioned) violence. Accordingly, many queer individuals choose strategies to sustain their queer lives beyond visibility and public representation. However, queer and feminist theory does not offer adequate concepts to account for and describe these forms of resistance.

I build my reconfiguration of the gay closet on the decolonial and anti-imperialist philosopher Éduard Glissant and his demand for the right to opacity, and on prior queer theory that rethinks the gay closet on a textual or poetic level for example by Nicholas De Villiers. While these thinkers use the concept of opacity primarily on the level of the verbal, the poetic and textual, I will re-conceptualize the closet on the level of visual discourses. Engaging in a conversation with the artistic practice of the visual artists Ruthia Jenrbekova and Masha Godovannaya, I will show how the concept of the closet as ‘magic closet’ could offer the possibility to facilitate coalitions beyond identity politics based on nationality, sexuality and/or gender, creating forms of acceptance that are not structured through the violence of disclosure, normativity and categorization.


Violetta Zentai

Voice and visibility in resisting disempowerment in authoritarian and anti-gender regimes

The talk will address the tension between voice and visibility in the recent politics of the women’s movement in Hungary. More closely, I will address how the rights and equality-based movement actors are debating and finding new and often compromise-based paths to negotiate and articulate their agendas by novel alignments, directions of fights, and framing shifts. It is to contemplate when and how decreased visibility of movement actors may still enhance opportunities for increasing substantive voice, or how strategic acceptance of hybrid voice of cooperating actors generates alternative visibilities, and other sorts of entanglements between these two modalities of claiming political significance in micro-politics of movement and macro-politics of in/equalities.     


Patricia Zuckerhut

In_Visible ontological Difference: Gender and Sexuality in early colonial Mexico

Radical colonial difference is an ontological difference, invisible and visible at the same time. Something that seems to be the same (e.g. gender or sexuality) is enacted in a radically different way and therefore results in something completely different. I will show how such “equivocations” insert gender and sexuality in ontologically different ways, giving the example of the Mesoamerican god(dess) Tlazoltéotl-Toci. Early colonial codices show different enactments of their meaning in picture scripts (indigenous presentations) and Latin written texts (missionary versions). The ontological difference can be seen in the representations, but because of equivocation it remains invisible.

Tlazoltéotl-Toci (“goddess of filth” - “Our Grandmother”) is a deity, dedicated to sexuality and fertility (always closely related to excess and cleaning). The Christian missionaries divided her into the Evil (demoness respectively Eva) and the Good (Mother respectively Mary). Nonetheless nowadays she is one of the dominant figures of identification for Chicana-feminists.