Leading scientists as well as international scholars and students from the broad field of gender studies and various neighbouring disciplines came together at the FernUnversity in Hagen at the beginning of July. New ideas, creative approaches and older, established theories were discussed and developed during four days at two different conferences: the 17th work conference of the Konferenz der Einrichtungen für Frauen- und Geschlechterstudien im deutschsprachigen Raum (KEG) was held from 3. - 4. July and, subsequently, the 9th annual conference of the German gender studies association (FG Gender) took place, titled “(Re-)Visions. Epistemologies, Ontologies and Methodologies of Gender Studies”.
The two events were organised by FernUniversity Jun.-Prof. Dr. Irina Gradinari (German Literature and Gender Media Studies), who is also vice board spokesperson of the Gender Studies Association, in cooperation with FernUniversity Equal Opportunities Commissioner Kirsten Pinkvoss and her team and the FernUniversity Equal Opportunities Department.
Keynote lecture about „human-soil-relations“
One of the main features was the opening event of the Gender Studies Association's conference in the city’s Emil Schumacher art museum on Thursday evening. FernUniversity dean Prof. Dr. Ada Pellert, Prof. Irina Gradinari, Kirsten Pinkvoss and the board spokesperson of the gender studies association Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Tuider held welcoming speeches. Afterwards, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, gave the conference keynote lecture titled „Embracing Breakdown – Re-thinking the human soil community with care”. The lecture explored human-soil relations and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa called for a more respectful treatment of the soil, the environment and our planet. She argued that soil is not just dirt but that, in many ways, it constitutes life. Caring for the soil thus means caring for other humans and for oneself. She emphasized that humans are merely one component of a highly complex eco system and that they share the planet with millions of other creatures.
On Friday, Dr. Vanessa E. Thompson (Goethe-University Frankfurt) gave the second keynote lecture, which dealt with her current project about racial profiling. Her lecture titled „Die Polizierten dieser Erde. Über die Verunmöglichung von Atmen und die Bedingungen eines abolitionistischen Feminismus“ offered a critical perspective on police work and undisclosed violent cases of racial profiling in different countries. She also provided a historical overview that traced these discriminating structures back to the colonial era.
A kaleidoscope of perspectives
The program of both conferences was highly diverse: the lectures, workshops and panels ranged from trans*studies, queer theory, masculinities and feminist activism to religion and education, media studies, decolonial theory and racism.
Regardless of their specific fields of study, all participants shared the common goal of making society more equal and providing a better access to knowledge, science and academic structures.
„There is still a lot to do and to fight for“, Irina Gradinari emphasized during her welcoming speech, adding: „In the face of the current attacks on gender studies, we should not lose courage but should read them as a sign that we have hit a trouble spot in society that needs to be analyzed.” At the same time, she underlined the open-mindedness of the field of studies: “What makes gender studies special, is that they are generally open to various disciplines and theories, as they themselves are an inter- and transdisciplinary field of studies.
Author reading attracted many people
Feminist activist and author Anne Wizorek addressed current political and social debates, reading from her book „Weil ein #aufschrei nicht reicht – Für einen Feminismus von heute“. Afterwards, she discussed her ideas and statements with two experts from the field of gender studies, who are also board members of the gender studies association. More than 100 guests attended the author reading.
Anne Wizorek‘s visit was one of a series of readings by female authors that will take place under the theme „Zuschreibungen und Umschreibungen: Gender in Literatur und Gesellschaft“. Organized by the university library, they aim at intensifying debates around the topic within the unuiversity as well as strengthening the FernUniversity's cooperation with other institutions regarding gender issues.
The evening’s host, librarian Dr. Jeanine Tuschling-Langewand, who is responsible for cultural events, happily commented on the huge amount of guests: „The reading and discussion have shown that feminism is not a niche topic.”
Sign for equality in everyday life
Gender equality was not merely discussed on a theoretical level - it was realized on the FernUniversity campus: during the events some of the toilets were reorganized to become open to all genders and gender identities, regardless the binary categories “female” and “male”. The “all gender toilets” presented an important sign for a non-discriminating working environment, said Kirsten Pinkvoss: „All gender toilets do not only support many people in their everyday life – they also set an example for the ways in which we see ourselves and others and how we want to treat each other.”
Looking back, Irina Gradinari considers the two conferences a huge success: „I am glad that the feedback from the members of the gender studies association was that positive.”