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Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

Edited By Renate Haas

From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.
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Austria: The Long and Winding Road towards the Institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies

Susanne Hamscha

Austria: The Long and Winding Road towards the Institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies

1.  Introduction

Women’s and Gender Studies as interdisciplinary academic fields of research grew out of second wave feminism at U.S.-American universities in the late 1960s. As feminism gained political influence through student and faculty activism, Women’s Studies programs were modeled on American Studies and Ethnic Studies (particularly Chicano Studies and African American Studies) programs that had consolidated themselves shortly before. There has always been, in other words, a natural affinity between Women’s Studies and American Studies, which is probably the main reason that also in most European countries, the development of Women’s and Gender Studies has to a great extent been fostered by English and American Studies departments. Austria is certainly no exception to this rule, even though the history department at the University of Vienna was the trailblazer for the promotion of Women’s and Gender Studies in the academia, and not the English and American Studies department. While one could observe a ‘lack of attention toward Austrian women’ in the field of history and across the humanities and social sciences until the 1990s, as Eve Nyaradi Dvorak has pointed out, the last decades have seen a steady growth and institutional acceptance of Women’s and Gender Studies, which has also affected the teaching and research at Austrian English and American Studies departments (Dvorak 1996: xii). The significance of Women’s and Gender Studies across the disciplines is worth stressing: gender analysis and feminist theory offer valuable insights into historical, social, political, and cultural processes.1 The study of English ← 171 | 172 → and American literatures and cultures through the lens of Gender Studies thus generates not only new insights in English and American Studies, but also uncovers power mechanisms that structure gender relations in the Western world in general. Therefore, it also invites reflections on one’s own cultural background and environment, and fulfills an important socio-political function.

This contribution will first provide a short historical survey of the situation of women at Austrian universities and an overview of the institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies in Austria, with an emphasis on the University of Vienna as Austria’s oldest and largest university. Then, my contribution will pay closer attention to the inclusion of Women’s and Gender Studies at English and American Studies departments in Austria. It wants to point out the ways in which Women’s and Gender Studies have been employed and have developed within English and American Studies departments, and offer an outlook on the future of gender-related research at Austrian English and American Studies departments. Here, I will also focus particularly on the English and American Studies department of the University of Vienna, with which I am most familiar because I have studied and taught there. ← 172 | 173 →

2.  National Context

2.1  Women at Austrian Universities

Founded in 1365, the University of Vienna is the oldest university in German-speaking Europe and after the Charles University in Prague the second oldest university of the Holy Roman Empire. While the history of the university dates back to the Middle Ages, the history of women at the University of Vienna is comparatively short. The admission of women to higher education had been heatedly debated across Europe in the second half of the 19th century and had turned into a political issue.2 The advantages and disadvantages of admitting women to the university were the subject of public discussion, as there seemed to be an acute awareness that the ‘woman question’ would define the future of Austria’s social structure. Only towards the close of the century did the arguments for the admission of women grow louder and stronger, after the universities of most other European countries had already opened their doors to female students. Next to Prussia, Austria was the last European country to admit women to higher education, after a long and persistent fight on part of the women’s movement (cf. Heindl 1990: 17). Marianne Hainisch, Rosa Mayreder, Auguste Fickert, Marie Lang, and Maria Schwarz are notable figures of the first women’s movement and founding members of the ‘Allgemeiner Österreichischer Frauenverein’ (‘General Women’s Association in Austria’, 1893), who vehemently demanded the civic equality of women, including equal access to education and to the job market. Although a non-party movement, the Women’s Association collaborated with the social democrats for the publication of their monthly leaflet ‘Rechte der Frauen’ (‘The Rights of Woman’, 1894–1900) and the journal Dokumente der Frauen (Women’s Documents), which was first published in 1899 and in which both women and men discussed politics, education, and gender equality.

Because of the pressure coming from the first women’s movement and the general trend in Europe to allow women access to a university education, women were finally admitted to the University of Vienna, to the University ← 173 | 174 → of Graz (founded in 1585), and to the University of Innsbruck (founded in 1669) as regular students in 1897.3 However, their studies were limited to Philosophy until 1900, when the faculty of Medicine followed suit. With considerable delay, women were admitted to the Faculty of Law in 1919, Protestant Theology in 1923, and Roman Catholic Theology in 1946.4 One of the three women who enrolled as regular students at the University of Vienna in 1897 was Elise Richter, the first woman to receive the Habilitation in Romance Languages and the first woman to become a ‘Docent’ (assistant professor) in 1907. In 1921, she was appointed ‘Extra-Ordinary Professor’ (associate professor, at first without remuneration), but was dismissed from that post after the ‘Anschluss’. Richter was already 31 years old when she was awarded her high school diploma, as it only became possible for girls and women to obtain a high school degree in 1896 – and only at selected schools – which explains the very slow increase in regular female university students up until after the first world war (cf. Heindl 1990: 23). In the winter semester 1913/14, that is, 16 years after the university had opened its doors to female students, 314 women enrolled as regular students in Vienna. In other words, admission in theory did not necessarily lead to admission in practice, too many were the obstacles for women in fulfilling the basic requirements to enter university.

After the world war, however, the number of female students at Austrian universities exploded by comparison: as Andrea Griesebner notes, in the winter semester 1918/19, 2000 women entered the university, which accounts for 9% of all students who enrolled in that semester. By 1932/33, the number of female students had increased to 4468, which means that almost 20% of all Austrian students that winter semester were female (cf. Griesebner 2005: 45). This process of catching up in terms of education was quickly stopped by Austro-fascism and National Socialism, which propagated woman’s most important role to be that of a devoted mother ← 174 | 175 → and wife. Additionally, quite a significant number of female students and scholars were of Jewish bourgeois background, as traditionally, Jewish families attributed higher value to the education of their daughters than Christian families. The emigration and deportation of Jewish families and fascist ideology led to the stagnation in the number of female students during the second world war and a decline in the number of female professors.5 Elise Richter, for instance, was banned from the University of Vienna in 1938 and died together with her sister Helene in the concentration camp Theresienstadt in 1943. The physicist Lise Meitner, who completed her doctorate in Vienna in 1906, emigrated from Berlin to Sweden and died in British exile in 1968. Similarly, Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, fled to Britain in 1938 and stayed there until her death in 1982. Austrian universities suffered tremendously from this brain drain during the Nazi regime, even though the number of female students increased again towards the end of the war, with women making up over 40% of all students who enrolled in the winter semester 1944/45.6

While the presence of women at Austrian universities gradually increased after the second world war, it was only with the second feminist movement that gender-related research and feminist theory tentatively entered course syllabi in selected fields of study. However, these were individual courses generally taught by researchers who identified with the feminist movement; Austrian universities lacked a systematic feminist intervention and a common effort to institutionalize Women’s Studies as an interdisciplinary academic program. In her survey of feminist history at the University of Vienna, Griesebner notes that an undergraduate seminar on the history of the suffrage movement taught by Edith Saurer in 1975 marked the first course that focused solely on women (cf. Griesebner 2005: 17). Broad-based ← 175 | 176 → research activities and university courses dealing with women have only been underway since the 1980s though. The edited volume Das ewige Klischee (The Eternal Cliché) published by the ‘Autorinnengruppe Uni Wien’ in 1981 and including contributions by scholars from the fields of history, education, law, philosophy, linguistics, and German Studies is one of the first interdisciplinary collaborations that tried to unearth the traces of women and to investigate the living conditions of women in Austrian history and culture. In 1982, faculty members of the history department founded the working group women’s history, whose goal it was to encourage courses and lectures on the history of women. Edith Saurer, one of the founding members, noted in an article she wrote in 1994 that quite frequently, the initiatives of the working group were dismissed as propaganda and as un-scientific, and their demand for gender equality often remained unheard (cf. Saurer 1994: 171). Nevertheless, the history department started to continually offer courses on women’s history in the early 1980s, which led to a notable rise in women-centered teaching and research at the University of Vienna. A groundbreaking achievement of the history department was the launching of the first German-language journal in feminist historical studies, L’HOMME Z.F.G., in 1990, which publishes contributions on women’s and gender history with a special focus on the period from the end of the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the history department has hosted the research platform Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History since 2006, which was headed by the late Edith Saurer until 2011. The platform not only offers the opportunity of building on existing structures, instruments, and institutions, but also increases international visibility and simplifies networking among Gender Studies scholars.

2.2  Women’s and Gender Studies in Austria

Edith Saurer is not only an important figure in the field of women’s history, but her name is also closely tied to the institutionalization process of Women’s and Gender Studies at Austrian universities in general. In 1994, Saurer applied together with Irmgard Eisenbach-Stangl, Andre Gingrich, Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, Friederike Hassauer, Cornelia Klinger, Helga Nowotny, Edith Specht, and Ruth Wodak for financial funding to establish the ‘Graduierten Kolleg Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung’ (‘Center for ← 176 | 177 → Advanced Gender Studies’). The Austrian Research Fund initially rejected the application for financial reasons but encouraged a re-application two years later – a call which Saurer, Wodak, and Gingrich followed together with their new co-applicants Ulrike Felt, Gabriella Hauch, and Alice Pechriggl. In 1999, they submitted their re-application, which was evaluated positively by the six external reviewers but was ultimately again rejected by the Research Fund, which seemed to indicate a disinterest in supporting gender-related research. An international conference on the cooperation of European Post-Graduate Programs for Gender Studies in 2002 initiated collaborations and the establishment of networks between the Center for Advanced Gender Studies in Vienna and other European Gender Studies research programs, which instigated a broader range of gender-related teaching and research at the University of Vienna.

The Center for Advanced Gender Studies was conceived as an inter- and transdisciplinary institution that wanted to contribute to the development of an M.A. and Ph.D. program in Gender Studies. Initiatives and efforts for the institutionalization of an M.A. program had been underway since 1993, when the Austrian ministry of science and research approved the development of coordination centers in Vienna, Graz, and Linz, which followed the model of a similar center at the Free University Berlin (Zentraleinrichtung zur Förderung von Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung). The coordination center in Vienna connected scholars from five Viennese universities, thus strengthening ‘gender’ as an important category and subject of academic research. Furthermore, the center organized conferences, lecture series, and workshops, and fostered the inclusion of gender-related courses in the curricula of various disciplines. In 2000, the center was renamed ‘Zentrum für Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung’ (‘Center for Women and Gender Research’) and later ‘Referat Genderforschung’ (‘Unit for Gender Research’), which it is still called today. In the winter semester 2006/07, the Unit finally introduced the interdisciplinary M.A. program Gender Studies, the curriculum combining courses in gender and feminist theory with internships and field work. The individual courses were taught by scholars from various disciplines, ranging from literary studies to law and biology. Since its introduction in 2006, the curriculum has kept its inter- and transdisciplinary orientation but has broadened its course offerings and developed a standard set of lectures and seminars (‘Introduction ← 177 | 178 → to interdisciplinary Gender Studies’, ‘Theories and Methods’). The Unit for Gender Research at the University of Vienna is also involved in a program that supports scholars in the Post-Doc stage who want to teach a gender-focused course at a specific department.7 These scholars must submit a proposal to the head of studies of the department at which they wish to teach, and a committee then selects the courses that will be funded through the program. At the University of Vienna, the applications of scholars from the English and American Studies department have been very successful, to the effect that the department was able to offer undergraduate seminars with a gender focus on a fairly regular basis. Last but not least, the Unit for Gender Research contributes to the heightened visibility of Gender Studies at the University of Vienna through the publication of the proceedings of its interdisciplinary lecture series under the title Gendered Subjects, and it has recently launched a new book series, entitled challenge GENDER, for the publication of conference proceedings.

The University of Graz, the University of Salzburg, the University of Klagenfurt, the University of Innsbruck, the Vienna University of Technology, and other academic institutions followed suit and established their own M.A. programs and research centers.8 The University of Graz introduced their M.A. program in Gender Studies in 2007/08, which is coordinated by the ‘Koordinationsstelle für Geschlechterstudien, Frauenforschung und Frauenförderung’ (‘Center for Women’s Studies, Gender Research, and Equal Opportunities for Women’). At the University of Salzburg, Gender Studies can be studied as an elective subject with the aim to heighten students’ sensibility towards gender-related issues within their ‘home disciplines’ and in their cultural environment, which is coordinated by ‘gendup’, ← 178 | 179 → the ‘Zentrum für Gender Studies und Frauenförderung’ (‘Center for Gender Studies and Equal Opportunities for Women’). The University of Klagenfurt’s ‘Zentrum für Frauen- und Geschlechterstudien’ (‘Center for Women’s and Gender Studies’) also offers courses in Gender Studies as an elective subject, with students having the opportunity to obtain a certificate in ‘Gender Knowledge’. The University of Innsbruck has offered an inter-faculty M.A. program in Gender Studies since 2010/11 and also hosts an inter-faculty research platform which provides information on recent research projects, conferences, publications, and research collaborations in the field of Gender Studies. Especially noteworthy is also the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Johannes-Kepler-University Linz, which was established in 2001 and is to date the only university department in Gender Studies. The department’s first chair was Gabriella Hauch, one of the initiators of the Center for Advanced Gender Studies, who is currently full professor of Women’s and Gender History at the University of Vienna.

All Austrian Women’s and Gender Studies research centers, research units, and academic programs are connected through the network GenderPlattform, which also provides links and information to equal opportunities offices and support programs for women in the academia. The institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies is, furthermore, reflected in the growing number of full professorships that are fully or partly assigned to the field and to the foundation of associations which contribute to the international visibility of Austrian Women’s and Gender Studies. As of December 2013, sixteen professorships were fully or partly designated Women’s and Gender Studies professorships, and a seventeenth professorship will be installed in 2014. In November 2012, the ‘Österreichische Gesellschaft für Genderforschung’, the first Gender Studies Association in Austria was founded as an interdisciplinary network whose aim is the further establishment, development, and support of Gender Studies within and outside of the academia. The current board consists of members from a variety of disciplines working at different institutions in Austria to ensure that the inter- and transdisciplinary orientation of the association is not only preached but also practiced. Andrea B. Braidt, Vice-Rector at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and American Studies scholar by training, is the current president of the association; her substitute is Sigrid Schmitz, a biologist and full professor of Gender Studies at the University of Vienna. ← 179 | 180 → Other board members come, for instance, from the political science department in Innsbruck, American Studies in Salzburg, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies in Klagenfurt, and the department of Women’s and Gender Studies in Linz. The first annual conference of the Gender Studies Association will be held at the Academy of Fine Arts in December 2013, in which the Association wants to reflect on the achievements, challenges, and perspectives of Gender Studies in Austria.

3.  Women’s and Gender Studies meet English and American Studies

3.1  The Institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies within English and American Studies

Considering that Women’s and Gender Studies consolidated themselves as academic fields of research in the U.S. and are akin to, or very often even seen as a sub-field of, Cultural Studies,9 which have a long Anglo-American tradition, the institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies within English and American Studies departments at Austrian universities is at first glance disappointing. Seen within the context outlined in the previous section, that is, the slow acceptance of Women’s and Gender Studies in the Austrian academia and the difficulties scholars of all disciplines were met with as regards the establishment of Gender Studies research centers, one has to revise this first impression. In Austria ‘Women’s and Gender Studies gained significant ground in universities and other scholarly institutions […] even later than elsewhere’, as Erika Thurner has observed and, consequently, they only gained significant ground within Austrian English and American Studies in the 1990s (Thurner 1998: 1). Especially in the mid-90s, when Women’s and Gender Studies were recognized institutionally through the founding of the coordination centers, scholars at English and American Studies departments counted among the first to include courses ← 180 | 181 → with a gender-related focus in their syllabi and to design research projects that applied feminist or gender theoretical frameworks. However, the degree to which Women’s and Gender Studies were considered in the course offerings was not regulated and determined by the curriculum – in which Women’s and Gender Studies were generally not even mentioned – but was completely up to the individual scholars. It is perhaps little surprising that since the 1970s, the number of women- and gender-focused courses and the regularity in which such courses were offered at English and American Studies departments has crucially depended on the number of women teaching at the respective department and on the position these women occupied.10 The institutionalization of Gender Studies in the curricula of Austrian English and American Studies was only expedited after the turn of the millennium and has unfortunately regressed again in recent years.

At the University of Vienna, Gender Studies became a fixture in the curriculum in the winter semester 2002/03. That semester saw the introduction of a reformed curriculum, which included an interdisciplinary course with the code 501 for undergraduate studies and two interdisciplinary courses with the codes 526 and 528 for graduate studies, which were conceptualized as literary or Cultural Studies courses with a gender focus. The interdisciplinary courses were mandatory for all students studying towards a master degree and not towards a teaching diploma, which means that a vast number of students became exposed to feminist and gender theory, and were encouraged to reflect on British and American literature through the lens of Gender Studies. In addition, the introductory lectures and undergraduate seminars in Cultural Studies devoted a number of sessions to feminist and gender theory and their application in Cultural Studies analyses of literature, film, television, and other cultural texts. From 2005 to 2008, the English and American Studies curriculum contained a section entitled ‘Cultural Studies – Gender Studies – Interdisciplinary Courses’, which demonstrates that Gender Studies and Cultural Studies were perceived as sharing similar attributes and agendas that were set apart from traditional literary studies. The next reform of the curriculum as a consequence of the Bologna process in 2008 rendered Gender Studies less visible: ← 181 | 182 → The module ‘Topics in Cultural and Media Studies’ includes various courses that bear a focus on gender, sex, and sexuality, but evidently Gender Studies are understood as a sub-discipline of Cultural Studies and not as a field in its own right. On a regular basis, the department also offers seminars in British and American literature that concentrate on women writers, the representation of sex and gender in literature, or the challenging of gender norms and traditional stereotypes through literature, but Gender Studies are not officially inscribed into the curriculum of the B.A. and the M.A. in English and American Studies.11

At the University of Graz, the University of Salzburg, and the University of Klagenfurt, the situation of Gender Studies within English and American Studies is similar to the one in Vienna. Since 2008, the English and American Studies curriculum in Graz has contained a module entitled ‘Module J: Cultural Studies II’, which includes courses with a gender focus; similarly, part of the curriculum in Salzburg is a module called ‘CULT2: Aspects of Cultural Studies’, which consists of courses that deal with questions concerning gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. In the curriculum at the University of Klagenfurt, then, the presence of Gender Studies is reduced to a minimum: a simple sentence that the department regularly offers courses with an emphasis on gender and thus complies with university regulations to support gender-focused teaching, has to suffice. The curriculum of English and American Studies at the University of Innsbruck, by contrast, features a mandatory module on Gender Studies, which introduces students to gender theory and current discourses on gender and sexuality. Additionally, several Cultural Studies modules are concerned with gender as an identity category and aim at heightening students’ sensibility towards gender issues.

3.2  Gender-Focused Research and Teaching in English and American Studies

Given the inconsistency in the degree of the institutionalization Women’s and Gender Studies have been subject to at Austrian English and American ← 182 | 183 → Studies departments, a look at research and teaching activities may shed more light on the commitment of the curricula to Women’s and Gender Studies. Additionally, it is noteworthy to point out the dedication of individual scholars to the support of women in the academia and to the implementation of equal opportunity programs.

3.2.1  University of Vienna

In 1998, Margarete Rubik was the first woman to be appointed chair of English Literature at the English and American Studies department of the University of Vienna, 126 years after the department had been founded. Not only her appointment to an evidently quite androcentric department can be considered remarkable – also in her research and teaching Rubik walked untrodden paths, already before she became full professor. The publication of her book The Novels of Mrs. Oliphant: A Subversive View of Traditional Themes (1994) is undoubtedly a first milestone in Anglicist Women’s Studies at the University of Vienna. The study is doubly remarkable, as it provides a thorough analysis of a female writer, who had fallen out of scholarly interest until the mid-1980s probably because of her unusual treatment of Victorian ideas of marriage and family life; moreover, it is the published version of Rubik’s Habilitation, and can thus be regarded a very open commitment on Rubik’s part to the research on English women writers – both famous and obscure – and to a reading of English literature through the lens of feminism and women’s studies – both in her research and in her teaching. To be sure, her book Early Women Dramatists. Women Playwrights in England 1550–1800 (1998) and the edited volume Eighteenth-Century Women Playwrights. Vol. 1: Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood (2001, together with Eva Müller-Zettelmann), as well as numerous publications on Aphra Behn and Charlotte Brontë testify to that commitment.

Her teaching record shows that Rubik has offered courses located at the intersection of English and Women’s Studies since the mid-1990s, when she first taught the seminar ‘Women’s Studies: A Feminist Perspective’, which had previously been taught by Susan Gunter-Freeman, and a seminar on ‘Early Women Dramatists’. Since then, she has offered courses on, for instance, Victorian women writers, gender stereotypes in Restoration Drama, re-writings of Jane Eyre, fictional heroines in British literature, and gender ← 183 | 184 → and race in short stories, to name but a few. Additionally, Rubik is an active member of the university’s mentoring program for gender equality, a cross-disciplinary mentoring initiative that has been a central achievement of feminist academics in the late 1990s.

Julia Lajta-Novak’s postdoc-project ‘Portrait of the Woman Artist: Gender and Genre in Biofiction’, supported by the Austrian Research Fund (FWF), continues the tradition of Anglicist Gender Studies at the University of Vienna of reading English literature through the lens of feminist and gender-theoretically informed approaches, in order to analyze the (de-) construction of gender roles and power structures, the gendered representation of public and private sphere, or gender-political agendas expressed by women writers as a response to their respective cultural and historical contexts. Melanie Feratova-Loidolt’s research and teaching, by contrast, is highly influenced by French feminism and a Cultural Studies inflected Gender Studies and thus exemplary of the breadth of the field. Feratova-Loidolt defended her dissertation ‘Dancing with Death: Women’s Painful, Feverish, and Fatal Encounters with Life and Love’ in 2005, and has since taught Gender Studies undergraduate seminars (some of them through the funds of the Unit Gender Research) on feminist negotiations of the divine and dogmatic iconographies of the female body, re-imaginings of the female fall and male recreation, cultural configurations of the female scapegoat, and female artistic selves. Applying psychoanalytic theory, poststructuralist theory, film and media theory, and feminist theory to English literature from the 17th to the 21st century, to film, and to other visual material, Feratova-Loidolt’s research and teaching reflects on cultural structures, themes, and myths by pointing out, for instance, the continuities and systematics behind the affirmation of power hierarchies, male hegemony, and the othering of the female and feminine.

Americanist Gender Studies at the University of Vienna had been significantly shaped and defined by Astrid M. Fellner from the late 1990s until 2009, when she became full professor of American Studies at Saarland University in Saarbruecken in Germany. Since the winter semester 1998/99, when she taught the undergraduate seminar ‘A Literature of Their Own: American Feminist Texts’, Fellner had regularly offered courses and lectures with a clear focus on women’s writing, questions of gender and sexuality, and on the intersection of gender, sex, and the body. From ‘Wayward ← 184 | 185 → Girls and Wicked Women’ in British and American literature, ‘Daughters of Decadence’ in Modernism, to cross-dressing in American literature and culture from the 18th to the 21st century, and desire and domesticity in nineteenth-century American literature, Fellner’s courses shed light on gender discourses, power structures, and subversive femininities from colonial America until present-day popular culture. Fellner also offered the first undergraduate course on queer theory at the department of English and American Studies, entitled ‘In a Different Light’, in the summer semester 2006. This course was concerned with the intersection of gender and masculinity, focusing on the representation of both ‘deviant’ masculinities and femininities in cultural texts ranging from the film Brokeback Mountain to Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. The final papers produced in this class were published in the format of an internet anthology, which demonstrates the wide variety of topics and issues covered in class and further developed by the course participants.

Aside from the intersection of gender and sexuality, Fellner’s research has also focused on the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity, and gender and the body, as her publications in the field of American Studies evince. While ethnic women’s writing stands at the center of her dissertation, Articulating Selves: Contemporary Chicana Self-Representation (2002), her Habilitation, Bodily Sensations (forthcoming), focuses on the female body in late-eighteenth-century American culture. The edited volumes Body Signs: The Body in Latino/a Cultural Production (2012) and Making National Bodies: Cultural Identity and the Politics of the Body in (Post-) Revolutionary America (2010) further emphasize Fellner’s commitment to the investigation of the role and function of the sexed and gendered body in American culture. Her recent research engages performance studies, transnational studies, and queer theory as methodological tools and critical paradigms that open up a new perspective on the complexities of power mechanisms and the sexed, gendered, and racialized body.

Dedicated to the implementation of measures aiming at gender equality and the promotion of women in the academia, Astrid M. Fellner also served as an equal opportunity officer at the faculty of the humanities at the University of Vienna from 2007 until 2009. Since Astrid M. Fellner’s transition to Saarland University in 2009, the number and variety of Americanist Gender Studies courses at the University of Vienna has decreased significantly. ← 185 | 186 → Visiting professors Jutta Ernst, Ina Bergmann, and Stefan Brandt all offered at least one course that had a focus on women’s writing or gender theory during their limited employments in Vienna.

3.2.2  University of Graz

Stefan Brandt has recently been appointed full professor of American Studies at the University of Graz and transitioned to Graz immediately after his visiting professorship in Vienna ended in early 2013. Brandt’s appointment to Graz suggests that the American Studies department there will probably develop into the center of Gender Studies in Austrian English and American Studies in the years to come. In his teaching and research, Brandt has focused extensively on the body and masculinity, as his monographs The Culture of Corporeality: Aesthetic Experience and the Embodiment of America (2007) and Inszenierte Männlichkeit: Körperkult und ‘Krise der Maskulinität’ im spätviktorianischen Amerika (Staged Masculinity: The Obsession with the Body and the ‘Crisis of Masculinity’ in Late-Victorian America, 2007) demonstrate. Brandt has taught seminars with a focus on Men’s Studies, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory during his employment at the University of Vienna, and since his appointment to the University of Graz, he has already offered a seminar on the literature of Ernest Hemingway and a seminar on the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of which dealt with representations of masculinity and the body, among other things.

Next to Stefan Brandt, Roberta Maierhofer and Klaus Rieser, both professors of American Studies, and Silvia Schultermandl, tenured assistant professor of American Studies, count Gender Studies among their main research interests. Roberta Maierhofer, who served as Vice Rector for International Relations and Affirmative Action for Women from 2003 to 2007, has been director of the Center for Inter-American Studies at the University of Graz since 2007. In her research and teaching, Maierhofer focuses on the interrelation of Gender Studies and Age Studies: In her 2009 publication Salty Old Women, she developed a theoretical approach to gender and age, and she has written several essays on the cultural and social perception of aging women and the stigmatization of aging in contemporary culture.

Klaus Rieser, whose wife Susanne was the first director of the Viennese Unit for Gender Research, has published on father-daughter relationships ← 186 | 187 → and on the representation of masculinity in American film, from the Western to the slasher film and road movies. He has repeatedly taught seminars on film and gender and has offered courses within the university’s ‘Gender Studies’ program. As the series editor of Transnational Feminism, Silvia Schultermandl is particularly interested in the intersectionality of gender and race/ethnicity in a transnational and transcultural context. Her dissertation was published as Transnational Matrilineage: Mother-Daughter Conflicts in Asian American Literature in 2009, and she has taught several courses on (ethnic) women’s literature and contemporary women of color feminism in the U.S. At the University of Graz, Gender Studies are the domain of American Studies; unfortunately there is currently no one in English Studies with a particular research interest in Women’s and Gender Studies, and, consequently, there are also no courses offered in this area.

3.2.3  University of Salzburg

The situation of Gender Studies in English and American Studies at the University of Salzburg is similar to that of the University of Graz and yet different. Since the appointment of Ralph J. Poole as chair of American Studies, Gender Studies – with a focus on Queer Studies and Masculinity Studies – have become a fixture in the department’s course offerings. Prior to Poole’s appointment, Dorothea Steiner engaged in Women’s Studies as part of American Literary Studies with her publications on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Anne Bradstreet, and other female poets. Concerned with the definition and self-definition of women in American poetry, Steiner also taught and lectured widely on the female tradition, the female voice, and feminist criticism in American poetry. Poole, by contrast, has taught seminars on ‘Wild Men / Wild West’, camp and kitsch, or migration and gender relations. Focusing on gender, and especially masculinity, in a transcultural context and through the lens of queer theory, his teaching and writing is inflected by the recent turn to transnationality and performance as theoretical tools and paradigms. Poole’s publications in the field of Americanist Gender Studies include the monographs Gefährliche Maskulinitäten: Männlichkeit und Subversion am Rande der Kulturen (Dangerous Masculinities: Masculinity and Subversion at the Fringes of Culture, 2011) and Performing Bodies. Überschreitungen der Geschlechtergrenzen im Theater der Avantgarde ← 187 | 188 → (Performing Bodies: Transgressions of Gender Boundaries in the Theater of the Avant-Garde, 1996), the edited volume Hard Bodies (together with Florian Sedlmeier and Susanne Wegener, 2011), the special issue Gender and Humour (together with Annette Keck, 2011) of the journal Gender Forum, the special issue Queering America (together with Catrin Gersdorf, 2001) of the journal Amerikastudien / American Studies, as well as several essays and online publications. Moreover, Poole currently serves as a board member for the Austrian Gender Studies Association.

Anglicist Gender Studies in Salzburg are represented by Sabine Coelsch-Foisner, who has published a monograph entitled Revolution in Poetic Consciousness: An Existential Reading of Mid-Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry (2002), and the edited volumes The Human Body in Contemporary Literatures in English (together with Marta Fernández Morales, 2009) and Daughters of Restlessness: Women’s Literature at the End of the Millenium (together with Hanna Wallinger, 1998). Coelsch-Foisner counts women’s poetry, aesthetics, and the representation of the body among her research interests, which is also reflected in her teaching. Apart from introductory lectures to literary and cultural studies, in which she exposes students to gender theory, among other things, she has taught seminars on body transformations in English literature, the construction of beauty and bestiality, and romantic literature, in which feminist and gender theory occupied a central role as analytical tools.

3.2.4  University of Klagenfurt

At the University of Klagenfurt, Women’s and Gender Studies are currently not a main interest in the research and teaching at the English and American Studies department. In the 1990s and 2000s, Maureen Devine, who is now retired, published and taught extensively on Ecofeminism and American feminist writing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1992, she published Woman and Nature: Literary Reconceptualizations and together with Gudrun Grabher she edited a volume on Women in Search of Literary Space (1991). Simone Puff, former assistant in American Studies, and René Schallegger, currently post-doc assistant at the English and American Studies department, have both lectured within the Gender Studies lecture series ‘Visual Cultures: Gender Images – Gender Imaginaries’ ← 188 | 189 → in the winter semester 2012/13. Puff has also offered courses on (black) women’s writing, the intersectionality of race, class, and gender in (black) America, and on the intersectionality of whiteness, gender, and power in American culture. Currently, she is external lecturer at the University of Klagenfurt and is working on her Habilitation at Saarland University, where she is supervised by Astrid M. Fellner.

3.2.5  University of Innsbruck

The University of Innsbruck was the first Austrian university to appoint a woman chair of American Studies. Brigitte Scheer-Schäzler completed her Ph.D. at the University of Vienna in 1964, her Habilitation at the University of Salzburg in 1972, and became full professor at the University of Innsbruck in 1973. As founding member of the Austrian Association for American Studies, Dean of the faculty of the humanities, chairperson of the Fulbright commission, and member of the Austrian UNESCO-commission, Scheer-Schäzler is one of the few women who were able to assert themselves in the academia in the 1970s and to hold a number of important offices during their career. Counting Women’s Studies among her main research interests, Scheer-Schäzler has published two edited volumes on short stories by women writers (Her Own Story. Short Stories by Women from Different Cultures, 1991, and Women's Fantastic Adventures. Stories by Contemporary Women Writers, 1992), as well as a volume entitled Immigrant Stories: New Fiction by New Women (1996) and numerous essays on women’s writing.

Americanist Women’s Studies was further promoted in Innsbruck through Gudrun M. Grabher, who received tenure in 1989 and has since established herself as an internationally renowned scholar on the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Grabher has published and taught widely on Dickinson and American poetry, but also received critical acclaim for her edited volume Women in Search of Literary Space (1990). In 1997, Grabher supervised Andrea B. Braidt’s diploma thesis on lesbian romance and independent film, which Braidt completed with distinction. Braidt studied English and American Studies combined with Media Studies and Gender Studies, and has since taught Gender Studies, feminist film theory, and gender in film in Vienna, Graz, and Budapest. She has also published widely on gender ← 189 | 190 → and film, most recently the monograph Film-Genus: Gender und Genre in der Filmwahrnehmung (2008). As briefly mentioned earlier, Braidt is currently president of the Gender Studies Association in Austria, which testifies to her continuing commitment to Gender Studies in the Austrian academia. Furthermore, Mario Klarer, who succeeded Scheer-Schäzler as full professor of American Studies in 2010, published several essays on feminist literary theory, the function of gender in literary utopias, the role orality and literacy play in the constitution of gender, and the significance of gender on early images of America. His publications on the work of Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood have received international attention and contributed substantially to the visibility of gender research at the University of Innsbruck.

In English Studies in Innsbruck, there has been relatively little preoccupation with Women’s and Gender Studies. The Linguist Ulrike Jessner-Schmid focuses on the development of gender related speech characteristics in her research and teaching, and Helga Ramsey-Kurz has published several essays on female friendship and female (in)articulateness in British literature. Assistant professor Elahe Haschemi Yekani, who joined the department in 2012, counts queer theory, masculinity studies, feminist theory, and Body Studies among her research interests. She is the author of Privilege of Crisis: Narratives of Masculinities in Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Photography and Film (2011), and co-editor of the volume Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism, and the Political (together with Eveline Kilian and Beatrice Michaelis, 2013) and the special issue The Queerness of Things Not Queer (with Gabriele Dietze and Beatrice Michaelis, 2012), as well as the volume Quer durch die Geisteswissenschaften (Across the Humanities, with Beatrice Michaelis, 2005). Yekani has also published several essays in the fields of Gender Studies and Body Studies, and teaches courses on, for instance, queer cinema, colonial masculinities, and gender and ethnicity in contemporary British literature.

4.  Conclusion and Outlook

As this brief survey has shown, the process of institutionalizing Women’s and Gender Studies in Austria was not a smooth and easy ride. Even though the University of Vienna has always been one of the largest universities ← 190 | 191 → in Europe, it offered little space for female and male faculty and students to develop and discuss a feminist positionality in the academia until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Motivated by the achievements of the feminist movement in the U.S., feminist historians, most notably Edith Saurer, started to design a systematic and well-structured agenda for women in the academia by challenging well-established patterns of behavior, thought, and perception and thus changing the academic landscape at the University of Vienna (cf. Griesebner 2005: 65).

Anglicist and Americanist Women’s and Gender Studies emerged out of these feminist interventions in Austria and were, of course, significantly shaped by the achievements of Women’s and Gender Studies in the U.K. and in the U.S. Up until the new millennium, the institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies in Austria and at English and American Studies departments, in particular, was a slow and tedious process that depended on the commitment of a few dedicated scholars and funds provided by the institutions and the federal minister of science and research. Often subsumed under the rubric of ‘Cultural Studies’, Women’s and Gender Studies had been a fixture in English and American syllabi since the 1990s, but they were only officially included as a field of study and research with the reform of the curriculum in 2002. The turn of the millennium also saw a greater and more wide-reaching promotion of Gender Studies research centers, Gender Studies programs, and institutional initiatives directed especially at female researchers and scholars. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, as a consequence of the institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies at Austrian institutions, international collaborations and intellectual exchange, especially between Austria and Germany, have been thriving. Joint collaborations date back to the 1980s, when, for instance, Katharina Bachinger (Salzburg) co-organized the annual conference of the German Association for American Studies on women in U.S.-American culture and society in 1984, and they have naturally developed with the appointments of German scholars to Austrian universities and vice versa.

The current situation of Anglicist and Americanist Gender Studies in Austria is neither particularly bleak nor particularly bright. At all main English and American Studies departments, gender-focused courses are offered, albeit in very varying degrees. While the American Studies sections at the University of Graz and the University of Salzburg have recently ← 191 | 192 → developed a strong focus on Masculinity Studies and Queer Studies with the appointments of Stefan Brandt and Ralph J. Poole, English and American Studies at the University of Klagenfurt devotes less attention to Gender Studies and offers considerably less courses focused on gender-related issues. The current research of post-doc scholars in English Studies at the University of Vienna and the University of Innsbruck testifies to the breadth of Women’s and Gender Studies as academic fields and to the wide variety of gender-related issues that English and American Studies in Austria has not yet tackled and dealt with. Furthermore, a quick look at Ph.D. and diploma theses currently in progress across Austrian English and American Studies departments shows the unfaltering interest of students and young researchers in Gender Studies. There is, in other words, enough work left to be done to keep generations of Austrian English and American Studies scholars busy.


Dvorak, Eve Nayaradi, ‘Introduction’, in Austrian Women in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives, eds. David F. Good et al. (New York: Berghahn Books, 1996), pp. xi–xxxii.

Frakele, Beate, Elisabeth List, and Gertrude Pauritsch, eds., Über Frauenleben, Männerwelt und Wissenschaft: Österreichische Texte zur Frauenforschung (Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1987).

Gehmacher, Johanna, Frauen- und Geschlechtergeschichte im Nationalsozialismus (Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2007).

Goodman, Lizbeth, ‘Introduction’, in Literature and Gender, ed. Lizbeth Goodman (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. vii–xiv.

Griesebner, Andrea, Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft: Eine Einführung (Wien: Löcker, 2005).

Hauch, Gabriella, ‘“Wir, die viele Geschichten haben…”: Zur Genese der historischen Frauenforschung im gesellschaftlichen und wissenschaftlichen Kontext’, in Frauen- und Geschlechtergeschichte: Positionen / Perspektiven, eds. Johanna Gehmacher / Maria Mesner (Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2003), pp. 21–36.

Heindl, Waltraud, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Frauenstudiums in Österreich’, in ‘Durch Erkenntnis zu Freiheit und Glück…’: Frauen an der Universität ← 192 | 193 → Wien (ab 1897), eds. Waltraud Heindl / Marina Tichy (Wien: WUV, 1990), pp. 17–26.

Katschnig-Fasch, Elisabeth, ‘Frauenforschung in der Kulturwissenschaft – Ein marginales Problem?’, in Über Frauenleben, Männerwelt und Wissenschaft: Österreichische Texte zur Frauenforschung, eds. Beate Frakele et al. (Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1987), pp. 56–66.

Saurer, Edith, ‘Die Arbeitsgruppe Frauengeschichte am Institut für Geschichte der Universität Wien’, in Von den Bemühungen der Frauen in der Wissenschaft Fuß zu fassen, eds. Gertraud Seiser / Eva Knollmayer (Wien: Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung, 1994), pp. 171–177.

Tichy, Marina, ‘Die geschlechtliche Un-Ordnung: Facetten des Widerstands gegen das Frauenstudium von 1870 bis zur Jahrhundertwende’, in ‘Durch Erkenntnis zu Freiheit und Glück’: Frauen an der Universität Wien (ab 1897), eds. Waltraud Heindl / Marina Tichy (Wien: WUV, 1990), pp. 27–48.

Thurner, Erika, ‘Introduction’, in Women in Austria, eds. Günter Bischof, et al. (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1998), pp. 1–4.



Unit Gender Research, University of Vienna:

Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Johannes-Kepler-University Linz:

Gender Studies Association Austria:

Repositioning of Women’s and Gender History, research platform:


Project Ariadne, archive and documentation of women’s history in Austria:

Stichwort, archive of the women’s and lesbian movement in Austria:

Frida, network of Austrian Women’s Studies Libraries and Archives:

[Received September 17, 2013] ← 193 | 194 →


← 194 | 195 →

1 A short note on my usage of Women’s Studies versus Gender Studies is due: As Lizbeth Goodman has noted in Literature and Gender, ‘gender’ is a ‘social or cultural category influenced by stereotypes about “female” and “male” behavior that exist in our attitudes and beliefs’, which are, however, culturally constructed and not biologically given (Goodman 1996: vii). The study of literature and gender, therefore, does not merely refer to the literary analysis of texts written by female authors but ‘the wider study of literary texts as they are written, read, and interpreted within cultures, by women and men’ (Goodman 1996: vii). Gender Studies have developed in the wake of Women’s Studies, which are concerned with ‘the representation, rights, and status of women’ and have not undergone the post-structuralist turn that has significantly altered theories on sex, gender, and the body (Goodman 1996: x). Women’s studies have emerged out of the second feminist movement and are, as such, a field devoted to consciousness-raising activism and to the documentation of social, political, or cultural achievements of women. In later sections of this contribution, I differentiate between research and teaching conducted in the area of Women’s Studies versus research and teaching in the field of Gender Studies.

2 For a historical survey on the resistance against the admission of women to higher education, see Marina Tichy’s essay ‘Die geschlechtliche Un-Ordnung’ (1990).

3 In exceptional cases and under special circumstances, auditing courses had been possible for women since the winter semester 1878/79, but women were not allowed to sit in exams or obtain a university degree (cf. Griesebner 2005: 44).

4 Women remained excluded from technological universities, veterinary universities, and universities of natural resources and applied sciences until after the first world war (cf. Heindl 1990: 18).

5 On this point, see also Gabriella Hauch, who speculates that fascism and National Socialism effectively exiled entire generations of female researchers and scholars from university premises, which inevitably affected the second women’s movement in Austria, as female scholars identifying with feminism knew hardly any female professors that could serve as positive role-models (cf. Hauch 2003: 28).

6 For a detailed account of the history of women during the second world war, see Johanna Gehmacher’s book Frauen- und Geschlechtergeschichte im Nationalsozialismus (2007).

7 In 1983, Hertha Firnberg, then federal minister for science and research, first introduced an initiative to support gender-focused teaching at Austrian universities. This initiative was terminated in 1993, but the ministry recommended the continuation of the program by establishing a ‘women’s fund’ that should serve as an equivalent substitution. The University of Vienna, the University of Graz, the University of Salzburg, the University of Innsbruck, and the University of Klagenfurt still support the special funding of gender-focused teaching, as far as the budget allows.

8 For links to the research centers and academic programs see

9 For a first foray into the intersection of Cultural Studies and Gender Studies by an Austrian feminist scholar, see Elisabeth Katschnig-Fasch’s essay ‘Frauenforschung in der Kulturwissenschaft – Ein marginales Problem?’, which was originally part of an interdisciplinary Gender Studies lecture series at the University of Graz in 1985, and published in the lecture series proceedings two years later.

10 The next section will provide an overview of the individual departments’ achievements in women- and gender-focused research and teaching.

11 The only brief mention of gender in the M.A. curriculum talks about the analysis of social hierarchies and power structures regarding sex/gender, class, and race/ethnicity as part of the Cultural and Media Studies module.