This week’s readings focused on defining anti-genderism, both theoretically and in practice. Many of the authors, namely Paternotte and Kuhar as well as Zuk and Zuk, highlighted the parallels between the anti-gender repertoire and the populist repertoire, often noting that these two styles can collaborate. One element in particular stood out to me and that is anti-genderism’s paradoxical nationalism and transnationalism. On the one hand, anti-genderism in Europe is part of a larger international conservative movement against so-called “gender ideology” that builds on dialogues from across the world, like evangelical American Christianity and TERFs in England. Yet, more often than not, these movements react to nation-specific policy and social change. They position “gender ideology” as part of an “international” conspiracy to “erode” at their nation’s “traditional values”. As we saw in the Zuk and Zuk reading, Polish Anti-gender activists, expanding on the traditional Catholic-Pole image, present gender as a “Western Neo-Marxist” conspiracy. They present gender diversity and women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as “manufactured” by elites; some, like the Catholic Church, even imply it is a violent invasion, referring to reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights as “ideological colonialism”. Not only does this demonstrate the populist dynamic of anti-genderism, but it is evident that this can quickly evoke the antisemitic imagery implicit in conspiracies such as “cultural Marxism” and “globalist” conspiracies. Understanding the connection between antisemitic and anti-gender is fundamental to gaining a complete grasp of how these movements are able to, and often do, mobilize against various marginalized individuals, despite not actively claiming to. We tend to side-line transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny as products of far-right populism. However, these readings have demonstrated that, compiled under the banner “anti-genderism”, these features can act on their own accord and collaborate with other repertoires, like populism.
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.
“Of course the Catholic Church started it, of course they did. I shouldn’t even be surprised.” -Me, about 90 minutes ago
The Paternotte/Kuhar article shows that modern anti-gender campaigns originated from the Catholic Church in the 1990s. The Church created a fictional dichotomy between a “culture of life” represented by themselves and a “culture of death” represented by feminism and the LGBT+ community. Despite being a Catholic thing, this idea quickly spread transnationally. However, there is still a potentially Catholic-inspired anti-semitic angle to it, as we see in Hungary with the Peto article. There (and presumably in other countries too), gender is viewed as coming from universities and primarily from the Central European University, which was established by George Soros. Last week, the readings discussed how the use of Soros as a scapegoat was an anti-semitic distraction from actual government corruption under Viktor Orban. This reference to Soros is no different, and really the whole thing smells of smoke and mirrors.
Both the Paternotte/Kuhar and Butler articles note that anti-gender campaigns accuse the LGBT+ community of being pedophiles, and gee I wonder why the CATHOLIC CHURCH would do that. Maybe they use those accusations as a distraction from their own actions? This rhetoric can also be used to strengthen the Church’s position by embedding it in religious freedom debates, anti-colonialism, moralism, and national cultures, as most of this week’s articles point out. Somewhat separate from religion is the aspect of Holocaust memory brought up in the Zuk/Zuk article. Here, we see Polish politicians and clergy equating abortion to the Holocaust, which is evidence of Eastern Europe’s failure to come to terms with the Holocaust, as discussed in previous weeks. It also fits into the anti-semitism of the Soros conspiracy.
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