First of all, could you please tell me briefly about the creation of GENDER INTERNATIONAL? Why have you come with this idea? How many people are part of it? What are its main goals?
Many scholars who work within the diverse fields gender and sexuality studies decided to form an organization to counter the public misunderstandings of the field and the recent political attacks in this field of study. We are an international group, representing leading figures in the field from more than twenty countries. Our views are formed through a collaborative international discussion.
Talking about the manifesto devoted to the Brazilian issue: Why have you decided to write and sign it? How do you see this recent attack on humanities and social sciences in Brazil? In your opinion, what does it represent?
I see that there is a fear that these academic disciplines have become “ideological” in the sense that they represent distinct political agendas. But actually, there are important debates and conflicts within these fields and most scholarship is not oriented toward a political party or program. The interpretive social sciences and the humanities offer students necessary skills in reading, writing, and communication, and open debate on the values that guide society. If universities become dedicated to technical skills or to advancing market interests, they lose their distinctive mission to give students a broad sense of history, to debate the best values, and to present viewpoints backed by evidence. We cannot understand our world without stories and images, interpretation and argument. And if market values are not the only values to be affirmed, we need the humanities and social sciences to develop an informed understanding of history, society and the imagination. To deny these disciplines is to deny both memory and hope and leaves us adrift in a world driven by economic forces alone. How would we answer the question of what we live for and what kind of world we want to live in if we negate philosophy? How would we understand how the world is organized if we eradicate sociology? One can have any number is political positions and still value these fields. Some of the greatest conservative thinkers have emerged from both disciplines.
Gender studies is a field of study that crosses all the disciplines, including the history of science and medical ethics. the fear of gender is the fear of a phantasm. If those who oppose it were to know its complexity, they would be surprised. But they act from ignorance. So if we agree that it is better to act in the basis of knowledge rather than ignorance, then we would make room for such fields that help us to understand our place in the world, the meaning of equality, and the ideals of justice.
What are the consequences of suppressing funds to sociology and philosophy?
The world becomes poorer and we come to value ignorance for fear of gaining knowledge. For Brazil to deny funding for these fields is for Brazil to leave the international pursuit of scholarly knowledge and to privilege fear over informed knowledge.
Is it possible to understand why is it happening around the world? We have been watching some similar situations in the US, on Hungary and now in Brasil. Why is that? Is there something that connects all those measures against the universities?
There is a fear that critical and open inquiry leads to a conservation of some of the more established norms in society and the power of both the Church and the State. But gender is but one relatively small field within the humanities and social sciences and it is internally conflicted and diverse. Not everyone is gender studies has the same political position. And if gender studies were actually studied through social science methods, that actual complexity would take the place of the fearful phantasm.
Why it seems “dangerous” for some governments to encourage and finance knowledge?
If people learn to question the statements of the government, then governments cannot rule the people without challenge. The attack in knowledge is historically a tactic of authoritarianism. Without history courses informed by solid historical research, we cannot know this.
Last Tuesday, the Brazilian secretary of Education, Abraham Weintraub, said that the government would suppress 30% of the budget for 3 universities under the allegation of “confusion, mess” (something like “bad behavior” on campus). Later, after a lot of critics of persecution, he changed and did something even worts: he decided to extend the measure to all Brazilian public universities. I know that you have written the manifesto before those fund cuts, but I would like to ask you to comment this massive withdraw of public money from the universities.
Universities are often considered the source of critical perspectives that give us a chance to rethink assumed presumptions. This draconian move is a sign that the government fears what might happen if people have knowledge. They imagine universities as bastions of leftism, but that is a sign that they do not know what is happening in universities.
At today’s edition of Folha de S.Paulo, there’s an interview with the American writer Camille Paglia. And she has said that gender ideology “has contaminated” Brazilian universities — when asked about the recent withdraws and attacks to our universities by Bolsonaro’s government. Do you agree with that?
I’m quoting her here: “I have seen the stupid gender ideology slowly creeping into Brazilian universities through gender studies departments. I’ve been following this. I thought: this is going to be a disaster, it will erase the essence of the Brazilians. The Brazilian view is authentic, real, profound, and this gender ideology is foreign contamination. I hoped that the Brazilians would make a resistance movement to gender ideology. And it happened, but unfortunately, resistance came from evangelicals rather than coming from more progressive figures on the left. Why did Brazilian educated classes allow this issue to be embraced by the right, and allowed the extreme right to explore the gender issue? Because the progressive voices on the left are not saying clearly that there should be no gender theory in Brazil?”
Camille Paglia is a provocateur whose viewpoints are not taken seriously. She is always looking to make an outrageous statement as a way of getting attention. these issues deserve more serious attention. there is no one concept of gender and no one theory. To call it an “ideology” is to act as if it is a political mystification. But gender studies seeks to understand across cultures and languages the meanings of masculinity and femininity, the relation between nature and culture, the history of inequality and the social formations of the family, dependency, nurture, and care. It does not prescribe a way of life; it studies the historical and cultural ways of life to understand human society better. We all negotiate gender categories in everyday life, wondering what is right for women and for men, and we see that there is a spectrum of ways of understanding sexual difference, the family, sexuality within society. To understand this spectrum is not to endorse one way of life over another. It is simply to become more knowledgeable about our world. And this can only make us live and act in a more capacious and mindful way.