The Emergence of Gendered Power Structures since Early Modern Times. Practices-Norms-Media

The Emergence of Gendered Power Structures since Early Modern Times. Practices-Norms-Media

Research Network Gender, Power Relations, and the State (Geschlecht Macht Staat)
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
23.11.2022 - 25.11.2022
Anja Krause, Seminar für Neuere Geschichte, Philipps-Universität Marburg; Katharina Simon, Seminar für Neuere Geschichte, Phillips Universität Marburg

Analysing gendered power relations from 1500 to the present day from an interdisciplinary perspective the research network Gender, Power Relations and State presented its working hypotheses at a conference to challenge the further development of the concept through new impulses and discussions. Linking approaches from history, literary and cultural studies, art history and political sciences, the network is looking at norms, social practices and medializations around gendered power relations that allow to retrace transformation processes and continuities from the early modern era to the present day, aiming to challenge the narrative of a clear cut break around 1800.

In the opening lecture MYRA MARX FERREE (Wisconsin-Madison) retraced changes in US-American families from the “modern breadwinner family” of the 19th and early 20th century to present day family models of equal partnership. She studied how demographic changes and crises influenced framings of the family as political institution. In the current “cultural war” that targets issues of families, reproduction, heteronormativity and migration, members of the New Left and the New Right are responding to the demographic crisis. While political agendas of the two groupings are diametrically opposed, the discourses contest democracy and thereby illustrate the interconnection of demography and democracy. Solutions to these challenges have to evolve around gender and generation matters, Marx Ferree pointed out, to create a demos fostering democracy that bases its ideals on diversity.

Panel 1 was preluded by HELEN WATANABE-O‘KELLY (Oxford), who examined official portraits of female rulers/leaders, from early modern queens to “post-modern” female politicians, to find out how they adapted and used iconographies of power originally developed by and for men. She showed how differently women in power used images to accentuate their very specific role(s), ranging from ambiguously double gendered representations to exclusively masculine or feminine depictions as either military leader, “mother of her nation,” or masculinised professional. In all instances, the female body played a signal role, mirroring a usually prevalent identification of women in power with their clothes – something the media still liked to use to undermine female power and its imagery.

In Panel 1 PÉTER BOKODY (Plymouth), HANIA SIEBENPFEIFFER (Marburg) and ALEKSANDRA MATCZYŃSKA (Wrocław) picked up the thread and argued for the centrality of the female body in medialising and challenging (female) “official” power. While Bokody illustrated that the depiction of wartime rape and violence against women around 1500 served to demonstrate the moral depravity and loss of political control during times of war, Siebenpfeiffer examined the_ Herrschaftsdramen_ of the late 17th century on Mary Stuart to expose their medialisation of the female ruler’s body as a means to promote absolute male power as antidote to internal conflict, and the instability and inadequacy of female regency, disempowering institutions such as parliament. Matczyńska pointed out how noble women in early 17th century Saxony and Silesia were increasingly excluded from participation in public power, which led them to focus their patronage on sacral art. Women thus played no small part in shaping church interiors, which depicted them in their differing gender roles, embedded in different families.

Comparing fictionalisations of female presidency KATJA KANZLER (Leipzig) opened panel 2 by exploring the potential of comedy and satire as a critique of the presidential hero narrative, that dominated older dramatizations of female presidencies, to analyse power, leadership, femininity, and power resources. in the US-American TV show Veep . RIRHANDU MARGEZA-BARTHEL (Pretoria) critically read the British Show Black Earth Rising against the historical backdrop of Rwanda’s process of coming to terms with the 1990s genocide and against the “Africa Rising” narrative, which highlighted African success stories of female leadership and equality in political institutions, and stylised Rwanda as flagship of this transformation. Referring to the French TV shows L’Ètat de Grace, Les hommes de l’ombre and Baron Noir, SARAH SEPULCHRE (Louvain) outlined that female presidents were portrayed as unusual political characters, who often acted in relation and reaction to men and were stylized as being more ethical and less corrupt, sacrificing their careers for a higher good.

CLAUDIA ULBRICH (Berlin) examined inhowfar gender constructions and -relations in the early modern period were based on an “unbridgeable difference” between masculinity and femininity, to find that women’s participation in power was determined by other factors than their gender alone (i.e. by kinship), as the significance of gender relations differed throughout time. However, discourse tradition of writing history from the early modern era on has emphasised and reinforced the message of male superiority over women as necessary prerequisite for humankind to withstand evil – a tradition that glossed over women’s frequent overcoming of all sorts of boundaries. These discourse traditions therefore should be related to female agency, Ulbrich suggests, to enlighten the extent and influence of gender constructions.

Panel 3 started off with IMKE LICHTERFELD’s (Bonn) exploration of gendered stereotypes and power relations in Shakespeare’s plays. His “weak kings”, she argued, served to showcase “true” power as masculine, and allow for other (female) characters to shine in an expanded experimental plot. GRETA OLSON (Gießen) focused on Kamala Harris’s intersectional vice-presidency as first woman of colour holding that office. Having been accused of holding office solely based on her gender and race, she had capitalised on these to criticise the juridical restriction of women’s rights and others, to put intersectionality on the representational screen. LEA REIFF (Marburg) conversely showed how in Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s tragedy Maria Stuart in Schottland (1860), the protagonist’s femininity served as pretext for her deposition; not as in Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart, through the murder of her husband, but through the assertion of “true” masculine hegemony in the character of the Earl of Bothwell that ignored female political superiority.

In panel 4 RICHARD HERZOG (Marburg) portrayed how the Nahua traditions of matrilineality and female rulership were forcefully replaced with patriarchal structures in the process of Spanish colonization. Drawing from colonial memoirs and journals KATE MCGREGOR (New Brunswick Fredericton) analysed racialized beauty norms in German Samoa (1909-1916) as an instrument for German women of exerting control over racialized bodies in a male dominated colonial sphere. CHRISTINE KLAPEER (Kassel) looked at contemporary “Western” media representations of homophobia and anti-LGBTQI*rights in the global south as ”homo-developmentalism“, that highlighted the continuities between colonial hierarchies and epistemic violence by reproducing the “coloniality of gender” and by rendering invisible the violence of heteronormativity.

BIRGIT SAUER (Vienna) examined the (”modern” Western) state as intersectional and gendered relation of violence, as intrinsically patriarchal and masculinist, and based on capitalism, colonialism and gendered exploitation. To perpetuate itself, the state constantly transformed, institutionalising homogenous structures, inscribing itself into peoples’ bodies as a practice that had to be lived. The “modern” welfare state remained patriarchal, with prevailing relations of violence against “others”, as Sauer stressed, without guarantee to more (intersectional) equality, that remained always contested.

Panel 5 followed thematically, commencing with JULIA KÖNIG’s (Mainz) analysis of colonial picture postcards from the height of German colonial expansion. By drawing intimate connections between sexual and colonial conquest, these postcards used ridicule to racialise and devaluate the colonialised “other”. Looking at divorce cases before GDR courts and the feminist movement around women’s shelters in the BRD, JANE FREELAND (London) found striking similarities in the struggles of the women involved concerning domestic abuse and violence, as the state preferred ensuring patriarchal dominance instead of limiting female insecurity, thus perpetuating the image of women as inferior.

In Panel 6, looking at ego-documents VINCENT DOLD (Berlin) studied representations of female revolutionaries in the German Socialist Movement (1848-1918). He proposed re-evaluating the house as revolutionary space that allows insights into women’s roles and work in connecting houses, streets, and barricades. LIDEWIJ NISSEN (Nijmegen) introduced a new research project, that uses newly digitized records of the Dutch parliament from 1500 to today to study female agency and communicative practices in the gendered institution before and after women’s’ official membership of parliament. Analysing gender-based violence in parliaments, DOROTHEE BECK (Marburg) indicated that these forms of violence were shaped by hegemonic masculinity in an attempt to (re-)establish male sovereignty and subjugate women, other genders and men outside the hegemonic masculinity ideal.

In a last session CARMEN BIRKLE (Marburg), ANNETTE HENNINGER (Marburg), INKEN SCHMIDT-VOGES (Marburg) and SIGRID RUBY (Gießen) drew conclusions and impulses from the papers and discussions for further development of the research network. The conference proved the interdisciplinary approach to gendered power relations to be insightful and fertile. The emergence, transformations, and continuities of gendered power relations in different political spaces and medial representations, which did not evolve lineally towards progress but shifted between progress and backlash, should be retraced further, to examine how the past was continually used as point of reference and as a political argument to forget, reinvent and reshape history and traditions. The family understood as political institution was highlighted as a crucial point of reference in debates on gendered power relations throughout time. Examining representations in various media exposed entanglements of art and power as instruments to both enhance and challenge power structures. A challenge lies in finding common grounds, terminologies, and methods along and across disciplinary lines. Furthermore, consequently analysing the intersections of gender, race, and class as categories of difference in their respective contexts and considering the in- and exclusionary mechanisms of power beyond euro-centric points of view would strengthen the networks approach to conceptualise gender, power relations and the state.

Conference overview

Keynote Lectures:

Myra Marx Ferree (Wisonsin-Madison): Contested Modernity in Family Gender Regimes

Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly (Oxford): Images of Female Power from Elizabeth I. to Angela Merkel

Panel 1: Medialization of Gendered Rule in the Early Modern Period

Péter Bokody (Plymouth): Political Control and Sexual Violence in Italian Painting Before 1500

Hania Siebenpfeiffer (Marburg): The Queen’s Medialized Body, or Maria Stuart on the Early Modern German Stage

Aleksandra Matczyńska (Wrozlaw): Visual Representations of Power and Prestige of the Noble Family in Artistic Commissions of Women in the Early 17th Century Silesia and Saxony

Panel 2: Imaginations of Female Presidency in TV Series

Katja Kanzler (Leipzig): Veep: Presidential Power, Gender, and Modes of Televisual Imagination

Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel (Pretoria): Pinnacles of Power: Political Representation and International Development(s) in Rwanda

Sarah Sepulchre (Louvain): Female presidents, politicians like any other? Analysis of the gendered stereotypes conveyed in the French political series L'Etat de Grace, Les hommes de l'ombre, Baron noir


Claudia Ulbrich (Berlin) Unbridgeable Differences? Gender Constructions in the Early Modern Period

Panel 3: Entangling Conceptions of „Weak Rule“ and „Femininity“ from Shakespeare Plays to Presidential Representation

Imke Lichterfeld (Bonn): Negotiating the „weak king dilemma“

Greta Olson (Gießen): Kamala Harris’s Vice-Presidency Intersectionally

Lea Reiff (Marburg): „The Shadow of a King“: Power and Precarious Masculinities in Plays by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and Friedrich Schiller

Panel 4 – Subalternity and Epistemic Violence

Richard Herzog (Marburg): Matrilineality and Native Female Rulership as Told by Nahua Historians of Early Colonial Mexico

Kate McGregor (New Brunswick): “There is only one way to be pretty!” Racialized Beauty Norms in German Samoa, 1906-1916

Christine Klapeer (Kassel): Homosexualizing modernity? The geo-temporal dislocation of homophobia and colonial genealogies of sexual othering.


Birgit Sauer (Vienna): The State as an Intersectional and Gendered Relation of Violence

Panel 5 – Sexuality, Violence, and the State: Norms and Regulations

Julia König (Mainz): Imperial Fantasies and the Constitution of the White Subject. Sexualized Gender Power Structures in Colonial Picture Postcards around 1900

Jane Freeland (London): Gender and Domestic Violence in Divided Germany: Marriage, Divorce and Women's Shelters

Panel 6 – Women as Newly Emergent Political Actors

Vincent Dold (Berlin): The Second Revolutionary? Gendered Revolutionary Scripts and Their Inherent Power Inequalities in the German Socialist Movement from 1848 to 1918

Carla Hoetink and Team / Lidewij Nissen (Nijmegen): Gender and Parliament: An exploration of sources, methods and concepts for research into the gendered power structures of the Dutch States-General

Dorothee Beck (Marburg): Gender-based violence in political institutions: Dimensions of Theories of Democracy

Final Discussion:

Carmen Birkle (Marburg), Annette Henninger (Marburg), Inken Schmidt-Voges (Marburg), Sigrid Ruby (Gießen)