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Gender and the Problem of Universals: Catholic Mobilizations and Sexual Democracy in France



In the 1980s, John Boswell analyzed the controversy between “essentialists” and “constructionists” in gay and lesbian studies in the light of the medieval “problem of universals.” This paper revives this analogy to understand the controversy launched by Catholic authorities against the (so-called) “theory-of-gender” pitted against gender studies at the risk of equating God with Nature.
Vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), 173-186 | DOI: 10.18352/rg.10157
*Correspondence: Department of Political Science and Department of Gender Studies,
Université Paris-8 Vincennes - Saint-Denis 2 rue de la Liberté 93526 Saint-Denis, France.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (3.0)
Religion and Gender | ISSN: 1878-5417 | | Uopen Journals
Gender and the Problem of Universals: Catholic
Mobilizations and Sexual Democracy in France
Éric Fassin*
In the 1980s, John Boswell analyzed the controversy between ‘essentialists’ and
‘constructionists’ in gay and lesbian studies in the light of the medieval ‘problem of
universals.’ This paper revives this analogy to understand the controversy launched by
Catholic authorities against the (so-called) ‘theory-of-gender’ pitted against gender
studies at the risk of equating God with Nature.
Theory-of-gender; gender studies; universals; nominalism and social constructionism;
realism and essentialism; nature and biology; sexual democracy.
Author affiliation
Éric Fassin is a professor of sociology with a joint appointment in the Political Science
Department and in the Department of Gender Studies at Paris-8 University (Vincennes –
Saint-Denis), affiliated with the Laboratoire d’études de genre et de sexualité (LEGS, CNRS/
Paris-8/Paris-Ouest). Latest book: Le genre français (La Découverte 2017, forthcoming).
Religious Drag and Closeted Homophobia
In one episode of Woody Allen’s 1972 film Everything You Always Wanted to
Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (a title borrowed from a real medical
bestseller – a 1969 sex manual), a 1950s-style, black-and-white television game
show offers one contestant every week a chance to act out his (clearly not her!)
fantasy. Rabbi Chaim Baumel (from Muncie, Indiana) wishes to be tied up: a
‘girl’ on the celebrity panel obliges; then a model pretends to be his ‘governess’
and starts spanking the old man (‘You’ve been a naughty rabbi!’), while his wife
(also flown in from Indiana) sits at his feet eating… pork chops, thus enacting
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
174 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
his dream. ‘What’s my perversion?’ The title of the (fictitious) show raises a good
question: in a world of sexual liberation, perversions cannot be primarily sexual
any longer; could they not become religious instead? The joke begins and ends
with religion – not sex: the (gentle) whipping would hardly be comical other-
wise: by contrast to the wholesome dominatrix, the old-fashioned rabbi appears
kinky. This is due to his titillating religious transgression, not to his ordinary
sexual fetish (silk stockings).
In a word, the traditional relationship between sex and religion is now
reversed. The normalization of queerness implies the queering of the norm,
whether religious or not. This underlied my argument in a book on the ‘inver-
sion of the homosexual question’: nowadays, the interrogation is not so much,
as used to be the case, ‘how can one be a homosexual?’ but rather, with the
same disbelief: ‘how can one be a homophobe?’ (Fassin 2005a). The LGBT move-
ment has turned the tables of suspicion. In terms of religion, this raises yet
another question. Not so much: ‘how can one be religious?’ but rather: ‘why
should institutional religion care so much about sexuality – let alone homosexu-
ality?’ This is not merely a repetition of the old rationalist critique of religious
‘superstition’. Today, the questioning of religion in the name of sex undermines
that of sex in the name of religion.
This new context sheds light on a recent moment of television comedy. On
January 24, 2013, the Colbert report devoted a segment to French ‘family values’,
and ironically celebrated massive conservative demonstrations against ‘marriage
for all’: ‘To be clear, in France, the people with the pink signs dancing to Abba
are the anti-gay protesters!’ This is no joke. Stephen Colbert here pointed out
one of the more remarkable aspects of the opposition to ‘gay marriage’: drag.
This paradoxical feature first appeared in October 2011 when philosopher Judith
Butler, who has been identified by Catholic authorities with the so-called ‘theory-
of-gender’ (henceforth, the hyphenation indicates this French usage), received
an honorary degree from the University of Bordeaux: some of the young men
demonstrating against the American philosopher wore dresses. It resurfaced in
October 2012 when Catholic supporters of traditional families led by the asso-
ciation Alliance Vita to the tune of Mamma Mia staged in several cities strange,
if not queer performances: a lycra-clad youth with two large wings (one read
‘Mom’ and the other ‘Dad’), reminiscent of Tony Kushner’s 1993 ‘gay fantasia’
Angels in America, clumsily (or sleepily) staggering between two rows of demon-
strators sitting in the streets – one of ‘moms’ and the other of ‘dads’.1
These are not isolated instances. Frigide Barjot, who in the next few months
would become famous as the leader of the ‘demonstration for all’ (La Manif
pour tous, also known by the acronym LMPT), the social movement against the
Taubira law (called ‘marriage for all’: Le Mariage pour tous), suggested a parodic
dimension through her very name or rather pseudonym. Indeed, while she had
earlier founded a papist association ironically called ‘Touche pas à mon pape
(‘Don’t you lay a finger on my pope’, reminiscent of the slogan of the 1980s by
SOS Racisme, the antiracist association closely associated with the Socialist Party:
1 Burlesque feminist, queer performer Louise de Ville explains in Chriss Lag’s 2015
documentary ‘Parole de king!’ how this scene inspired her to create a character named
Super Catho.’ But she could only find this lycra costume on a fetish website. (I thank
Wendy Delorme for the reference and Chriss Lag for access to the film).
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 175
Touche pas à mon pote, that is ‘my pal’), she was also known as a party queen.
In a 2006 video she sings ‘Fais-moi l’amour avec deux doigts’ (‘Make love to me
with two fingers’ – and the lyrics go on: ‘Three won’t get in, one only won’t do’),
in a falsetto reminiscent of Brigitte Bardot, while surrounded by dancers who
seem to belong in the Banana Café where she held court, a few years earlier,
with queer friends – did she not celebrate a fake marriage between two gay
men in a Parisian nightclub in 2007?
In order to understand why such an unlikely, ostensibly gay-friendly figure
did become (at least for a time) the symbol of the mobilization against gay
rights, one needs to bear in mind that, contrary to the United States, explicit
homophobia had not been considered politically viable in France, especially
after the final debacle of right-wing opponents of the Pacte civil de solidarité
(PaCS, a form of domestic partnership voted into law in 1999 after a fierce polit-
ical battle that soon rallied public opinion): no one was (that is, could openly
claim to be) homophobic. As a consequence, in 2012, the opposition to gay
rights took pains to eschew any indication of homophobia: the protesters’ signs
insisted that they were pro-marriage, not anti-gay, and that their sole concern
was the well-being of children. Homosexual love they did not dispute; they only
cared, or so they claimed, about queer families. Homophobia thus remained in
the closet – it had to, given the tolerant evolution of public opinion that largely
accounts for the ultimate failure of LMPT.
Beyond self-proclaimed gay-friendliness, there was a concerted effort on the
part of the leaders of the movement to hide their true nature. This is why the
most visible activists in Barjot’s entourage included a peroxide blond young man
presented as the founder of ‘plus gay sans mariage’ (‘even more gay without
marriage’, actually a mere Facebook page), who went so far as to accuse the
LGBT movement of homophobia. There was also a woman claiming to be a disil-
lusioned François Hollande supporter (though she eventually confessed that she
had not voted for the Socialist candidate). Barjot even warned demonstrators
that they should not look like… what they were: they had to avoid headbands,
Hermès scarves, and other telltale signs of their conservative bourgeois lifestyle.
In the age of the ‘normal president’ (Hollande’s campaign slogan), they tried
to ‘pass’ as normal people – which suggests that their passionate defense of
the norm could not guarantee this any longer. Indeed, it might betray a certain
queerness: hence the ‘drag’.
French opponents of the Taubira law were not only Catholics, right-wingers,
and homophobes in the closet; they could also be masked – literally. In 2013,
a group of young men supporting family values chose to parody the feminist
group Femen (that moved from Ukraine to France where they became active in
the defense of ‘marriage for all’), not only through their name – ‘les Hommen’ –,
but also by exhibiting their naked torsos covered with slogans against gay mar-
riage. Not surprisingly, they too inspired immediate parodies – such as a satirical
play (Les Virilius), and a Tumblr pretending to speak in their name: both pre-
sented these pretty boys in colored pants as right-wing gays, thus reversing the
inversion… But the most troubling was their choice to wear a mask, contrary to
the Femen (and regardless of the 2010 so-called ‘burqa’ law that prohibits cov-
ering one’s face in public). Masked are the Hommen as they come forward – just
like political homophobia remains closeted. The young men’s motto could be
Descartes’: larvatus prodeo (or with the classic pun: pro Deo – for God).
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176 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
The Catholic ‘Theory-of-Gender’ in France
‘Thank God for the Catholic Church!’ One suspects that many a specialist of
gender studies in France muttered this exclamation under her (sometimes his)
breath. The gender panic that arose in the country also led some to be moved: ‘I
didn’t know people cared…’ This country had long remained impervious to the
concept of gender, which was deemed foreign to French culture, if not untrans-
latable (despite its grammatical omnipresence in the language): gender speaks
English (Fassin 1999), it was assumed, just like the Vatican speaks Latin. Con-
versely, until the years 2000, France appeared as an exception resisting the glo-
balization of the field. The Catholic mobilization in the years 2010 against the
so-called ‘theory-of-gender’ changed all that. First, it made the word (at least in
this formulation) familiar to the media and beyond to society at large. Second,
it gave France a new, paradoxical visibility on the global stage as the forefront
of reaction against ‘the-theory-of-gender’. This double exposure (national and
international) explains the somewhat embarrassing gratitude of gender special-
ists in France – long ignored in their country and unacknowledged abroad…
Indeed, habemus gender!
Why gender? How did the assault on gay marriage turn into a polemic
against the ‘theory-of-gender’? According to the Pontifical Council for the
Family’s Lexicon: Ambiguous and Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and
Ethical Questions (translated from the 2003 Italian version into French in 2005
and into English in 2006), which devoted no less than three articles to this
notion, the story begins with the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women
in Beijing. Vatican representatives came to realize that the notion of gender
could imply an ‘unacceptable program that includes toleration for homosexual
orientations and identities.’ According to their reading of Judith Butler’s Gen-
der Trouble, whose distance from ‘common sense’ makes her definition sound
to them like ‘science-fiction’, ‘there exists no such thing as a natural man or a
natural woman’: one may wonder ‘to what extent there exists any “natural”
form of sexuality.’ The theologians in this Lexicon thus express fears that the
denaturalization of sex operated by gender logically leads to the denatural-
ization of sexuality – as evidenced in claims for opening marriage to same-sex
couples (Fassin 2011).
It is in France that the target of the attack launched by the Vatican between
1995 and 2005 shifted in the following decade from ‘gender’ to the ‘theory-of-
gender’. The 2005 turning point coincides in France, not only with the transla-
tion of the Pontifical Lexicon but also with that (at long last) of Judith Butler’s
Gender Trouble – one of its explicit targets. The 2004 Letter to Catholic bishops
on the collaboration of men and women by Cardinal Ratzinger (who became
Pope Benedict in 2005) had just denounced the American philosopher (without
naming her). Her classic book thus appeared on the French scene, after fifteen
years of willful neglect, as a crucial reference both for supporters and for oppo-
nents of gender studies, many of whom discovered this field through her work
as if she had initiated it. Immediately, the French Conference of bishops asked
Catholic psychoanalyst Jacques Arènes to speak in 2006 about ‘gender theory’
(he used the phrase mostly in English), which he equated with the ‘gay and
lesbian movement’ and its ‘lobby’ supporting ‘gay marriage’ (Arènes; Favier;
Robcis 2013).
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Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 177
Not surprisingly, in France, the Catholic attack against the ‘theory-of-gender’
rose in the years 2010 – before, during, and after the battle of the Taubira law
of 2013. The equation was apparent in the slogans displayed during the massive
demonstrations in the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013: ‘marriage for all equals
theory of gender for all’ (‘gender’ written in English). But the issue ignited as
early as 2010, with the polemic surrounding a cartoon for primary school chil-
dren, Le baiser de la lune (in which Felix falls for another fish named Léon and
eventually gives him a kiss, thus dispelling an old cat’s homophobic prejudices);
it was rekindled in 2011 with another dispute concerning high-school biology
curricula and textbooks (the chapter on sexual differentiation was denounced
as a Trojan horse of the ‘theory-of-gender’). It finally flared briefly a few months
after the law was passed when a Journée de retrait de l’école (advising parents
to withdraw their children from school for a day to protest the alleged teaching
of this ‘theory’ along with rumored sexual practices such as masturbation!) was
launched in January 2014.
The shift from ‘gender’ to the ‘theory-of-gender’ thus made it possible to
move between two battlegrounds: on the one hand, marriage; on the other,
school. For conservatives, there were several strategic advantages to such a
redefinition. First, had it not been for this new vocabulary, the political struggle
might not have survived (nor preceded) the public debate about the Taubira
law – an explicit concern for the leaders of LMPT. Second, while gay marriage
only affects a minority, schooling is always a concern for the vast majority – even
a source of anxiety for many at a time when education cannot guarantee a job
any longer. Third, while opposing equality grew more and more unpopular,
rejecting a ‘theory’ could only resonate with the growing populist anti-intellec-
tualism that former president Nicolas Sarkozy embodied: as equal rights started
making concrete sense to many, the ‘theory-of-gender’ took over the role of
abstraction: who knew what it meant? The sudden media interest in gender led
them to interview experts: they tried to dispel misunderstandings, which may
have reinforced the suspicion that this concept only made sense for intellectual
experts – not for people in general.
Of course, the word ‘gender’ (at least in English) sounds foreign to French
ears, and thus alien to national identity as promoted by President Sarkozy from
2007 to 2012. But it was equally important that it could also sound like an intel-
lectual fad, completely removed from common sense. Denouncing the ‘theory-
of-gender’ as just that – a theory among others – did play on a familiar religious
motif (the creationist attack against Darwinism in American schools), but it also
helped Catholics build a bridge, first with other religions (Judaism and Islam in
particular), and second with the secular right – despite potential contradictions
in the racial definition of the nation (Fassin 2014). This was apparent as early
as 2011 (when a third of Senators signed a petition against the biology text-
books), and it became obvious with the movement against ‘marriage for all’:
religious figures, who had been marginal (and soon would be marginalized)
during the earlier battle against the PaCS fifteen years earlier, now occupied
center stage. The long-standing French resistance and recent conversion to gen-
der studies only fueled fears of cultural transformations that coincided with
marriage reform. While still making no room for Muslims, the national identity
of secular France had been reinvented as profoundly Catholic, in part thanks to
the ‘theory-of-gender’ (Fillod; Béraud). This apparent contradiction is a familiar
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178 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
paradox in France that specialists of religion summarize with an ironic oxymo-
ron: ‘catho-laïcité’.
The New Problem of Universals
Despite its overwhelming success in the streets and in the media, even among
politicians, this Catholic rhetoric suffers from a major strategic flaw: the attack
against gender studies makes the Vatican’s position only one among others.
While the Church claims to speak from above or beyond political disputes (as an
‘expert in humanity’ expounding Biblical ‘anthropology’, to quote Ratzinger’s
2004 text), it enters the fray of what I have called ‘sexual democracy’ (Fassin
2005b). If we call a society ‘democratic’ when it claims to determine its own
laws and norms, based not on some transcendent principle (be it God, Tradi-
tion, Nature, or any other capitalized absolute), but rather on immanent values
(imposed by its members), and therefore susceptible to change and open to con-
testation, then, in that sense (which cannot be reduced to some electoral logic),
we can say that we live in democratic societies. Not that liberty and equality
prevail, of course; but at least, they can be invoked as legitimate values in the
political arena – even as legitimating ones. Democratic societies acknowledge
their historical and political definition.
Sexual democracy simply describes the extension of democracy to sexual
issues. Even sex (whether we think of gender or sexuality) is considered, not as
a given, but as of our own making: what (or who) is a man or a woman, how
are marriage and family defined, everything sexual is up to ‘us’. If there is no
sexual exception, then, democracy’s purchase knows no limit. Of course, the
Vatican is clearly no friend of sexual democracy: in the last decades, theologians
and popes have worked hard to defend a transcendent vision of human nature.
However, in order to do so, they have waged a battle against those who support
an immanent one. As a consequence, creating a political dispute around the
concept of gender transforms an academic pursuit into a democratic issue. This
explains the satisfaction some in gender studies may have felt confronted with
this admittedly paradoxical recognition.
In order to understand better, not the gender panic, but the ‘theory-of-gen-
der’ polemic, let us introduce an analogy – that has itself already served, three
decades ago, as an analogy to account for yet another controversy. In the then
emerging field of gay and lesbian studies, historian John Boswell responded to
critics of his important 1980 book on Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homo-
sexuality who accused him of the worst possible crime in his trade: anachronism
(Boswell: 18–20). How could one speak of homosexuality before homosexuality
(as we know it) was even invented, they wondered, as if the category tran-
scended history? Had not Foucault famously dated the birth of homosexuality in
the 1976 first volume of his History of Sexuality, leading David Halperin to speak
of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality? This set the terms for a considerable
debate opposing self-proclaimed ‘social constructionists’ (Jeffrey Weeks and
Robert Padgug prior to Halperin) to others in the same field that they labeled
Boswell responded, not as an essentialist though, but rather as a medieval-
ist: he introduced an analogy with a ‘problem’ that Plato and Aristotle ignited,
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 179
and which smolders to this day, but burned with the greatest intensity in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Libera). ‘Stated as briefly and baldly as pos-
sible, the issues are these: Do categories exist because humans recognize real
distinctions in the world around them, or are categories arbitrary conventions,
simply names for things that have categorical force because humans agree to
use them in certain ways? The two traditional sides in this controversy, which
is called “the problem of the universals,” are “realists” and “nominalists.” ’
Boswell went on to explain: ‘Realists consider categories to be the footprints
of reality (“universals”). They exist because humans perceive a real order in the
universe and name it. The order is present without human observation’. By con-
trast, nominalism is founded on ‘the belief that categories are only the names
(Latin: nomina) of things agreed upon by humans, and that the “order” people
see is their creation rather than their perception.’ For example, ‘taxonomists dis-
agree strongly about whether they are discovering (realists) or inventing (nomi-
nalists) distinctions’.
According to Boswell, ‘this seemingly arcane struggle now underlies an
epistemological controversy raging among those studying the history of gay
people. The “universals” in this case are categories of sexual preference or ori-
entation (the difference is crucial). Nominalists (“social constructionists” in the
current debate) in the matter aver that categories of sexual preference and
behavior are created by humans and human societies.’ In a word, ‘people con-
sider themselves “homosexual” or “heterosexual” because they are induced to
believe that humans are either “homosexual” or “heterosexual.” ’ By contrast,
for ‘realists (“essentialists”),’ ‘the heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy exists in
speech and thought because it exists in reality: it was not invented by sexual
taxonomists, but observed by them.’ Boswell went on to qualify this clear-cut
distinction: in practice, these positions are not ‘usually held absolutely.’
Today’s religious attack on the ‘theory-of-gender’ is yet another instance of
this recurrent conflict. Since De Beauvoir, feminist studies have certainly been
premised on social construction (or ‘nominalism’), while Catholic enemies of gen-
der can truly be characterized as essentialists (or ‘realists’). The aforementioned
Lexicon concluded the last of three articles on the subject by ‘a revised defini-
tion of gender that is acceptable for the Catholic Church’. It read: ‘Transcen-
dent dimension of human sexuality, compatible with all aspects of the human
person, comprising body, thought, spirit, and soul. Gender is thus permeable to
influences exerted upon the human person, be they internal or external, but it
must conform to the natural order that is already given in the body.’ This new,
Catholic version of gender is erected in explicit opposition to (so-called) ‘gender
feminism’, in which ‘the reality of nature disturbs, troubles, and thus must go
away.’ In a word, the response of Vatican theologians to gender trouble is a
‘nature trouble’ allegedly resisting feminist (and LGBT) studies (Conseil pontifi-
cal: 594).
One might wonder whether the analogy is valid for today’s situation: after all,
Boswell compared a controversy within gay studies to one among philosophers.
By contrast, the current polemic is premised on the rejection of gender studies
from a religious point of view, that is, from the outside. Apparently, what is
taking place is merely a political battle. However, this is precisely what makes
gender studies and their religious enemies partake in the same controversy:
while the latter (rightly) insist that the former politicize sex, their counterattack
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180 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
is no less political. They share the same premise: the political nature of sex. The
implications of this epistemological divide are more obvious than ever: ‘Real-
ism has historically been viewed by the nominalist camp as conservative, if not
reactionary,’ the historian went on, ‘in its implicit recognition of the value and/
or immutability of the status quo; and nominalism has generally been regarded
by realists as an obscurantist radical ideology designed more to undercut and
subvert human values than to clarify them.’ This mutual perception certainly
makes sense for today’s realists and nominalists.
The Laws of Nature
Essentializing is indeed the core element in the religious strategy deployed
against gender: nature is used as a bulwark against history, politics, and sexual
democracy. But what does ‘nature’ mean? There is nothing self-evident about
this word. For example, the ‘biological rock’ that some Catholic theologians
strangely borrow from Freud (Margron: 67) to resist democratic changes in kin-
ship seems anything but rock solid: both adoption and reproductive technolo-
gies belie this ‘naturalized’ (rather than ‘natural’) understanding of filiation.
It turns out that his biological argument is used, not because it is rational, but
because it looks reasonable: ‘No eggs in testicles’, chanted Manif pour tous
activists. Who can deny it? However, this rhetoric relies on a deliberate confu-
sion, not only between filiation and reproduction, but also between biology as
a discipline and biological facts, and in the end between science and common
This is how it became possible for politicians without any background in sci-
ence to criticize science curricula and textbooks – as was the case during the
2011 polemic against biology textbooks. Christine Boutin, who had become
famous in the late 1990s (soon after being appointed consultor for the Pontifi-
cal Council on the Family) at the forefront of the opposition to the PaCS in the
National Assembly, regained political visibility more than a decade later thanks
to this new struggle. This Catholic figure wrote a public letter to the Minister of
Education on May 31, 2011 asking (apparently without irony): ‘How can a mere
theory be part of a biology curriculum?’ She went on: ‘How can one introduce in
a textbook claiming to be scientific an ideology that consists in denying reality,
that is, the sexual alterity of man and woman?’ She concluded with a defense
of these teenagers’ right to genuine science: ‘I cannot accept that we cheat
them by presenting as a scientific explanation what is an ideological prejudice.’
Another conservative deputy, Jacques Myard, declared three months later his
opposition to gender by reversing De Beauvoir’s famous proposition: ‘One is
born a man, and one is born a woman’ – a slogan he justified with a (pseudo)
scientific argument: ‘We belong to the world of mammals!’
Invoking nature is to be expected from those who resist ‘sexual democracy’ –
all the more so when alternative rhetorics fail (Robcis 2015). At the time of
the PaCS debate, the opponents of the law talked about culture rather than
nature. This is not surprising if one considers that, during this first round, resist-
ing equal rights was not restricted to reactionaries: in their defense of the ‘sym-
bolic order’, many on the left came out as conservative progressives. There was
no mention on their part of a ‘biological rock’, though: nature carries more
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Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 181
authority on the right. Left-wing thinkers denied any naturalistic justification;
they even accused equal rights supporters of contributing to a biologisation of
filiation. They wrote about the ‘anthropological foundations of culture.’
But why did this type of argument disappear from public discourse less than
fifteen years later? Whatever happened to culture? How come nature took
over? There is a simple explanation: while the universality of culture might have
sounded like a valid argument in the late 1990s, it lost credibility once marriage
opened to same-sex couples in other, neighboring countries – starting with the
Netherlands in 2001. Even intellectuals could not deny this plain fact. Hence the
recent shift to nature, erected as a rhetorical rock against history – coinciding
with the shift to the right, as left-wing critics rallied to equal rights. Biology’s
authority emerged from the ruins of alleged anthropological universality.
There is more to this. During the PaCS controversy, the cultural argument had
made it possible to conflate two references: on the one hand, social anthropol-
ogy; on the other, Biblical anthropology. As a result, the Catholic hierarchy could
remain discreet: French bishops relied on social scientists to do the ideological
work. This is why their Conference had issued only one statement against the bill
in 1998 that included no religious reference whatsoever – neither to sacred texts
nor to Vatican pronouncements. However, as the cultural argument receded,
so did the reference to the human sciences. As a consequence, the Catholic
Church had to speak up, and to resort to religious authority as such. This helps
understand the return of Catholic politician Christine Boutin: while her religious
discourse was marginalized after her political defeat in 1999, it played a central
role in the years 2010. Secular France was once more Catholic France. This could
have created a difficulty: it is one thing to shift from one anthropology to the
other; it is another to move from culture to nature. How could Catholics equate
God with biology?
This was made possible by developments in Vatican discourse under Cardinal
Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict (Fassin 2010). The German theologian played an
important role in the return of natural law. On the one hand, natural law could
invoke human rights to escape what he called, on the eve of his election, ‘the
tyranny of relativism’; on the other, he placed natural law above and before
human rights. This is not surprising: while the Nazi experience led to his anti-
totalitarian defense of democracy, the rise of sexual democracy (and in particu-
lar of gay rights) also explains the new importance he granted to natural law.
However, it had to be redefined: during the years 2000, the Vatican started
conflating, in what amounts to a theoretical pun, the universalism of natural
law and the universality of the laws of nature. This is nowhere more visible than
in the new vindication of ‘human ecology’: in his attacks on gender, and in his
defense of heterosexual marriage, the Pope went so far as to use (in a 2008
speech) a comparison with ‘rainforests’ – as if matrimony could be a natural
institution, that is, an oxymoron.
The Catholic naturalization of sexual difference within marriage clearly con-
firms the essentialist nature of the argument against the social construction of
gender. However, the contrast between the two sides in today’s French con-
troversy (‘realists’ vs. ‘nominalists’) is somewhat more complicated than might
appear at first sight – just as Boswell suggested concerning the controversy
within gay studies. It is true that conservative demonstrators proclaimed: ‘We
want sex, not gender.’ One sign thus showed a mustache and a bra, respectively
handed to a pink girl and a blue boy, with this reaction: ‘No thanks, it’s not
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182 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
their gender!’ Another paraded a girl dressed as a princess and a boy as Zorro
(though, strangely, both were in blue): ‘Don’t you lay a finger on our gender
This suggests that, paradoxically, demonstrators against gay marriage did not
deny that gender is a social practice; they only insisted on preserving its tradi-
tional definition. Drag was spurned only insofar as it departed from one’s ‘true
sex’. One had to dress the part; but does this not imply that gender is a part?
LMPT activists did not just use the word; they used it appropriately. For them,
natural sex needed to be confirmed and affirmed by social gender (including
color codes). However, the stereotypical signals could be mixed up. Yet another
sign exclaimed: ‘Stop gender theory at school!’ But the illustration was some-
what puzzling: a snail. Did it not remind us that hermaphroditism is a biological
phenomenon? Might it not signify that sexual differentiation is not necessarily
the rule of nature? Beyond gender trouble, could there be sex trouble?
The Social Construction of Sex
The controversy turns out to be more complicated than appeared at first sight:
the crusade against the ‘theory-of-gender’ actually offers an alternative the-
ory, in which gender reiterates sex in order to reinforce its nature. But what
about the specialists of gender studies, as well as feminist and LGBT activists?
Are their academic and political pursuits premised on the denial of biology – as
their opponents claim? Does speaking about gender preclude taking sex into
account? Today, that is certainly not the case. It is true that gender studies origi-
nally started from a distinction with sex: in the 1970s, feminists borrowed this
concept from medical and psychological discourse of the 1950s and 1960s: at the
time, gender was indeed to sex as culture is to nature. But this implied in no way
that gender was premised on the denial of sex. The body was very much a reality.
In fact, feminists originally tended to focus on gender, and did not have much to
say about sex. In the beginning, gender studies left biology to biologists.
However, things are not the same today. The concept of gender was invented
by John Money, a psychologist, and developed by Robert Stoller, a psychiatrist
and psychoanalyst, to analyze both intersexuality and transsexuality. Both men
believed that medicine should correct nature’s mistakes: surgery could fix bod-
ies just as gender identity clinics (respectively at Johns Hopkins University and at
the University of California at Los Angeles) would fix the minds – both psycho-
logically and sociologically. The relatively recent resurgence of trans and inter-
sex issues in feminist gender studies has changed all that: the point is not to
‘fix’ but to question the politics of ‘fixing’. A shift has taken place, from clinic
to critique. Sex is political in the most obvious sense: the State decides who is
a man and who is a woman; the State decides the conditions for becoming a
man or a woman; the State decides whether to maintain a binary category or to
recognize, in one form or another, a ‘third sex’.
This implies a new understanding of sex: it is not merely a biological fact; it
is not simply given. The question raised today is quite different from that of
psychologists in the 1950s: sex itself is now perceived as the result of a social
construction. In order to understand this, we can go back to Alfred Kinsey’s
work on sexuality; the parallel with sexual difference will prove useful. After
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 183
World War Two, Kinsey became famous, in the United States and throughout
the world, for his reports on men’s and women’s sexual behavior. While his
empirical surveys contradicted in many ways the normalized vision of the sexu-
ality of Americans that was then propagated, what probably struck the public
most was the prevalence of homosexuality that they revealed. This led to a
profound misunderstanding: many were to believe that Kinsey had measured a
percentage of homosexuals (namely, 10% among men).
In fact, this zoologist’s argument was quite different: ‘Males do not represent
two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be
divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is
a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories.
Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated
pigeonholes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects’
(Kinsey: 639). This did not mean that Kinsey rejected categories; he actually
included many tables in his research – thus dividing the sexual continuum into
categories: in particular, he devised a scale (from 0 to 6), which makes it clear
that the division is arbitrary – or rather, more precisely, that it is organized for
the sake of convenience. However, he never implied that these categories were
inscribed in reality itself; other categorizations were equally possible and plau-
sible. He was a nominalist, not a realist – to return to Boswell’s analogy.
This is exactly the same logic that can be found in the work of biologist
Anne Fausto-Sterling. It is no accident: this feminist scientist actually draws the
comparison herself. But her work focuses on (biological) sex, not sexuality. Her
argument was first publicized in 1993, in a scientific journal: she argued that
it would be more appropriate to speak of ‘five sexes’ – not two: in addition to
male and female, she listed ‘herms’ (hermaphrodites), ‘merms’ (male pseudo-
hermaphrodites), and ‘ferms’ (female pseudo-hermaphrodites) (Fausto-Sterling
1993). This tongue-in-cheek suggestion served to underline that the binary divi-
sion of sex is an arbitrary construct. The reasons to maintain this system, rather
than any other, are anything but biological: ‘if the state and the legal system
have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance
of nature. For biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from
female to male; and depending on how one calls the shots, one can argue that
along that spectrum lie at least five sexes – and perhaps even more’ (Fausto-
Sterling 1993: 20). In a word, ‘sex is a vast, infinitely malleable continuum that
defies the constraints of even five categories’ (Fausto-Sterling 1993: 20).
Not only did Fausto-Sterling’s argument launch the intersex movement; it also
raised the fears of the Vatican, perhaps as much as Butler’s work: while the lat-
ter is known for her work about gender, the former studies sex – but both do so
from the perspective of gender studies. Indeed, theirs is a two-pronged attack
against the naturalization of sexual difference, whether biological or not. It is
no wonder that, two decades later, in France, the crusade against the ‘theory-
of-gender’ started from biology textbooks, and precisely from that question –
the biology of sexual differentiation; and it does not come as a surprise that her
1993 article was published in French in 2013, while her major book on the sub-
ject from 2000 was translated the previous year (Fausto-Sterling 2000a). What
Fausto-Sterling makes clear is that feminist scientists can question the conserva-
tive equation of science and common sense: arguments about ‘nature’ cannot
rely on the authority of biology as a discipline.
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
184 Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186
Fausto-Sterling is clearly a nominalist – this is why she accepted critiques
leveled against her image of the ‘continuum’. In a 2000 article, revisiting her
previous argument in the same journal, she revised her formulation: ‘It might
seem natural to regard intersexuals and transgendered people as living mid-
way between the poles of male and female. But male and female, masculine
and feminine, cannot be parsed as some kind of continuum. Rather, sex and
gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space’ (Fausto-
Sterling 2000b). This nominalism that runs from Butler to Fausto-Sterling is
clearly central in the definition to today’s gender studies – but what the lat-
ter’s work shows is that since gender functions as a concept, then it does not
apply solely to the empirical reality of gender stereotypes; it also dispels myths
of sex.
Beyond Nature and Culture
The analogy of Boswell’s analogy proves useful at least in two ways. First, it
helps us think that the polemic launched by the Vatican and picked up in France
by Catholics in the years 2010 (and beyond by secular conservatives) against the
‘theory-of-gender’ in the context of the political battle against ‘marriage for all’
can be understood as a controversy. Of course, LMPT demonstrators and aca-
demic specialists of gender studies do not belong to the same field. However,
not only did this conservative initiative introduce the concept of gender to a
wider audience; it also created a debate whose terms are borrowed from their
opponents: for or against gender? The consequence is that the very same Cath-
olics who reject sexual democracy in order to preserve a transcendent definition
of the sexual, and therefore social order, end up participating in a democratic
debate: their rhetorical success turns out to be a political defeat.
Second, at the same time, the analogy helps understand the controversy in
different terms. The opposition is not really between those who believe in gen-
der and those who do not. In fact, the hyphenated spelling adopted in this
paper is a reminder that there are different theories of gender – not only within
the field of gender but also among its detractors. Catholic activists and their
allies very much believe in gender stereotypes, as attested by their insistent
color coding of demonstration signs and preference for dressing in pink and
blue. What is specific about their theory of gender is that it insists on conform-
ing gender to sex, or more precisely to their representation of biology – which
owes more to conservative common sense than to a scientific discipline. Con-
versely, as Fausto-Sterling’s work makes clear, the theories of gender that are
currently prevalent in the field of gender studies are not premised on the denial
of sex; on the contrary, feminists today include sex in their theoretical models.
Contrary to what conservative slogans might suggest (‘We want sex, not gen-
der’), Catholics have much to say about gender, just as gender studies do speak
a great deal about sex.
This is why it makes more sense to speak of the two sides of this struggle in
Boswell’s terms than in those of the enemies of the ‘theory-of-gender’: indeed,
today, there is a true opposition between essentialists and social construction-
ists, or between realists and nominalists. This epistemological lexicon proves
more adequate than the ideological one in accounting for the actual logic of
Fassin: Gender and the Problem of Universals
Religion and Gender vol. 6, no. 2 (2016), pp. 173–186 185
the controversy. But there is more: speaking in terms of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’
is not only inaccurate; it is also, more profoundly, misguided and misleading,
both from a theological standpoint and from the perspective of gender studies.
On the one hand, as discussed earlier, the Vatican has thus been led to conflate
natural law and the laws of nature, at the risk of confusing God with some ‘bio-
logical rock’ to escape the historical and political logic of sexual democracy. On
the other hand, one might have the mistaken impression that gender studies
are still defined by the distinction between sex and gender. In fact, not only are
the two notions not in opposition any longer, but such a formulation also leaves
out much of what gender studies are currently about.
For the most part, the field that initially developed in the wake of De Beau-
voir’s Second Sex and her reading of Claude Lévi-Strauss today has little to say
about nature and culture, not only because sex is subsumed under the question
of gender, but also because the definition of gender is twofold – as historian
Joan W. Scott taught us in her classic 1986 article on this ‘useful category’. ‘The
core of the definition rests on an integral connection between two proposi-
tions: gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived
differences between the sexes, and gender is a primary way of signifying rela-
tions of power’ (Scott 1986: 42). While the first proposition fits the current con-
troversy about sex and gender, the second one opens entirely new perspectives:
most of the current research in gender studies has to do with ‘signifying rela-
tions of power’ – that is, beyond gender and sex. Indeed, the attacks against
the ‘theory-of-gender’ can be interpreted precisely in those terms, as they simul-
taneously signify religion, race, class, and nation, thus inviting readings in the
language of intersectionality (Fassin 2015).
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... Proposing a "theology of complementarity of the sexes" (Bracke and Paternotte 2016, 145; see also Case 2016) where men and women are equal in dignity but different and complementary in nature, the Vatican opposed what they labeled as "gender feminism." Since then, the gender ideology discourse has become a transnational lingua franca (Graff, Kapur, and Walters 2019) that is performed (Fassin 2016;Garbagnoli 2016) in diverse national and local contexts by several coalitions of actors, including far-right parties, through interconnected "antigender campaigns" (Kuhar and Paternotte 2017). ...
... Shortly after the December 2018 Andalusian elections, Monasterio was photographed as Rosie the Riveter, a World War II icon for working women who became a global feminist emblem, by a journalist from a conservative mainstream media outlet (see fig. 3). The contrast created by the appropriation of this feminist icon "against feminazis" (Negre 2019), suggests a dichotomy between good and bad feminism (Fassin 2016;Garbagnoli 2016;Paternotte and Kuhar 2017a). This strategy went relatively unnoticed in comparison to other, more spectacular antigender strategies deployed by Vox and the antigender movement in this period, such as HazteOir's #StopFeminazis bus and campaign. ...
... See Bracke and Paternotte (2016),Case (2016),Fassin (2016),Garbagnoli (2016),Cornejo and Pichardo (2017),Kuhar and Paternotte (2017), andCornejo-Valle and Pichardo (2018). ...
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Feminism in Spain is experiencing a paradox. On the one hand, the March 8 movement has held two feminist strikes, attended by multitudes. On the other hand, the far Right has entered representative politics, announcing a battle against feminism. With the rapid ascendency of the nationalist far-right party Vox, Spain joins other European countries where the far Right is on the rise. This article’s aim is to analyze the crucial role of gender in the rise of the nationalist far Right in Spain, arguing that gender is not a secondary issue but a primary field in which this political process is being articulated. The article examines the ways Vox mobilized gender during the national electoral campaign of April 2019 and during their first steps in the Andalusian Parliament. The analysis is twofold: it begins by exploring the framing of Vox’s electoral campaigns, including the national myth of the Reconquista of a Catholic Spain from Muslim rule and the militaristic representation of masculinity within this holy-war frame. It then examines Vox’s relentless antigender discourse, focusing on two prominent issues: first, the far-right opposition to gender violence policy through a variety of strategies, such as denying the gendered nature of violence against women and reversing the roles of victim and perpetrator, and second, the party’s representation of feminism, ranging from its straightforward delegitimization of feminism as an enemy of the Spanish nation to a parasitic-opportunistic appropriation through the defense of a “Spanish feminism.” The case study concludes that the Spanish far Right is gender dependent and that antagonism toward feminism is one of its key features.
... Respecto del primer punto, la narrativa construye una dicotomía donde la 195 llamada "ideología de género" sería parte de una agenda foránea, mientras que la agenda neoconservadora sería protectora de valores tradicionales locales (Grzebalska, 2015;Kuhar y Zobec, 2017;Cornejo-Valle y Pichardo, 2017;Loza y López, 2020). La dicotomía entre lo local y lo transnacional supone un modo de construir las agendas feministas y LGBTI como imposiciones extranjeras (Fassin, 2016 La conspiración es un marco esencial para el discurso de la "ideología de género", en tanto opera como dispositivo interpretativo de la realidad. Cualquier política o teoría que desafíe a la moral sexual neoconservadora es explicada como una pieza dentro de un articulado plan global. ...
... ;. Sin embargo, hoy este concepto ha devenido una estrategia de movilización política y social. No son pocos los casos, a nivel global, donde este discurso se posiciona como centro de campañas, eslóganes de marchas y protestas callejeras, así como motor de articulación entre diversos colectivos neoconservadores(Careaga-Pérez, 2016;Fassin, 2016; González Vélez et al., 2018;Troncoso y Stutzin, 2019;Kalil, 2020).Como destaca la literatura especializada, el modo en que opera hoy el discurso de la "ideología de género", y que puede explicar gran parte de su poder para interpelar y movilizar, se basa en la construcción de una fuerte línea de separación entre un "nosotros/as" y un "otros/as"(Garbagnoli, 2016;Torres Santana, 2020). Más que una realidad empírica, dicha frontera debe ser entendida como un artefacto narrativo que el propio discurso produce. ...
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Mediante la movilización del discurso de la “ideología de género”, actores neoconservadores están promoviendo un cuestionamiento transnacional a las políticas y teorías de género. Este discurso ha cobrado relevancia en los últimos años, logrando impactar en diversas instituciones y procesos públicos. Este artículo busca analizar sintéticamente las principales ideas que conforman el discurso de la “ideología de género”, focalizándose en el modo en que construye una frontera en un “nosotros/as” y un “otros/as”. Para ello, se analizan los escritos producidos desde los años 1990 hasta la fecha por diversos actores neoconservadores en las Américas y Europa, poniendo especial atención en aquellos que tuvieron más impacto y difusión. Luego de realizar una breve genealogía del discurso de la “ideología de género”, se propone el concepto de “enemigo total” para destacar cómo este discurso produce un imaginario donde el “otro/a” es pensado en términos epistémicos, ideológicos, morales y geopolíticos, conformando la imagen de un adversario que evoca diversos pánicos morales que alientan a la movilización. La “ideología de género”, más que un concepto orientado a describir un fenómeno, es una estrategia de movilización y convocatoria, un modelo de subjetivación política.
... Based on the common opposition to a perceived threat that these actors term as 'gender ideology' or 'gender theory', scholars have coined the term 'anti-gender mobilization' (Kováts and Poim 2015, Köttig, Bitzan, and Petó 2017, Kuhar and Paternotte 2017. The political actions of anti-gender actors have often been directed against same-sex marriages and rights of transgender people, and have included organising mass protests, such as those organised by La Manif pour tous (LMPT) in France (Fassin 2016), marriage referendums, and campaigns against the Istanbul convention (Krizsan and Roggeband 2021). At the same time, homophobic, anti-transgender rhetoric has frequently been underpinned by overt antiimmigration and islamophobic arguments. ...
... One of the most prominent discursive threads present in anti-gender politics is the call for replacing the notion of gender with the idea of complementarity of the sexes, stemming from the allegedly 'natural' differences between women and men. The complementarity between men and women and the reproductive potential of their coupling is further perceived as the basis on which the institutions of marriage and family should be defined (Bracke and Paternotte 2016, Case 2016, Fassin 2016. ...
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Over the last decades, issues related to gender and sexuality came to the center of public and political debates in Europe. Right-wing parties and actors across Europe are gaining popularity while increasingly drawing on gender and sexuality in their anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric (e.g. Mayer, Ajanovic and Sauer 2014, Meret and Siim 2013). This Special Issue results from an international workshop organised by the Network for the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality (NAGS), part of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), and held at VU University Amsterdam in December 2019. The workshop interrogated entanglements of anti-migration and gender discourses, including anti-gender movements across Europe. Its overall aim was to discuss different ‘uses and abuses of gender’ in relation to migration and Islamophobia as deployed by right-wing discourse (Scott 2013).
... A second paradox that right-wing social and political actors have to face concerns their opposition to LGBT rights, a crucial issue for the Italian mobilization against "gender ideology". Some authors have already argued that choosing to oppose LGBT rights by means of a mobilization aiming to involve State institutions has obliged French and Italian right-wing parties and movements to avoid making homophobic statements (Fassin 2016;Bellé and Poggio 2018;Lavizzari and Prearo 2019). But having to embrace the principle of anti-homophobia (formally at least) can be problematic for right-wing parties like the League and Brothers of Italy, or neo-fascist organizations like CasaPound or New Strength. ...
... The National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) was established as part of the Department for Equal Opportunities in 2003. 2. These aims are shared by "anti-gender" mobilizations in other European countries(Fassin 2016; Korolczuk and Graff 2018). ...
... En el julio y agosto de 2016, solo pocos meses antes del plebiscito nacional del acuerdo de paz, Colombia experimentó un aumento en lo que comúnmente se conoce como campañas de antigénero. Las movilizaciones anti-género son manifestaciones locales y regionales de un fenómeno global que rechaza las afirmaciones feministas y queer de que el género es una construcción cultural y social (Anić 2015;Caso 2019;Corredor 2019;Fassin 2016;Graff 2014; Kuhar y Paternotte 2017). Estos grupos creen en cambio que la identidad de género, el sexo biológico y la orientación heterosexual son predeciblemente correlativos y trascienden los arreglos políticos, históricos y significativamente de la campaña en contra de las cartillas. ...
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RESUMEN Este artículo examina la oposición organizada contra los proyectos políticos feministas y LGBTI en Colombia. Aunque existe una gran cantidad de literatura sobre movimientos feministas, y una literatura floreciente sobre los movimientos LGBTI, hay poca investigación sobre la resistencia en contra de los mismos. A través de un lente feminista interseccional, este estudio analiza la campaña "anti-género" organizada contra la perspectiva de género en el acuerdo de paz de 2016 en Colom-bia para demostrar las limitaciones de la teoría del backlash y de algunas de las ideas normativas sobre los derechos humanos. En contraste con las suposiciones según las cuales el backlash estaría predeterminado, el estudio demuestra que la movilización anti-género contra el acuerdo de paz fue más circunstancial que inevitable. Para resaltar como el backlash puede ser productivo, este ar-tículo rastrea cómo las personas oponentes a la perspectiva de género y al acuerdo de paz emplea-ron la retórica de los derechos humanos para crear un presente alternativo y promover un imagi-nario futuro arraigado en la exclusión y la represión. Además, muestra que las movilizaciones organizadas en contra de los movimientos feministas y LGBTI no necesariamente desaceleran o revierten las agendas de los respectivos movimientos. Palabras clave: Colombia, procesos de paz, anti-género, backlash, mujeres, LGBTI, Resolución 1325, plebiscito, derechos humanos Esta es una traducción no oficial. Por favor citar como: Corredor, E. S. (2021). On the Strategic Uses of Women’s Rights: Backlash, Rights-based Framing, and Anti-Gender Campaigns in Colombia’s 2016 Peace Agreement. Latin American Politics and Society, 63(3), 46-68.1 Muchas gracias a Juliana Restrepo Sanín y Priscyll Anctil Avoine por su gran ayuda con esta traducción.
... In the summer of 2016, just three months before the peace agreement's national referendum, Colombia experienced a rise in what is commonly referred to as antigender campaigns. Anti-gender mobilizations are local and regional manifestations of a global phenomenon that rejects feminist and queer assertions that gender is culturally and socially constructed (Anić 2015;Case 2019;Corredor 2019;Fassin 2016;Graff 2014;Kuhar and Paternotte 2017). These groups believe instead that gender identity, biological sex, and heterosexual orientation are predictably correlated and transcend political, historical, and social arrangements shaped by people (Garbagnoli 2016;Hogan 2015). ...
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This article examines organized opposition to feminist and LGBTI political projects in Colombia. Although there is a large body of literature on feminist movements and a growing literature on LGBTI movements, there is little research on resistance to them. Through an intersectional feminist lens, this study analyzes the "anti-gender" campaign organized against the gender perspective in Colombia's 2016 peace agreement to demonstrate the limitations of backlash theory and certain normative understandings of human rights. In contrast to assumptions that backlash is predetermined, the study demonstrates that the anti-gender mobilization against the peace agreement was circumstantial rather than inevitable. To highlight the productive nature of backlash, it traces how opponents employed human rights rhetoric to establish an alternative present and promote an imagined future rooted in exclusion and repression. In addition, it shows that mobilized backlash against feminist and LGBTI movements does not necessarily decelerate or reverse the respective movements' agendas.
Gender ideology has quickly developed as a response to fostering human rights, especially in the case of gender equality. Gender policy thus became a political and ideological instrument that subjects human rights to another contest – a new form of crusade pursued by anti-gender movements which advocate traditional and conservative ideologies against gender equality and gender theories. In this paper, we seek to track and map the recent development of anti-gender movements and their mobilisation. We apply critical discourse analysis to several doctrines of antigenderism in order to understand the global popularity and mass appeal of these movements.
Antes de assumir o Ministério da Mulher, da Família e dos Direitos Humanos do governo Bolsonaro, Damares Alves ficou conhecida por um vídeo no qual narra sua experiência de conversão vivida no alto de uma goiabeira. Reconhecida como pastora pentecostal, Damares é a primeira-ministra desde a fundação do Ministério, ocorrida em 1998, a declarar sua religião e a associá-la a seu engajamento político. Em sua posse, ela afirmou que, se o Estado era laico, a partir de agora ele teria também uma ministra terrivelmente cristã. A ascensão de Damares como ministra pode ser entendida como um marco em meio a um processo que colocou parte do segmento evangélico pentecostal na disputa pela gramática dos Direitos Humanos no país. Este artigo pretende analisar alguns sentidos dos direitos humanos no Estado Brasileiro, com foco no Poder Executivo. O objetivo central do artigo é analisar como sujeitos religiosos nas secretarias e comissões centrais traduzem a religião em políticas públicas e buscam o reconhecimento público de suas práticas como humanitárias. O artigo enfoca, portanto, o papel de sujeitos religiosos na composição de cargos na Secretaria da Família e na Secretaria da Mulher entre os anos de 2019 e 2021.
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The denunciation of “gender theory,” revived in the framework of the opposition to “marriage for all,” first emerged in the public debate in 2011. Backing a political mobilization against the so-called introduction of that theory in high school science textbooks, an office of the Roman Curia had then published in France a book intended to provide an argument against it. This article traces the genesis of both denunciation and book, and analyzes the supporting evidence in the latter for the “sexual identity” theory it opposed to “gender theory.” This return to the sources of antigender discourse shows that it does not stem from a fight against gender studies or from a concern to put across data from life science, both scientific fields being equally ignored by those who created it. It stems from a fight of influential members of the Catholic Church to maintain a social order assigning distinct statuses and roles to each sex, and in particular the nurturing role to women. If their coining of the term “gender theory” was successful, their attempt to place themselves in the field of scientific expertise was, by contrast, awkward, to say the least.
While the debate on "marriage for all" may have looked like a mere repetition of the earlier one on PaCS, the terms have changed since the late 1990s - from secular to religious, and from anthropological to biological. But it is still about national identity. In France, filiation is sacralized because it defines both family and citizenship. As the comparison with the United States makes clear, the opposition to gay marriage is thus also about race: it articulates the racialization of the nation and the biologization of the family. However, the political rhetorics do not always coincide with this logic of naturalization/denaturalization: while the sexual nationalisms of the early 2000s pitted "sexual democracy" against racialized minorities, the polemics of the next decade, from the Taubira law to the (so-called) "theory of gender," offer new configurations of the intersections of sexual and racial politics. Is the Catholic, bourgeois movement of La Manif pour tous about whiteness, or is a morally conservative alliance with the children of immigrants and Muslims from the outer-cities possible? The conclusion of this paper focuses on the tensions between intersectional logics (of equivalence) and rhetorics (of articulation): same-sex marriage signifies race but it is also signified by the different political actors.
How can we account for the recent nationalization of gender rhetoric, opposing France and the United States? Mona Ozouf's essay "Les Mots des femmes" is a reflection on the two sides of the so-called French exception--both the ideology of the harmony of the sexes, inherited from the Old Regime, and the politics of the exclusion of women, derived from the Revolution. To reconcile these two exceptions, Ozouf defines both French feminism and femininity in contrast with an American model, opposing abstract universalism and the embodiment of difference--and thus mistaking a tension within for an opposition between national cultures. Ozouf resorts to a ready-made rhetorical contrast developed since 1989 to reflect on the politics of immigration, as well as on homosexuality and gender. This revival of the rhetoric of national character reveals the tensions of transatlantic academic circulation while veiling the tensions surrounding gender issues in France today, such as sexual harassment or "parite."