Leuven University Press

Anke Gilleir on Gender Norms in European Culture

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We asked author Anke Gilleir three questions about Strategic Imaginations and her research on the role of gender in political rule and thought.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

It is no so much an anecdote as some flashes of aha-experience I had when putting together the manuscript. This volume roots in my long-term interest as a literary scholar in women’s history and the mechanisms of gender in culture and society. When it comes to women and political power, I discovered that history did not have to yield to the ravings of literary imagination in grappling with the very phenomenon. Then I came across a review of Mary Beard’s Women and Power, which convinced me to carry out this book project. The same happened when I was brooding on the issue of women and biopolitics in the dynastic rule. By sheer coincidence, I saw Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Favourite, and it seemed like he understood what I think I understood about the bodies of queens.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

The research of this book went through several stages. It started from literary history and the question if and how women writers from the long nineteenth century grappled with the awkward historical (r)evolution of their time that witnessed an essentially inclusive political system that excluded the notion of women as political agents. I learned to know the research that has been done on the masculinity of early democratic movements and the research on historical queenship. From all that impressive political and historical material I had to move back to my—stubborn—intuition about the longue durée suspicion of women in power in European history and culture.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

I have read a lot of historical research that addresses women and political rule in specific contexts and that has added to the complexity of rule and sovereignty beyond clichés of ‘the’ ancient regime (and/or the dawn of democracy). I think I would welcome some more comparative research on the persistency of certain gendered phenomena, intelligently and nuanced yet all the same drawing a larger picture…

*Leuven University Press, established in 1971 under the auspices of KU Leuven, is an ambitious academic press of international standing, and is distributed by Cornell University Press in North America.

Featured Photo: Map of Europe. Credit: Christian Lue.

Cover image of Strategic Imaginations.
Read more about this book.

Anke Gilleir is Professor of German literature and gender theory at the Department of Literary Studies at KU Leuven.

Aude Defurne received her PhD in German literature in 2020 at KU Leuven.

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