Gender as an Analytical Category

I met with Prof. Erzsébet Barát during the International Week which was held at the Philosophical Faculty in Skopje. The subtitle of this event was “Challenges of teaching and research in humanities and social sciences”.

Barát’s areas of competence are: gender studies, discourse analysis, qualitative research methods, and media studies. Her areas of specialization are critical discourse analysis, social theory of meaning making, lavender linguistics, language and gender, interdisciplinary approaches to discourse, theories of gender and sexuality. She is Associate Professor in the Department of English, at the University of Szeged and since 2000 Recurring Visiting Professor at Central European University. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from the Social Sciences Faculty at Lancaster University in UK.

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– Where do you see the problem that still occurs in majority of SE Balkan’s countries- in establishing gender studies at the state-owned educational institutions?

I wish I could answer the question about the region. I am not familiar enough with the social-cultural context. But I still would say that it is a moment when the governments’ research and education policies are hostile to humanities and social sciences in the Global North. What is more, the impossible requirement for the academics in the various disciplines to be ‘productive’ resonates with a general hostility and suspicion towards intellectuals who are seen as the group of potentially most critical class of society, of which feminist scholarship has been known to be innovative not only for its critiques of gender and sexuality relations of power but also for its for its self-criticism.   Critique is an integral element of gender studies, which is the target of governments in the region in so far as they are part of right-wing populism in Europe.

– Where do you find the linkage between gender studies and me-too movement? Is there any connection? If not please elaborate why?

The pervasive practice of sexual violence that most recently has been exposed by the “me too” movement is to be studied from within gender studies. If we want to expose the structural violence and go beyond the apparent self-preservation of the „me” we can explore the institutional practices of sexually mediated power in gender studies.   It is the long history of feminist debates and activism about and against sexual violence that can explore the bewilderment and anger of women, the social group that is predominantly (though definitely not exclusively) assaulted by sexual violence.

– I attended some governmental sessions regarding the issue of sexual discrimination (regarding women and LGBT) and we found out that the reason for it was the absence of corruption in these two- not the sexual (gender) issue. Namely there are many powerful, successful ones from these “groups” but they know how to play the game. Don’t you think this is the global situation too?

 “Gender” has been conceptualized in the history of feminist movements and scholarships as an analytical category for the explanation and critique of the unequal distinctions and practices of gender; it is one key category for exposing unequal relations of power. However, that is only one social practice that structures our life that is intertwined by multiple other relations of power, such as practices of radicalizing or classing renders people in asymmetrical relations of power. It is this multiplicity that results in differences within women or the political elite. So, it is perfectly possible that one’s privileges in terms of social networking may ‘compensate’ for their disadvantage in terms of gender or sexuality distinctions with other members of their class and vice versa. The power potential of a male politician in a government, for instance, may make up for his non-normative or even criminalized gay sexuality, or a woman prime minister may cope with the expectations for ‘caring for’ her family and pay for the care taking work of a migrant woman.

– What is the methodological difference between British and Eastern European academies regarding the gender studies?

I am afraid I could answer this question if I had been extensively part of the British academic system and have some living experience to reflect on.

– Why the linkage between religion and gender is not well examined? Perhaps because the linkage between law and religion is not examined as well.

I think there has been an important scholarship on the relationship between various faiths and gender, such as feminist re/readings of the Bible or the Qur’an and the Sunna; the latter includes studies by Islamic feminists that draw on post-colonial scholarship.  At the same time, these critical engagements with highly canonized writings of both faiths can easily meet with resistance not only from within their own cultural spaces but with discrediting attempts by the modernist legacy of scientific discourses as well, jointly making it all the more difficult for these studies to be visible.

– Do you think studying in general should become much cheaper regarding the newest technological achievements?

I am afraid the internet mediated forms of communication are not inherently open to do more democratic interaction, such as easier access to education. If they are enmeshed in hierarchical matrix of power, they can be appropriated for gate-keeping mechanisms of disciplining power a lot more easily. The most recent example in case could be the 2018 law in Turkey that enforces centralized technologies of monitoring and regulating access to social media, for instance.

Interviewer and photographer: Igor Pop Trajkov

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