Combining theatre studies and discourse analysis, and using Austria as an example, this research project deals with the question of how the gender imbalances evoked by COVID-19 are being commented on, legitimised or concealed by political leaders. The central hypothesis is that women have assumed a paradoxical (in)visibility within the staged crisis management of the Austrian Federal Government. On the one hand, women were clearly underrepresented in the press conferences held in view of COVID-19 and in the accompanying reporting. On the other hand, stylized as “everyday heroines” and “system maintainers”, they played an important role within the discursive staging of the current health and economic crisis. Yet, this ostensible discursive appreciation of women goes hand in hand with a perfidious reproduction of paternalistic stereotypes that naturally link women to motherhood and (unpaid) care work. At the same time, according to the hypothesis, such strategies favour the staging of antitoxic masculinity and support the speakers involved in their attempt to free themselves from sexist tendencies. Conversely, the staging of the (male) political actors in the face of the outbreak is based on concepts of task-related competence and instrumentality and gives rise to figurations of the Athlete, the Father, the Commander-in-chief and the Redeemer, through which hegemonic male identity can be performatively created in the context of the crisis and inscribed in the symbolic order.

Research questions

Based on the aforementioned hypothesis the research questions are as follows: How do political representatives perform gender in face of the pandemic health and economic crisis? What choreographic, iconographic and linguistic elements form the basis for the intermedial apparatus of the crisis management performed by the Austrian Federal Government? Which gender roles are implemented or perpetuated in the context of COVID-19? How do metaphors regarding sports, religion and the military seep into the performed discourse? What ethno-national stereotypes are implemented or perpetuated in this context?

Methodological approach

The project attempts at linking the emerging field of appearance studies rooted in theatre studies with approaches of feminist critical discourse analysis. This methodological link promises a targeted analysis of the mediatisation of political stagings and their historically conditioned views, ideologies and (gendered) bodies of knowledge in the context of the current crisis.

Innovative aspects

Performing Gender in View of the Outbreak responds to the alarming lack of gender-specific analyses within the research of pandemics or the ways politics deal with them. The project touches on the central socio-political discourses of our time and places them in a historical and global context. 

Hard facts

This project is funded by the Akutförderung SARS-CoV-2 of the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Grant: Euro 250.645,00) and led by Dr. Silke Felber (Assistance: Mira Achter). It will be conducted from 2021-2014 at the Department for Cultural Management and Gender Studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.