About the Conference
Global Anti-Gender and Anti-LGBTQ+ Politics: Historical Continuities, Transnational Connections, Contested Futures
October 28, 2022, 9:30AM-7:00PM
Swift Lecture Hall, 1025 E 58th Street, Floor 3, and Zoom
In recent years, social movements and political campaigns challenging women’s rights and LGBTQ+ equality have mobilized publics across the globe, from West Africa to Central and Eastern Europe, South Asia to North America. Even as some countries have witnessed an expansion of reproductive rights, marriage equality, and the legal recognition of transgender people, in many others these rights have been substantially weakened, diminished, or outright withdrawn. As commentators and academics have explored, “anti-gender” and “anti-LGBTQ+” movements often reach beyond national borders and draw upon shared strategic and material resources. Rather than consider such movements as independent national(ist) “backlashes,” this series of workshops seeks to explore their connections historically and geographically, as regional expressions of a well-connected and well-funded conservative coalition. And yet, these campaigns are not monolithic; while their actors may share similar goals, considerable differences can be observed in their political, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
This workshop queries the unlikely globalism of anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ+ actors, participants of movements that often criticize women’s rights and gender equality as cultural imperialism forced upon unwitting publics by global elites. What might explain the global reach of these movements today: shifts in mobilizing strategies, social media campaigns, or something else entirely? And what might account for the popular appeal of anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ+ politics in such vastly different political, social, and religious contexts?
To see information about previous portions of this workshop, visit this link.
9.30–9.45am: Opening remarks
9.45–11.45am: Panel 1: Historical Continuities: Reframing History, Recasting the Political
Chair: Angelina Ilieva, University of Chicago
Discussant: Deborah Nelson, University of Chicago
11.45am–12pm: Coffee Break
12–1.30pm: Keynote Address: Camille Robcis, Columbia University
2.30–4.30pm: Panel 2: Transnational Connections: Localizing the Global, Mobilizing through Media
Chair: Nisha Kommattam, University of Chicago
Discussant: Leah Feldman, University of Chicago
4.30–5pm: Coffee break
5–7pm: Panel 3: Contested Futures: Illiberal Populisms, Politics of Threat
Chair: Amy Krauss, University of California, Santa Cruz
Discussant: Linda Zerilli, University of Chicago
Keynote Address -- Camille Robcis, Columbia University
The Question of Gender at the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference
The talk examines the debates that emerged during the mid-1990s around the term and the concept of “gender” in large international conferences sponsored by the United Nations. Around the mid-1990s, and specifically during the 1994 population conference in Cairo and the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing, feminist activists consciously began using the term “gender” to lobby for a series of rights including reproductive and sexual rights. In opposition, Vatican representatives who were present at these conferences began to describe these efforts as inspired by a “theory of gender.” Specifically, they cited the works of feminist thinkers such as Judith Butler, Anne Fausto-Sterling, and various French feminists as the main architects of this theory, ideology, or agenda that would lead to the destruction of the family and of the social fabric more broadly. Although the “theory of gender” was more often cited than defined, it came to encapsulate a series of fears and fantasies about social and political belonging, especially as the term traveled from the Vatican to other conservative activists of the global Christian right.
Panel 1: Historical Continuities: Reframing History, Recasting the Political
Agnieszka Graff, University of Warsaw
This paper examines an aspect of anti-gender campaigns that has not received much attention: their real and imagined geography. While some scholars have denied that geography matters at all, I show it matters enormously: anti-gender campaigns conducted in Central and Eastern Europe have a distinctive set of core themes, and their outcomes tend to be different. Anti-genderism has become the new language for nationalisms in the region, one that serves as a code for expression of anti-EU sentiments and a broader resentment against the liberal West. The CEE variant of the anti-gender argument has a strong anti-colonial theme which allows resistance to ‘gender ideology’ to capitalize on historical experience: East-West tensions, the history of Soviet domination, resentments of the transition era, present-day anxieties and the disillusionments concerning the European Union. The West is presented as decaying, on the way to self-destruction, and the role of savior of Western Civilization is assigned to countries of the region. There is also a strong conspiratorial/antisemitic subtext, which tends to be repressed in other contexts. I argue that the role played by Russia in these developments is significant and should be examined carefully.
Lorna Bracewell, Flagler College
“This Is A Work for the Mothers”: Reclaiming Motherhood for the Feminist Left
On May 3, 2022, the Duval County School Board took up a resolution concerning Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law. The resolution expressed “unequivocal support” for the law, thanked the lawmakers who enacted it, and condemned Duval County Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ Support Guide. Ultimately, the resolution failed, but only after public comment had been offered by nearly 300 community members. The politicization of an explicitly maternal concern for children is common. What are we to make of this embrace of “mom” as a political identity? Does maternalist politics inevitably reinscribe ideas about femininity, whiteness, and the public/private divide that contribute to patriarchal white supremacist capitalism’s smooth functioning? Or can motherhood provide a viable site of political resistance for leftist, progressive, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist political projects? In a political moment when feminism is increasingly framed as hostile to mothers, when conservative, right-wing, and anti-feminist politicizations of motherhood abound, and when feminists and progressives are becoming increasingly open to experimenting with maternalist politics and rhetoric, contemporary feminism can be well served by a concrete historical example of a feminist who addressed herself directly to mothers, framed motherhood not only as an obstacle but a great feminist desideratum, and hitched maternal duty to progressive policy goals like sexual freedom and universal affordable high-quality childcare.
Sharmila Parmanand, London School of Economics
This paper examines the political dynamics of the resistance to gender and sexual rights in the Philippines. It explores two key themes. The first is postcolonial contradictions and how they manifest in the struggle for these rights. On the one hand, opponents of these rights invoke tradition, “Filipino values”, and a rejection of “Western imperialism”. On the other hand, many of these groups have intimate ties with Western religious conservative organizations whose advocacies are at odds with the more expansive conceptions of gender and sexuality in pre-colonial Philippines. The second is the instrumentalization of feminism and LGBT rights at the service of authoritarian political projects, and the new hierarchies of oppression that are formed. The third is the overarching theme of “paternalism” that pervades most efforts to justify sexual surveillance and violence, expand police powers, and thwart assertions of rights for women and LGBT individuals. Religious group’s opposition to abortion is often couched in the language of “protecting” not just the unborn but also women from “regret and psychological damage.” Protesters, including LGBT and women’s rights groups, have been red-tagged* and constructed as threats to public health (at the height of the pandemic), with some of them having been directly threatened by Duterte and arrested. The intersections and discontinuities between these key themes are also explored.
Panel 2: Transnational Connections: Localizing the Global, Mobilizing through Media
Patrick Awondo, University of Yaoundé
Even if the category of anti-gender is not always mobilized in discourses by actors in African contexts, forms and actions against groups identified on the basis of their gender and/or sexualities are present. In Francophone Central Africa, there are anti-feminists and anti-abortion groups on the one hand and practices and groups against LGBTQI+ on the other. I map out anti-LGBTQI+ actors and analyze the current factors in their expansion based on two cases: Cameroon in Central Africa and the Central African Republic. Their agenda is to impose an unfavorable social and legal rights framework. This ranges from attempts to criminalize or increase penalties for homosexuality, to banning meetings, demonstrations or even the expression of LGBTQ+ identities. Those who participate in these campaigns position themselves as “new patriots” or “cultural actors” trying to conserve true values of the “African continent”. I also want to reflect on the impact of such actions and groups in the digital sphere. There are waves of discourses and counter-narratives pushed by undisclosed activists on the web but also by open groups that clearly organize to stop SOGI rights expansion. One of those groups is known as “le Syndicat 2000”. This group can be viewed as an expression of the reconfiguration of patriarchy, masculinity, and a new generation of sexual nationalism. It openly redefines the boundaries of identy, and especially “real masculinity”, positioning it against femininsm and same-sex practicing persons.
Rodrigo Borba, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
“Gender ideology” has become a flagship term for campaigns to counter gender equity and sexual liberation worldwide. Used as a device to anathemize feminist/queer scholarship and activism, its strength lies in its semantic elasticity. Elusive and multifaceted, it variously encompasses anything from sexual orientation and gender identity policies, to reproductive rights, progressive school curriculums, feminism, communism, cultural Marxism, the UN, and the EU (i.e. globalism) to the political left. The formula “gender ideology” gained political traction despite the apocalyptic tone its supporters champion in their public appearances. Against this backdrop, this talk discusses anti-gender linguistic and discursive infrastructures by probing two corpora of far-right media from Brazil and the US. Grounded on corpus-based critical discourse analysis, I argue that “gender ideology” is framed within semantic realms of manipulation, puppeteering, falseness, and danger. I also suggest that anti-gender rhetoric acts as an all-encompassing narrative whereby a cohort of inchoate but ideologically interlinked conspiracy theories are lumped together in a seemingly coherent whole. Comparing datasets from two countries empirically illustrates how anti-gender rhetoric crosses transnational borders and adapts to local specifics along the way.
Panel 3: Contested Futures: Illiberal Populisms, Politics of Threat
Srimati Basu, University of Kentucky
Asserting Vulnerability as Anti-Gender Politics: Indian Antifeminist Men’s Rights Activists’ Claims to Gendered Harm
Globally, “men’s rights” movements (MRMs) span pro-feminist men’s groups addressing harms of sex roles, a variety of alt-right type men’s organizations, alongside charitable and human-rights and environmental associations. Crucially, many of them, across the political spectrum, represent masculinity through an affective politics of abjection. The Indian MRM (like the global International Men’s Day association) leans into ideas of vulnerability, loneliness and exclusion in an assertive, aggressive mode that takes simultaneous aim at feminists (especially governance linked to feminist ideas) and women (synecdochally standing in for wives) as being at the root of their plight. It locates itself within the language of human rights and gender equity, identified as the dominant discourse of inclusion (and hence of resources) in our times. This paper demonstrates the ways that the Indian MRM inscribes vulnerability and abjection onto itself. It locates the MRM within prevailing global men’s rights discourses of health and harm, and follows the ways they highlight masculinity as debility, and men’s health as the prime crisis, providing evidence for men’s economic and social abandonment through the bodies of poor men or suicide. Drawing on such woundedness, MRAs (men’s rights activists) can deflect or justify accusations of violence, and critique law and punishment. Through close readings of an exhibition sponsored by the central MRM organization, performative public actions, and the circulation of narratives about death, the paper shows the affective momentum the movement seeks to accumulate, and the forms of resistance it champions.
Benjamin Moffitt, Australian Catholic University
“Liberal Illiberalism”? The Populist Radical Right’s Weaponization of Liberalism on Gender and LGBTQ+ Issues
Although populism is often seen as antithetical to liberalism, populist radical right (PRR) figures and parties in Western Europe and the Anglosphere have increasingly reconfigured liberal tropes for their own illiberal purposes, particularly when it comes to issues around gender and LGBTQ+ rights. I argue that this discursive shift represents a move towards ‘liberal illiberalism’, and examine how and why PRR actors have presented themselves as liberal defenders of ‘Enlightenment values’, liberty and freedom around gender and sexuality as a way of opportunistically attacking their enemies – immigrants, Muslims and ‘the elite’ – and the ramifications of this shift.
Myungji Yang, University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa
Angry Young Korean Men? Anti-Feminist Politics in an Age of Polarization
Existing scholarship on anti-gender and anti-feminist politics is predominantly Western-centric, with analyses often limited to European and US cases. While feminist scholars have studied misogyny and anti-feminism in extremist online spaces in the South Korean context, few studies have focused on how anti-feminist attitudes have been normalized among ordinary young men. Why do young Korean men in their twenties believe so strongly that they are the victims of gender inequality and feminism is a female supremacy movement? I argue that young men’s frustration, anger, and anxiety about competitive and limited opportunity structures and what they believe to be a corrupt and unfair “establishment” have been translated into anti-feminist opinions. My analysis will deepen understanding of the roots of anti-feminist attitudes among young men and the processes by which anti-feminism is mobilized and propagated in South Korean society.
This conference is organized with the support of: Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies; Center for International Social Science Research; Center for Latin American Studies; Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality; Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory; Committee on Southern Asian Studies; Department of History; The Franke Institute for the Humanities; Global Studies; The Office of the Provost, and The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.