22. Gender backlash and Gender inequalities in contemporary politics

Gender backlash and gender inequalities in contemporary politics

Convenors: Katinka Linnamäki, University of Helsinki

Contact: katinka.linnamaki (at) helsinki.fi

Seminar room: TH101

Format: Hybrid

"With illiberal and populist parties on the rise, contestations of gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights continue to gain space in Europe. In the CEE region reproductive and sexual rights are backsliding. Under the term “gender ideology” anti-gender movements and political actors frame gender equality+ as the enemy of family, traditional gender roles and sustainable demographic rates (Bellè & Poggio 2018; Kovala & Pöysä 2018). In other cases, gender functions as a signifier, and the political discussion is about ""a much broader ideological construct” (Korolczuk & Graff 2018, 798), in which gender is “subverted to antagonism” (Abi-Hassan 2017). Gender as “symbolic glue” is instrumentalized for a wide range of mobilizing logics: nationalist (Korolczuk and Graff 2018, 799; cf. Aharoni and Féron 2020), religious (Gunnarson Payne 2019; Moghadam and Kaftan 2019), anti-colonialist (Korolczuk and Graff 2018) or neoliberal (De Lange and Mügge 2015) where gender equality+ are implicitly or explicitly contested.

The panel invites papers to explore the discursive-performative practices that contest gender equality+ on the international, regional, national, and local levels. The panel aims to explore a wide range of gendered issues that pose a challenge for gender equality+ in politics as well as practices, movements, and institutions of resistance. The panel welcomes papers focusing on the discursive as well as on the visual representations of gender to highlight its affective power in contemporary discourses."


Anuktriti Dixit

Johanna Kantola, Anna Elomäki, Barbara Gaweda, Cherry Miller, Petra Ahrens and Valentine Berthet

Anat Kraslavsky

Katinka Linnamäki


Anukriti Dixit, Interdisciplinary center for gender studies, University of Bern; anukriti.dixit@izfg.unibe.ch

The future(s) of feminism: Backlash as an epistemic practice

Backlash against situated feminist movements, practices, laws and policies is real and growing. In India, as in much of the world, the conditions of emergence of right wing nationalism include a strong opposition to changing “values”, “family life”, “too much independence” for minorities and women (Chowdhury, 2014). It is important to engage with backlash, due to the rise of conservative regimes and their very open criticism of feminist practices and theory. What produces the ontologies of anxiety, insecurity and anger, to constantly reaffirm feminism and feminist ideals as a “threat” to certain ‘traditional’ ways of being and knowing? In this paper I analyze backlash through a threefold theoretical ‘schemata’ - as agnotology (Proctor and Schiebinger, 2008), as ‘imperial dispositions of disregard’ (Stoler, 2009) and as epistemic injustice (Fricker, 2017). As agnotology, I study the manners of ignorance - ways of not knowing that may (or may not) be deliberately engineered or produced through a psycho-social ‘not wanting to know’. As  imperial disregard, an analysis of the “limiting, distorting and obscuring of knowledge” (p. 248 Stoler, 2009) is warranted. How,  are continuous repetitions of anti-feminist rhetorics deployed in imperial and conservative projects of power? As for epistemic injustice, I analyze backlash as a phenomenon where a subject is downgraded to a lower epistemic status - assumed to be a ‘lesser knower’ than dominant knowers (Fricker, 2017). Empirically I situate the analysis in context of backlash against India’s anti-sexual harassment at workplace policies (SHW). I illustrate the aforementioned schemata through empirical events from the notes of the fieldwork, on anti-SHW policies, undertaken for my doctoral thesis. In engaging with backlash as epistemic practice, I seek to participate in discussions on how the rage against feminism(s) is fostered as an undercurrent in the differential power structures of our contexts. 

Johanna Kantola, Anna Elomäki, Barbara Gaweda, Cherry Miller, Petra Ahrens & Valentine Berthet (Gender Studies, Tampere University)

“It’s like shouting to a brick wall”: Normative whiteness and racism in the European Parliament

There is a notable gap in the academic literature on racism within EU institutions. This paper scrutinizes racism and normative whiteness in one of these institutions, namely the European Parliament, at times of radical right populist backlash against equality norms. The paper asks how European whiteness, as a norm, is related to and sustains racism in the European Parliament and how this affects efforts to tackle racism and formulate internal anti-racist practices within the institution. The research material consists of interview, parliamentary ethnography, and official document data, and the empirical analysis is divided into three levels: individual, political group, and parliamentary. A key contribution is to demonstrate the techniques of reproducing whiteness as an institutional norm and racialized power relations in the European Parliament. This avoids linking racism to only the actions and attitudes of individuals and enables the article to address how racism is reproduced through the Parliament as an institution.

Anat Kraslavsky, Humbolt Universität zu Berlin; anat.kraslavsky@hu-berlin.de

Transnational assemblages of gendered power relations and the “new anti-Semitism” discourse

This paper deals with assemblages of gendered systems of racial governance and the “new anti-Semitism” discourse that emerges as a technology of racialization, migratization and criminalization in a transnational queer necropolitical context.

Eurocentric knowledge on “Anti-Semitism” rarely manages to offer a critique of identity and intersectionality, which encompasses the complexity of embodied nationalism, class, religion, gender, sexuality and ability concurrently. To the contrary, the “New Anti-Semitism” and the emergence of the “Israel centered anti-Semitism” discourses are deployed precisely to target LGBTIQ+ bodies of color, especially migrant and Muslim as vehicles of anti-Semitism in the framework of a transnational racial governance. In this epistemic regime some bodies are seen as “at home” while others are thought to have imported anti-Semitism into a post-racial Germany and Europe.

Targeting populations such as women and LGBTIQA+ conceals precisely violence towards these populations. However, exactly such marginal liminal spaces offer room for encounters in the form of anti-colonial solidarity through urban and digital activism in Berlin and Germany. There, an exchange, empowerment and resistance emerge as possible.

I will present a discursive analysis of such activisms and will connect the role of the “new anti-Semitism” discourses in racial governance mainly in maintaining racial classifications tightly close to systems of gendered power relations. The analytical tool is “Genitalities”, which are somatic spaces that uphold a racial governance across religion, gender, class, citizenship, nation, and ability through racializing, migratising and criminalizing mechanisms. Within biopolitical racism, some able populations execute moral violence towards perverse Others.

Yet assemblages of colonial entanglements reproduce some of the mechanisms contested from the margins, creating their own racializing, migratising and criminalizing mechanism, which administrate regimes of knowledge production between the global “north” and “south”.

Katinka Linnamäki, Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki, Finland; katinka.linnamaki@helsinki.fi

Not in Front of the Child: Illiberal Familism and the Hungarian anti-LGBTQ+ “Child Protective Law”

Research on familialism within the European Union usually focus on family policies, pointing out how female reproductive and work rights are often contrasted with the interest of the family, as shown by the individualism vs. familism understanding of familism (familialism). Here, however, I focus on another understanding of familism that sees the family as the model for other social institutions. This novel angle on the European context enables research on a scarcely researched aspect: how familism is used to render non-heterosexual rights illegitimate. Turning to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s rhetorical understanding of politics, I show how the rhetorical use of the family legitimizes anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. I focus on the Hungarian “Child Protective Law,” passed by the illiberal Fidesz-KDNP government in 2021. The content analysis of the material shows how the Hungarian government’s aspiration to protect children, both as crucial members of heterosexual nuclear families as well as symbols of the illiberalist future of the country, is instrumentalized to legitimize anti-LGBTQ+ stances. This happens, first, through a discursive link between LGBTQ+ people and child abuse. Second, it occurs through the government´s familistic ideal of the Christian heterosexual family, which also constitutes its antagonistic pair, the LGBTQ+ community. I argue for a new separation between the illiberal “us” and the liberal “them,” where the ideal family, and in particular heterosexuality, function as a means of exclusion. This paper contributes to existing literature on gender and illiberalism as well as to current discussions on the limits of the theoretical concepts of familism.