Visibility and Inclusion

Stefanie Reinthaler & Meike Steinberg


The words visibility and inclusion, their interplay, and especially their role in activism are becoming increasingly significant. The visualization of experiences of discrimination has the potential to bring previously invisible experiences into the spotlight and dismantle barriers to inclusion through lived and narrated experiences of exclusion. Particularly in feminist activism, there is a striving to consider and tell intersectional and multidimensional experiences of discrimination in order to make them visible and create safe spaces for individuals through measures and concepts. In this interview with Eva Taxacher (E) held on June 12th, 2023 by Meike Steinberg (M) and Stefanie Reinthaler (S), we attempt to define the terms visibility and inclusion and illustrate how they are employed in practice.


S: I would like to thank you once again, and we are very happy that you took the time for us. Would you please introduce yourself briefly, regarding your education, career choices and so on?

E: My name is Eva Taxacher. My pronouns are preferably none, or in the context of working in a women’s organization, also she and her. I studied sociology and later pursued a part-time master’s degree in International Gender Studies and Feminist Politics. In recent years, I have increasingly focused on facilitation, coaching, and organizational consulting, but for our conversation, my sociology studies and the International Gender Studies and Feminist Politics are probably more of interest. I have been working at the WomenService Graz for ten years. So we are almost the same age. The WomenService was founded in 1984 and is one year younger than me and will turn forty next year.

S: So, in this call, it’s ultimately about the visualization of inclusion, especially in practical terms. And if you had come across the call on your own, would you have felt addressed by it, would you have connected it to yourself and the WomenService in any way?

E: It would have definitely caught my attention, but I don’t think I would have thought of submitting anything. And I believe that’s because from the perspective of an organization like the WomenService, all our doing is about inclusion and social justice. However, the term “queer-feminist” is not something that immediately comes to mind as something that specifically concerns us.

S: How would you define visible queer-feminist inclusion? Because these are two very broad terms, and based on what we have heard about the call, there is a lot that can be done with them since the call is quite wide-ranging.

E: Well, thinking these two terms together (“inclusion” and “queer-feminist”) is actually harder for me than other terms related to visibility or social justice. I wonder why that is. I haven’t been able to read the call in depth, but if we were to reverse the interview, I would ask you what exactly is meant by queer-feminist inclusion?

S: Well, when I think of feminist, I immediately think that feminism is no longer just about the equality of men and women. It has become much broader and includes the classical concept of intersectionality. It encompasses all feminist concerns, addressing marginalized groups where some individuals face discrimination, some multiple times. It’s not just about making marginalized women visible but all marginalized individuals.

E: And what makes it queer-feminist?

S: The term queer is somehow intertwined with that from my perspective. Queer, to put it cautiously, is everything that deviates from the norm or what the majority of people consider as the norm. It doesn’t necessarily refer only to sexuality or being non-heterosexual, but also encompasses – I’m missing the term right now – but generally, it means that queer and feminist are not limited to women but also include marginalized groups in general. The aim is to integrate them and make them visible, incorporating them into projects and drawing attention to the issues they face. That’s my thought on it. What about you, Meike?

M: Similarly, by focusing on queer people, it highlights a group that might not be visible in research, even though it’s already included in the feminist perspective as you mentioned, especially if we consider it as intersectional. It’s good to emphasize it because queer people often remain invisible in research, for example, due to surveys being designed for the inclusion of binary genders only. So, it’s important to highlight the significance of inclusion and give it a name to ensure that all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, or self-identification, become visible in research.

S: Exactly, especially in research, like with the Gender Data Gap, the classic example where car airbags are designed for white middle-aged men, which can be life-threatening for individuals with different body types. It’s crucial to be visible in research. Do you have anything to add or any further thoughts on this? 

E: Yes, I’ve had some Aha moments while you were talking. One thing is that much of what you described would already be covered for me by the term feminist. And then my biggest realization was actually that, for me, I believe that the terms queer and inclusion don’t really go together. Of course, it depends on how one understands the term inclusion, but often it is used in the sense of personnel policies, hiring practices, addressing diverse target groups, it is about integration. While the goal of “queer”, for me, is not integration into an existing system but rather doing something radically different. That’s why I think I’m drawn to this term individually, but it gets entangled in combination, and I find that really interesting. I find that really fascinating.

S: I think the term queer is really difficult to define somehow.

E: That’s the good thing about it. Another question could be, how inclusive is the term queer? 

S: We have at least started an attempt at defining visible queer-feminist inclusion. Earlier you mentioned your master’s studies. To what extent was the inclusion and exclusion of people in research a topic there in general? Because the call is very much oriented towards activism and really taking active measures or having programs, but how does it look like in research?

E: Well, in my master’s thesis, I dealt with an archive, where it was very much about the question of inclusion and exclusion and whose history and materials were documented there. Moreover, it was an archive that attempted to document the history of the women’s movement in Graz/Styria. So, what happened in archives in general was always focused on specific aspects, like: Who is actually meant by women’s history? What I’m interested in is this distinction and specificity of fields. So, as you asked me, would this call have appealed to me if I had found it? And my answer is, I find it interesting, but no, it probably wouldn’t have appealed to me in the sense that I could submit something as WomenService or Gender workshop. And that’s the distinction between science and socially engaged institutions and projects which work very, very practically oriented. We have something like an activist scene, people who don’t get paid, whereas we all here at WomenService do (there is a small project where volunteers also work). And yes, that’s something I’m thinking about a lot: there are many people dealing with feminist issues, visibility issues, inclusion, social justice, and queer topics. But where are the intersections and what can we do together? And there is still a lot of room for improvement. And trying to do something about it was with the founding of Women’s Action Forum. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it? It has been around since 2016, and there were eight or nine of us from different fields and areas: artists, activists, employees of women’s organizations, academics. So, we created forums to bring together the various actors. And it’s working well and is important, but there still needs to be happening more.

S: Referring again to this archive story: Which stories are primarily told?

E: Well, it’s not an easy question to answer. The archive that I researched, the archive of DOKU Graz (Women’s Documentation and Project Center) was an organization that existed from the late 1980s until 2011, I believe. I studied their collecting practices. And the result is that there is always a specific, very particular image of who is an actor in this field, who is considered part of the local women’s movement, what does “feminist” mean. And these ideas manifest in what is being collected and what is being left out.

M: We found on the WomenService website that you are a coordinator for the course “Gender and Diversity Competence for Scientists” at the Technical University (TU) Graz. What is taught in the course, and what experiences have you had during the course or in creating the course? And how do you see it in relation to the call?

E: A colleague from TU, from the Office for Gender Equality and Equal Opportunity, Armanda Pilinger, approached the Gender workshop to jointly design this course, based on the course that the Gender workshop has been offering for a wider public since 2004. This regular course already has decades of experience in how to build it best, the flow of modules and content, as well as the cooperation and collaboration of the staff, the lecturers who lead these modules. An essential point, for example, is that we always work in pairs, simply to have more eyes on the participant group, both in terms of process and content. In the course we specifically designed for TU, there is a focus on specific aspects. The first two modules are an introduction to diversity and an introduction to what gender means in research and technology. Then there are in-depth modules on research, teaching, and team work and personnel selection. I find the experiences in these courses and with the participants really encouraging. Encouraging in the sense that these are people who will shape the future with their expertise and knowledge in their respective fields. So, everything related to technological innovations, software, and all these highly complex topics that we laypeople have no idea about — if there are people with gender and diversity competencies involved, it’s really reassuring because many of the maldevelopments we have experienced and are experiencing might be reduced.

They will really make a difference. At the end of the course, the participants, in the regular course and at the TU course do a thesis, a practical work where they are asked to integrate and implement the course content into their respective field of work, their research or teaching. I remember one colleague, who did research in her field. She is in architect, and the history of architecture, like many disciplines, is male-dominated. She then designed her own course on female architects and the role that women in Graz have played in architecture. So, it was more like a historical exploration, which connects to our topic of visibility. Another colleague dealt with representation. I believe that at the TU, for each field of study on the website, there are image photos where you can see a person holding or doing something typical for the field of study. She studied these photos and did a visual analysis, questioning who is represented. The result: they are all young, almost all white, very attractive, and conforming to body norms and beauty standards, with an above-average number of women. But here we come to the dilemma: Do we want to depict reality, which would show far fewer women, or do we want to depict the women present, so that more women will also come here? Especially when it comes to visibility and representation, there is no one right answer. A little sidestep regarding visibility: it’s currently Pride Month (June), and I’m even wearing a rainbow belt. But at the same time, I feel uneasy when institutions, like Magenta and A1 and all the trams of the Graz Holding Company, display rainbow flags. Because I know that still, I believe two-thirds or of people who identify as homosexual are not “out” at their workplace. We still don’t have full recognition and antidiscrimination laws regarding sexual orientations in Austria. And that is a reality that is distorted or made invisible by this rainbow flag display.

M: Is the course primarily for students, or is it for researchers who are employed?

E: It is primarily for scientific personnel with the consideration of sensitizing young scientists at a point in their career where they will continue to pursue and support gender and diversity competence throughout their careers.

M: We’ve already touched on the Gender workshop. I wanted to ask again, in a general sense, what is the Gender workshop, and how is queer-feminist inclusion and visibility practiced there? What are their goals? What are the challenges? And how does the team deal with it?

E: The Gender workshop is a collaboration between the association WomenService Graz and the Association for Men’s and Gender Issues in Styria. This collaboration started in 2001 when Gender Mainstreaming was mandated as an EU directive, and the colleagues from these two genders-specific organizations thought about what it actually means for them. How can they make something out of it? And that’s how the Gender workshop was born. It has been around for more than 20 years now, and the team has partly changed over time. Some people have been there from the beginning, and there is also a relatively large group that is new, including considerations of visibility and expertise. The Gender workshop is an expert working group where individuals work either in one of the organizations or work independently as lecturers, presenters, or facilitators, and with different competences. Currently, we are a team of 13 people, many of whom teach in one or both of these courses. But we also receive inquiries from social and educational institutions for workshops or in-house trainings. Our experience has been that in recent years, due to changes in the Civil Status Act, where there are now not just two options for gender registration but six, there is a lot of interest in topics such as trans issues, queer issues, gender diversity, non-binary perspectives. Therefore, we have also tried to incorporate these topics within our team. As for visibility, for example, on the Gender workshop website, some individuals have their preferred pronouns mentioned, while others don’t. I believe it makes people think, it creates some irritation, but also provides an opportunity.

M: What are the challenges and how do you deal with them?

E: The challenge we face in working with the groups we primarily engage with is that there is a simultaneity of different experiences. There is a growing group that already has a lot of knowledge about gender and diversity, is familiar with the terms and abbreviations, and has high expectations of us as lecturers. But there are also participants who have fewer theoretical knowledge, and if we were to communicate only with the knowledgeable group, we would lose those. So, the challenge in workshop settings is to design content and exercises in a way that, ideally, participants benefit from each other by realizing what concerns each of them. It’s about creating educational settings that are inclusive and non-dogmatic, where people can open up, can struggle and deal with gender and diversity issues in a brave space, where they find encouragement and the insight there isn’t one right answer to complex questions. As one of my colleagues, Michael Kurzmann, would say: “The world is complex and so are we”. This is something that we reflect on and discuss a lot within the Gender workshop team. For example, we discuss how to introduce the topic of preferred pronouns, whether it should be a norm or not, as it may require people to disclose their own pronouns. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it because there are contexts where it should not about me. But as soon as I say that being a woman is not my preferred identity, it becomes an issue that may distract from the participants topic. So, there is no definitive answer to what the right approach is.

S: So, it also relates back to the issue of visibility we discussed earlier regarding the TU. How can we build something that is effective in raising awareness but not off-putting for some who may resist the idea of pronouns, for example?

M: Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how science could become more inclusive? Because you already have experience with scientists from TU Graz in various contexts through the courses and working with different people. What would be an idea of how it could work?

E: Saving the world? (laughs) Well, I believe the most crucial point is the issue of the inheritance of educational qualifications in Austria. This is not directly related to queer visibility, but it has to do with an intersectional understanding of who is represented in universities. Working-class children simply have a much more challenging start. The probability of attending a university, let alone having a career there, is much lower for them. And there is still a lot to be done on every level, I would say. The understanding of what makes a good scientist is an excellent example. There is a great book by a sociologist and colleague, Sandra Beaufaÿs, called “How Are Scientists Made?” (Wie werden Wissenschaftler (sic!) gemacht) It shows that a lot of what is expected of a scientist is male-coded. This is not specifically related to queer visibility, but it has to do with the compatibility of family, personal life, and profession. Universities have a very elitist, exclusive attitude in terms of who can work passionately and voluntarily for 60 hours or more per week. This is only possible if there are people who take on the care work, and often these are women from Eastern European countries or from the Global South. Thus, a chain of injustices continues, a global care chain, and it applies not only to universities or TU Graz but to society as a whole. It is important for couples, regardless of their gender constellation, to share unpaid work fairly. The slogan of the former Minister for Women in 1994[1], ” Full fletched men share 50/50″ (“Ganze Männer machen halbe-halbe) is still very relevant. There is a re-traditionalization that is associated with legal regulations on when and how much parental leave can be taken, the fact that men earn more and are expected to work, while women are expected to stay at home. So, it’s a big, complex issue that needs to be addressed.

M: And as a final question, how is the relationship between scientific theory and practice? Is there potential for better collaboration in the future between theorists and those with practical experience?

E: If I knew the solution, I would have already implemented it, but I think there are good examples of mutual recognition, acknowledging each other’s strengths and finding ways to integrate them. There are many good examples of this. For instance, in the field of pedagogy, they often invite practitioners from the WomenService to their lectures, and they sit in the WomenService library or attend events at the Infocafé Palaver with my colleague to see what it looks like in practice. I believe that’s very important, and it can be applied to any context. In many research projects, they already consider implementation in practice, and there are many practitioners who are eager to share their experiences. Of course, it’s also a question of resources. There is often interest from universities, for example, to collaborate with the WomenService. But then the question arises: How do we allocate resources? Yes, the motto is probably the recognition of diversity. If we talk about the issue of simultaneity and non-simultaneity, there might be a gap between theoretical development and practice, both in gender research and, I believe, in more technology-oriented fields of study. Practitioners often feel that what is produced in theory is not applicable to their work. This requires some kind of translation between the two. It’s great to have innovative thinking and concepts like cyborgs, for example, inspired by Donna Haraway’s work. But in practice, it’s not always straightforward, and practitioners may still be dealing with the same issues as forty years ago, counselling women on how to achieve financial independence, how to leave a violent partner, how to manage a living as single parent. This creates a fundamental dilemma. One cannot exist without the other. And it’s essential to be aware that practice is often more challenging, less subtle and rougher than we would like it to be. That’s not a very optimistic ending, but it’s the reality.

[1] Johanna Dohnal

Stefanie Reinthaler is a master’s student in political economics at the University of Graz. In the future, she wants to focus her research on the field of feminist economics and specifically engage with economic research on the topic of care work.

Meike Steinberg is a master’s student in political economics at the University of Graz. In her specialization courses, she decided to not only study traditional subjects in economic theory and empirical applications but also to focus on diversity and gender. This choice aims to broaden her perspective and deepen her understanding of how economics, diversity and gender interact.