Marlene Streeruwitz: Manifesto and Testament


Opening speech for the exhibition … of bread, wine, cars, security and peace at Kunsthalle Wien, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020


Never again do I want to be called a strong woman.

Never again do I want to be banished to that place where strong women live and where no one need be concerned about the concerns and needs of strong women. I no longer want to have to live in that inner exile that the prevailing social culture forces upon women who are no longer willing to allow themselves to be objectified. It is a form of banishment that at every moment triumphantly reaffirms the desired inequality by means of minute actions and movements within society. This banishment is imposed on all genders beyond that of the hegemony.


Never again do I want to be born into that state of cultural neglect that has always been concerned with the upbringing and education of young men while forcing young women and persons of all other genders to appropriate this narrow, liberticidal form of upbringing and education merely in order to avoid being excluded from every possible form of social participation.

Participating in this reactionary educational system amounts to reproducing the discreetly self-evident system of oppression into which men are forced by virtue of their militarization in school, sports and economic activity. The person who has thus been educated must then use the language that is held to be valid by the system in order to be able to make himself or herself understood. Yet what the person who has thus been educated will be able to speak will never be understanding.

Never again do I want to be forced to adopt the hegemonic and therefore reactionary idea of revolution and resistance in order to make any attempt whatsoever at finding my own way of thinking.

No longer do I want to have to accept that every achievement of mine will be measured according to hegemonic and therefore reactionary criteria but that, at the same time, my gender, like every other non-hegemonic gender, not existing within the scope of these criteria, every effort on my part will be sucked into this void and automatically made to disappear.


Never again do I want to have to realize that everything that has strengthened me as a woman only furthers my objectification and that everything I do that follows the example of men makes the objectification of my femininity complete.


No longer do I want to see that my striving to become an individual of accountability can, because of the antinomy of person and gender in our culture, be made to disappear and that in the logic of this invisibility no place can be found in society where this achievement might become visible to all.


No longer do I want to see the hegemonic sex get away with meticulously planning and implementing the poverty of elderly women that results from a lifetime of discrimination.


No longer do I want to have to endure the realization that all new knowledge that I acquire is but a reminder of the extent to which I have been fettered by efforts on the part of the state, society and our culture to determine, on the basis of my sex, what purpose I am to serve. Those efforts have resulted in my being aware of what freedom is without my ever being able to experience it.


I do not want to have to acknowledge that it is only by adapting myself to the objectifying desires of the hegemonic sex that I will be allowed to seek asylum – if no more than that – within current society.

I will always deplore the fact that femininity serves as a pretext to load everything – indeed all of life – with inessentiality. I will always deplore the structural contempt that exists in this society, which I cannot but perceive as constant, discreet depreciation. It is the value of life itself, thus assessed, that determines in each case the quality and length of a person’s life. Contempt is a murder weapon.


Never again do I want to have to go through the process of learning how the perpetrators of the Shoah were able, with society’s help, to melt back into society. And also, how it was possible – and to such an extent – for their deeds and views to be accepted with impunity. Their reckless involvement in the events of the past is today making its reappearance as blatantly völkisch ideology.

No longer do I want to have to witness the miserable plight reserved for victimized persons in Austria. In Austria, the perpetrators are greeted with standing ovations. Placido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival. Otto Mühl at the Burgtheater. Kurt Waldheim at every restaurant where he showed up to dine. We can pretty well imagine the standing ovations the perpetrators receive in clubs, social organizations and on various private occasions. Thus, an atmosphere of permanent retraumatization of the victims ensures that every attempt at reaffirming a person’s fundamental rights is stifled. To applaud the perpetrators is to once again hunt down the victims.


Never again do I want to hear or read about a woman who has achieved something who says she has never had any use for the ratings and that this whole business about gender simply does not apply to her. Gender as a social construction concerns every person. The hegemonic sex certainly knows how to leverage its masculinity. A social construction being fabricated by everyone else as well, and absolutely no one being excepted in this regard, the only contingency lies in the sex determined by birth; and from birth on, every person is ruled by cultural and social constructions.

Given today’s prescribed notion of the self-made person, every person has the duty to work towards a democratic construction of gender. This pertains in the first instance to one’s attitude towards one’s own gender and also to one’s critical scrutiny of one’s own actions in relation to a democratic form of gender equality. For women and for all other non-hegemonic genders, this also means making clear to oneself the constraints imposed by social gender’s imprint and by socially gender-motivated adaptation as well as realizing the extent to which hegemonic claims find themselves being reproduced in one’s inner world. All forms of queer feminism that lead to a political philosophy of individual accountability are based on this kind of work on the self. The goal must be a liberation that brings about a respect of fundamental rights and, consequently, the cessation of state control over the individual by today’s authoritarian democracies on the basis of birth and, consequently, gender. Every self-accountable democratic individual is entitled to choose his or her name, gender and worldview.


No longer do I want to have to witness how women who have not been victims of violence triumphantly set themselves apart from women who have been or continue to be affected by violence. In their triumph, the women who consider themselves unharmed bring about a depreciation of the others by presenting them as victims who are themselves to blame for their misfortune. This makes it necessary to deny violence in order to survive. What is more, women’s personal responsibility finds itself divested of contingency. The denial of contingency, in its turn, makes it impossible for the lives of women to be grasped philosophically. Consequently, no attempt to gain political awareness as a sex can possibly succeed. The preservation of the patriarchy’s elitist status as a philosophically graspable entity is thus ensured.


Never again do I want to be compared.

I want to see all comparisons between persons put to an end. Comparisons only serve to exploit rivalries. The beauty industry, since its very beginning, has used comparison to exploit women to the utmost. We should see to it that all individuals, by having their fundamental rights guaranteed, can live their lives as they see fit without being robbed – or even being able to be robbed – of their self-esteem by comparisons.


I have lived my life as a woman. I have repeatedly taken it upon myself to live my life as a woman and to wrest this life-as-a-woman from the subordination that is so self-evident in this society and in this political system. I would only too gladly have formed this resolve in another environment of openness and under more democratic conditions. It has always been clear to me that the decision to live my life as a woman and to fulfill the responsibilities and duties that go along with that decision imposes upon me the disadvantages that derive – continue to derive – from the cultural subordination of the feminine in our society and in this political system. This is an anti-democratic state of affairs resulting from a gender culture that secretly continues to hark back to the autocratic rule of the paterfamilias that characterized the century and a half during which the civil code held sway and makes every man – no matter how enlightened he might be – a war profiteer of this cultural reality and, by the same token, makes every change in this culture appear to be a loss of hegemony for every man – no matter how enlightened he might be. And so it goes in the post-bourgeois age – secretly and unwittingly. In the case of the far right in the post-bourgeois age – wittingly and with anti-feminist tenacity. Authoritarian democracy – our form of government – is authoritarian partly for the purpose of maintaining this inequality in order to preserve the elite’s status as an elite. It is from the constant efforts to preserve this elite that all forms of identitarian politics then emerge; and from the authoritarian nature of that which is kept hidden in our cultural reality, these forms of identitarian politics have been able to derive a right to assert overt dominance over all natural rights. This is a flagrant contradiction of the fundamental rights that are sovereignly defined by the natural rights of every individual. In my experience living in this society and in this political system, I have never encountered a practice of fundamental rights. In this country, it is perhaps in spaces outside the social realm, private spaces, that the relevance of fundamental rights is acknowledged. The struggle that began in the 18th century for emancipation from the notion of fate being determined by birth continues to this day. To this day, in conditions of inequality that are made to persist, nothing has been done to ensure that women are able to meet the demand placed on them to care and provide for themselves. By dint of child benefits, the welfare state has been converted into a form of institutionalized rule by a super-paterfamilias, which sees every woman forced to take the state as a partner. Instead of equal distribution of resources, the ghastly thought of the state becoming the father of all children becomes reality. This is a form of fatherhood that asserts total control over the child – co-begotten by the state – in matters concerning the child’s name, gender, religion, nationality and school education. The birth data determines how the child is registered bureaucratically. It determines how the child is to live.


I want a revolution that affirms for every person his or her basic democratic rights to self-determination, one that, in the redistribution of resources, establishes a democratic culture that nurtures an awareness of the necessity of social participation in the observance of fundamental rights. I would like to see a democratization of the control exercised by society and not the reactionary feuds among men variously in league with one another in their Internet silos, men who come charging into our political reality as if in a Wild Hunt. I would like to see the individual freed from bureaucratic registration by the surveillance state / security state and guaranteed the enjoyment of the fundamental democratic rights of radical democracy. The democratic individual is entitled to full self-definition and thus to become emancipated from the happenstance of birth, which, in reactionary fashion, binds the individual to collective fates. When birth is no longer a verdict passed on the entire life that has yet to be lived, and when matters concerning name, gender and worldview are left to be decided freely by individuals who have been capacitated to take responsibility for themselves, then freedom will constitute the beauty of a person and the survival of the world – the only, all-inclusive entity – will be guaranteed as something self-evident.

Marlene Streeruwitz, born in Baden (Lower Austria). Studied Slavic Studies and Art History. Freelance author and director. Literary publications since 1986. Lives in Vienna, London and New York.