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“Women Are Threatened by Foreign Concepts of Womanhood” – Governmental Intersectional Discrimination

This post is the first part of and the frame for a mini-series of diverse feminist guests who will each share an insight I cannot give due to my identity/lifestyle. I will start and end the series with current, more general contributions on intersectional feminism.

Austria has really done it. We’ve managed, as a country that likes to think of itself as modern, to abolish the Women’s Ministry. Isn’t that a reason to celebrate, because clearly we don’t need it anymore since equality has been reached? Do I even need to answer this rhetorical question?

Austria is doing terrible when it comes to pretty much any measure of equality between men* and women*. Its gender pay gap is – depending on how you calculate it – consistently around 20 percent (see here for a comparison to other EU member states – Austria is fifth from the bottom) . Women* suffer from intimate partner violence, including femicide (=the killing of women* and girls* because of their gender) more and more (click here for statistics), although Austria’s general crime rate remains rather low. There are countless other examples that show this discrimination, but it all boils down to this: we clearly need a ministry that deals with sexism, ideally intersectionally.

Now, we have the opposite. The new ministry is supposed to deal with both women* and integration of immigrants, but clearly fails to do either. The new minister, Susanne Raab, belongs to a party that rose to power on the scapegoating of Muslims and immigrants and whose politics for women* seem to be limited to helping well-off, “Austrian” mothers alone. She has repeatedly stated that she does not see herself as a feminist and has never experienced sexism in the workplace. But, as described above, actual truth of such a statement is highly unlikely in a country that is still as deeply sexist as Austria is (and even if it is, someone familiar with the issues would have evidently been the better choice). In this context, being a feminist would simply mean recognizing the existing inequality and finding change desirable. Apparently, she cannot do even that, which begs the question: What is she doing in her new position?

Well, she seems to understand the two main areas (women and integration) as something that largely exists hand in hand in the real world. Based on her belief that “Austrian” women* are threatened by “foreign” concepts of womanhood, one of her main goals is to abolish the headscarf for adolescents – children are already not allowed to wear it in Austrian schools/children’s institutions and laws already exist that make forcing a woman to (not) wear something punishable (sources here and here). But if these laws already exist, what is the point of focusing on the group of Muslim women* and girls*?

This focus, together with the emphasis on “foreign” men, paint the picture of suppression being a problem of the “others”. Even though Raab talks about male violence in other areas as well (see above), there is usually a strong focus on Us VS Them. Portraying the issue like this has two consequences: male violence can be used as an argument for racism and the real male violence does not have to be treated too harshly. The first aspect has been used in almost any racist system in history for fearmongering against immigrant men*. One of the most prominent examples would be the US, where African American men* (and now Muslim men*, too) continue to be painted as particularly violent and sexually aggressive, thereby providing a “reason” for their discrimination. KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw has written extensively on this subject, and I would recommend her work to anyone living in a heterogenous society (so everyone). Discriminatory politics will not be identified as harmful as long as white women* and their loved ones share this fear.

The second consequence is that violence against women* now does not have to be investigated further. Violence against “Austrian” women* can be explained away with the threat coming from elsewhere, directing attention away from the white/non-Muslim/non-immigrant men* who largely cause it. And Muslim women*? Violence against them can now be dismissed a little easier if this violence is seen as inherently other – the perceived problem becomes the community and not the violence of one individual against another.

None of these strategies are new. For centuries, men* of color (and/or of a different religion) have been attacked by using the argument of “protection” of white women*. The interesting thing is that everyone ends up losing – the (Muslim) men* of color, who suffer from racial discrimination, the (Christian/Atheist) white women*, who are pushed back into having to be “protected”, and the (Muslim) women* of color, who now fall out of the equation entirely. As a member of the in-group, it’s my job to say that I won’t stand for this. This dynamic has been going on for too long, and it’s time for us to stop it now, once and for all.

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