"But I thought we'd already won that argument!": Anti-gender mobilisations, affect and temporality in contemporary feminist studies

Clare Hemmings is Professor of Feminist Theory at the Department of Gender Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 This presentation starts from how it feels to be subject to anti-gender attacks as someone who has worked within feminist studies for over three decades. I want to interrogate how affect is mobilised both by anti-gender advocates in order to justify forms of violence as forms of defence, and by those targeted by anti-gender mobilisations, as a way of explaining why these attacks seem strangely hard to answer (particularly from within feminist studies). My contention is that we need to link affect to temporality in order to understand the powerful attraction of anti-gender approaches, and resist teleological assumptions that arguments about sex and gender were ever and ever could be 'settled'. Working with questions of both affect and deja vu, I want to think about 'loss' as a shared starting point that expresses both feeling and time. I don't have solidarity in mind (we are a million miles from this, I think), but a theoretical and political understanding of how and why understandings of what constitutes a feminist approach to sex and gender can be so radically divergent.

A new cultural revolution? Anti-gender movements and Marxism 2.0

Roman Kuhar is Professor in Sociology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.

In recent years, especially in the last decade, many countries in Western and Eastern Europe, in Latin America, and in some other parts of the world have faced fierce opposition to what has seemed like an irreversible process of achieving gender equality and progress in sexual rights. Their target range from marriage and gender equality, abortion, reproductive rights, sex education, gender mainstreaming and transgender rights, to anti-discrimination measures and even the very concept of gender itself. The basic idea that connects all these actors - at the national and transnational levels - is the notion of "gender theory" or "gender ideology." The term functions as a catch-all phrase, which can be framed in different ways depending on the specific political objective. It is constructed as a kind of conspiracy theory according to which (EU) elites, together with radical feminists and LGBT activists, want to start a Marxist cultural revolution by destroying the binary gender system and the traditional family. In this rhetoric, "gender" has become an all-encompassing mobilisation tool used by various (religious) groups, transnational organisations, political parties, and even state establishments to resist the adoption and implementation of (gender) equality policies.

These resistances - which are in many ways in line with the populist wave across Europe and beyond - should not be understood merely as a continuation of earlier forms of conservative resistance to gender equality, sexual rights, and other human rights in the context of the sexual citizenship debate. Rather, they are new manifestations of resistance, a form of democratic backsliding, shaped by new forms of organisation, new modes of mobilisation, and new discourses that seek to appeal not only to traditional circles of conservative groups, but also to the so-called silent (or even silenced) majority that are the true victims of neoliberalism. Anti-gender actors promise them a quick fix.

This talk will outline and examine the origins, content, and implications of the discourse on "gender ideology" in Europe and beyond and provide a critical overview of current research debates on the topic. It will explore how an academic concept of gender became a mobilisation tool for (populist) neoconservative social movements and massive street demonstrations, and how the concept of human rights, until recently used by feminists and LGBT+ activists, is now (mis)used by anti-gender actors.

Academic Activism, Critical Race Theory and Islamo-leftism: moral panic and populist far right strategy

Ferruh Yilmaz is Associate Professor at the Department of Communications, Tulane University, New Orleans.

In my perspective, provoking sustained moral panics about perceived enemies is central to the populist far right rhetorical strategy. The success of the populist far-right depends on the existence of an external threat to the well-being of ‘the people’. A continuous series of public controversies and moral panics are necessary for producing the experience of an ongoing crisis. The far-right actors are often—though not always—the initiators of these crises.

This presentation will look at the controversies or moral panics about race, gender, and culture in academic curriculum in different countries: the moral panics about “academic activism” in Denmark (about race and gender), “critical race theory” in the US and Australia, and the so-called “Islamo-leftism” in France. The inciters of these panics often draw on both progressive and conservative arguments while attacking the “politicization of universities.” The tragi-interesting part of the assault on race, gender and postcolonial research is that it has found support from both left and right. In France, Macron condemned these researchers for splitting the country into two basically falling in line with the far right. In Denmark, the Social Democratic government joined the fray against academic research on race and gender. In the US, 23 states already passed laws forbidding critical race theory in public schools.

This presentation takes these moral panics as the typical examples of far right populist rhetorical strategy that has managed to change the ontological vision of societies, by making race, gender and thus culture the central terrain on which social divisions are imagined and sanctioned.