The anti-gender movement is an international movement which opposes what it refers to as "gender ideology", "gender theory", or "genderism". These concepts do not have a coherent definition and cover a variety of issues; "gender ideology" has been described as an "empty signifier" or catch-all term "for all that conservative Catholics despise". The anti-gender movement rejects the sex and gender distinction, arguing that any gender separate from biological sex should not be recognized. Anti-gender advocates also oppose changes to the traditional family, such as same-sex marriage. It derives from Catholic theology beginning in the 1990s, but the protests which brought the movement to attention did not start until around 2012–2013.
The anti-gender movement originated in 1990s discussions within the Catholic Church to counter the results of the United Nations' 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 World Conference on Women, following which the UN began to recognize sexual and reproductive rights. The Holy See feared that this recognition would lead to abortion as a human right, delegitimization of motherhood, and the normalization of homosexuality. The term gender "was understood by the Holy See as a strategic means to attack and destabilize the natural family". In 1997, American anti-abortion journalist Dale O’Leary wrote a book titled The Gender Agenda: "the Gender Agenda sails into communities not as a tall ship, but as a submarine, determined to reveal as little of itself as possible". In Catholic thought, the concept of "gender ideology" emerged from John Paul II's theology of the body, in which the sexes are held to be different and complementary. Although the ideas of the anti-gender movement were developed by 2003, protests related to the movement first emerged in most European countries around 2012–2013. Although it is still promoted by Catholic actors, the anti-gender movement spread more generally throughout the right-wing by 2019.
The concept of "gender ideology" does not have a coherent definition and covers a variety of issues; for this reason, it has been described as an "empty signifier" or catch-all term "for all that conservative Catholics despise". "Gender ideology" and the related terms "gender theory" and "genderism", used interchangeably, are not equivalent to the academic discipline of gender studies, within which significant controversies and disagreements exist. Anti-gender proponents are often unaware of these debates and disagreements. Elizabeth Corredor writes: "gender ideology serves as both a political and epistemological counterclaim to emancipatory conceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality". She adds that the anti-gender movement combines "gender ideology" rhetoric with attempts to exploit the existing divisions within LGBT and feminist movements. According to Kováts, not all the movements fitting under the "anti-gender" label (by opposing "gender" or "gender ideology") are overtly anti-feminist or anti-LGBT, and the anti-gender movement is a novel phenomenon distinct from previous anti-feminism and homophobia. The anti-gender movement is not synonymous with the far-right, as not all far-right movements espouse anti-gender, and anti-gender themes extend beyond the far-right.
Members of the anti-gender movement oppose some reproductive rights, particularly abortion, as well as some LGBT rights, especially same-sex marriage, along with campaigns against gender-based violence. They may also campaign against anti-bullying and sex education in schools and gender studies in higher education. The movement accuses various actors of being bearers of "gender ideology", including "liberal, green or leftist politicians, women's rights activists, LGBT activists, gender policy officers of public administrations, and gender studies scholars". Proponents present themselves as the defenders of the freedoms of speech, thought, and conscience against the "totalitarian" gender ideology. Those said to support "gender ideology" are delegitimized, negating pluralism and undermining liberal democracy, in a similar way to the far-right.
Key proponents of the anti-gender movement include Dale O'Leary, Michel Schooyans, Tony Anatrella, Gabriele Kuby, and Marguerite Peeters. According to Łukasz Wawrowski, it is not possible to have a scientific discourse between gender studies scholars and anti-gender proponents, because for the former gender is a scientific concept that can be researched and falsified, whereas anti-gender proponents derive their arguments from transcendant truths handed down by God, which are not subject to empirical verification.
According to the anti-gender movement, "gender ideology" is a destructive force and totalitarian ideology, worse than Communism or Nazism. This is allegedly pushed by a secret cabal or foreign entities (such as the European Union, World Health Organization, or United Nations) for the purpose of weakening, undermining, or destroying families, the Catholic Church, the nation, or Western civilization. Anti-gender activists may portray the EU and international organizations as manipulated by lobbies, such as American billionaires, Freemasons, feminists, or Jews. To promote the idea that "gender" is a foreign concept imposed by corrupt elites, they often use the English word "gender" rather than a translation into the local language. The idea of "gender ideology" has been described as a moral panic or conspiracy theory. Some anti-gender activists have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic is a punishment for gender ideology. An Ipsos survey in October 2019 found that a majority of Polish men under 40 believe that "the LGBT movement and gender ideology" is the "biggest threat facing them in the 21st century".
According to sociologists Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte, "the invention of 'gender ideology' is closely connected to debates within the Catholic Church". Pope Francis has stated that "gender ideology" would undermine the Catholic Church's position on gender complementarity, comparing it to nuclear weapons. In 2019, the Catholic Church released the first major document dealing specifically with "gender ideology", which states that there are only two biologically determined genders or sexes. According to Corredor,
the Holy See’s perspective deeply depends on a stable and predictably correlated relationship between biological sex, gender identity, and heterosexual orientation, which is expressed in the Church’s terms as the one and only natural unity of mind, body, and soul. Because this unity is believed to be rooted within natural and divine law—as a direct creation of God—it transcends political, historical, and social arrangements shaped by man.
The anti-gender movement is closely related to right-wing populism, nationalism, and the Christian right. According to Kuhar and Paternotte, "anti-gender campaigns are [not] the direct consequence of the right-wing populist wave, but the shift towards the Right reinforces these campaigns and provides them with new supporters who took over a concept of 'gender ideology' which shares some ideological structures with right-wing populist ideology". In line with their populist framing, referendums are often used to secure the outcomes desired by the anti-gender movement.
Proactive or reactiveEdit
It is disputed the extent to which the anti-gender movement is a reaction to events and other movements, or a proactive movement attempting to create social change.
According to Marta Rawłuszko, the anti-gender movement is, in part, a backlash against the devolution of power from democratically elected national governments to unelected equality bodies and international organizations, such as the European Union, which demand changes. Because these policies are not approved by voters or their elected representatives, they generate a democratic deficit. She notes that "gender equality policies have been implemented without engaging a wider audience or public debate".
However, Paternotte rejects that the anti-gender movement is a backlash, writing that the idea is "conceptually flawed, empirically weak and politically problematic", because comparative research has shown that in different countries, the anti-gender activism is "sparked by extremely different issues".
The anti-gender movement emerged in Europe in the early 2010s and, as of 2019, is making headway in Latin America. The movement is transnational, with campaigns in different countries borrowing strategies and rhetoric from other countries. However, in individual countries the anti-gender movement overlaps with appeals to nationalism and national sovereignty.
Before the emergence of the anti-gender movement, activists and scholars believed that Europe was on an inexorable course towards complete gender equality and full LGBT rights, serious opposition to which was deemed a holdover from the past or else a phenomenon confined to Eastern Europe and Catholic countries. The anti-gender movement proved this perception to be incorrect. It is a lasting part of European politics, despite its relatively new origin. Since the 1990s, the European Commission has made eligibility for funding from the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund conditional on local gender equality policies, which led to rapid changes after Poland joined the European Union in 2004.
The anti-gender movement in France is spearheaded by Farida Belghoul and La Manif pour tous (LMPT), a protest movement which originated in early 2013 to oppose same-sex marriage in France and pivoted to opposing equality curricula after same-sex marriage was legalized in May 2013. The anti-gender movement spreads false rumors and hoaxes, such as the claim that masturbation is being taught in French kindergartens. Professor Jayson Harsin analyzes LMPT as a populist, post-truth movement.
According to Eszter Kováts and Andrea Pető, writing in 2017, there was "no significant anti-gender movement" in the country, but "a palpable anti-gender discourse", especially in the later 2010s, which to date had only sporadically intersected with the national public debate. They write that the Hungarian anti-gender discourse emerged in 2008, when a textbook was published not to the liking of a Fidesz MP. The politician said that the textbook contained "gender ideology" and that "the greatest danger of this trend is that society will lose its sexual identity". In politics, the anti-gender discourse first attained prominence in 2010, when the left-wing government inserted a sentence into the national curriculum stating that early childhood educators should "deliberately avoid any strengthening of gender stereotypes and facilitate the dismantling of the prejudices concerning the social equality of genders". Right-wing media gave the change much coverage; it was alleged to promote "gender ideology".
Anti-gender in Italy has been sponsored by Lega Nord party as well as the groups Pro Vita and Manif pour Tous – Italy. In the 2018 Italian general election, Lega Nord placed Catholic representatives on its electoral lists, sealing an anti-gender alliance.
In late 2013, "gender", which had been confined to academic discourse, became popularized as part of an anti-gender campaign by the right wing and the Catholic Church. The campaign against "gender ideology" is promoted by the ruling, national-socialist and conservative PiS party, by the Catholic Church's hierarchy and more radically nationalist groups with which PiS has a fluid boundary: All-Polish Youth, the National Rebirth of Poland, and the National-Radical Camp. Sociologists Piotr Żuk and Pavel Żuk write that: "The right in Poland perceives both feminist and homosexual circles as a threat to the national identity associated with the Catholic religion and as a threat to the traditional family model and social order." Anti-LGBT rhetoric from the Polish right increased following the conclusion of the 2015 European migrant crisis, during which anti-migrant rhetoric was prominent. With anti-gender rhetoric, the LGBT community served as the scapegoat or demonized enemy required by populist politics.
A 2020 survey of a representative sample of 1,000 Poles found that 30% believed in the existence of a gender conspiracy, "defined as a secret plan to destroy Christian tradition partly by taking control over public media". The survey found that belief in the gender conspiracy did not correlate with religiosity; it was strongly associated with the belief that the Catholic Church should occupy a privileged position in society and rejection of LGBT people as neighbours. Marta Rawłuszko suggests that Polish people may be prone to finding conspiracies because of the actual plots during communist rule. In June 2020, Polish president Andrzej Duda of PiS drew attention when he called LGBT an "ideology" and a form of "neo-Bolshevism", ahead of the 2020 Polish presidential election.
The 2016 Colombian peace agreement referendum was narrowly rejected by voters, following claims by evangelical Christian pressure groups and right-wing politicians that the peace agreement, which included protections for LGBT people, was "an instrument to impose gender ideology".
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