By Jim Dagg
It’s so infuriating to see right-wing populists creating the idea of “gender ideology” as just another weapon for stoking fear in the general population and thus mobilizing support for themselves. We can identify it readily as yet another “empty signifier”. As usual, it’s a label designed to manufacture anger and division. By opposing LGBT ideas with the normal operation of the family and the state, anti-gender initiatives become nationalist ones. This nationalist link (you are a danger to Poles if you’re not also Catholic and heterosexual) is even more strained than the argument that immigrants threaten the nation. But, similar to anti-immigrant campaigns, anti-gender campaigns also villainize real people.
Gender ideology’s headline enemy is LGBT people and their freedom: they get most of the vitriol. They are the most obviously different; they are labelled usefully as un-natural. But as the right identifies the heteronormative family as the intended victim of dangerous “gender ideology”, it also attempts to limit rights in such a family. Reproductive rights –contraception and abortion – are opposed, and male dominance is supported. These views get to ride for free on the “gender ideology” train.
Several of the articles observed that anti-gender arguments characterize “gender ideology” as a form of totalitarianism. Say what?! Ignoring the fact that there is no actual ideology… they emphasize its claimed non-democratic character: that a minority would impose new constraints on the freedom of the general population. Clearly – at least to some – the opposite is true.
3 Replies to “Manufactured division”
I really liked how your post did a deep-dive into how things like LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights are positioned as threats, particularly to the nation state. I completely agree that these discourses are wholly manufactured. I would also even say that, like other types of conspiracies, they are capitalizing off of historic discourses. For example, the family, representing reproduction, is often presented as a gauge for the “health” of the nation. As such, with this traditional association in mind, presenting human rights as dangerous to that unit, they manufacture significantly more anxiety. And, as we know, populist movements are ultimately driven by raw emotion, like fear.
Jim, isn’t the term ’empty signifier’ just so useful? Love it. I’m going to use it forever.
I like how you’ve tied this to identity. The idea of “you are a danger to Poles if you’re not also Catholic and heterosexual” of course does not stem from Polish identity, but is rather a weaponization of that identity. You’ve summarized it well.
I also wonder if the term ‘totalitarian’ is an empty signifier like ‘gender ideology’ is. I doubt anybody using the term could offer a satisfactory definition. Once I learned what empty signifiers were I just started seeing them everywhere, and I think a lot of us have too.