- Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against Equality ed. by Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte
This indispensable survey of the European resistance to LGBTQ causes, marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, and gender equality has grouped these issues under the rubrics “gender ideology,” “gender theory,” or simply “gender,” which are used variously by the authors of the chapters on each European country. These terms are not used as friendly descriptors but rather as negative signifiers in the discourse of opposition movements to these political and social causes. They serve as the “symbolic glue” (13) to identify the group of issues these movements loathe and also as “empty signifiers” (23, 31) that have no single meaning but to which new or emergent dangers may be added without contradiction. A list of those issues is long and growing longer, including the academic field of gender studies, sex education in the schools, same-sex or single adoption, surrogacy, and transgender identity. Twelve European countries are profiled here, and there is an introduction and a concluding comparative perspective by the editors that will help the reader understand the context of each national opposition movement and the relations among them.
All these nation-based developments have long-term origins, but these are mentioned only in passing. The emphasis in each chapter is on the [End Page 491] period since the midnineties, on the occasion of the first international conferences in Cairo and Beijing that advocated gender equality and reproductive rights, and especially on the period since 2006 as European legal projects on marriage equality, homosexual and reproductive rights, and antidiscrimination campaigns have triggered vigorous reactions. The timing, strength, personnel, and themes of these resistance movements have varied from nation to nation, but there are some common organizing principles. One of these is the role of Catholic and Orthodox hierarchy and lay activists mobilizing behind traditional dogma on abortion, marriage, and education. Catholic involvement varies from country to country; it is stronger in the Catholic homelands of Poland, Croatia, and Italy and weaker in Germany, with its mixed confessional heritage, Spain, where the church had collaborated with Franco, and Belgium, where sex scandals and a history of overreach weakened church influence. Another organizing principle is nationalist opposition to EU “elites,” a strong motivator in several antigender movements, especially in former communist states, where EU social and cultural policies are characterized as “totalitarian” efforts to thwart national autonomy.
Antigender discourse relies heavily on certain universal “truths” about sex, the family, and reproduction that the editors, in their concluding chapter, effectively reduce to the three Ns: “nature, the nation, and normality” (260). Widespread hostility to globalization on the part of segments of European societies left behind by economic modernization coupled with animosity to EU authority has meant that these movements have framed their causes as demands for exclusive national sovereignty over matters relating to the family, marriage, and children. Former Eastern Bloc countries are particularly susceptible to this strategy, especially Croatia, Russia, and Poland, but also countries like Italy, Ireland, and Spain with their histories of unofficial state churches. Where nationalist sentiment has deepened in the last decades, antigender language has provided much of its rhetorical thrust, often in tacit alliance with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim language and imagery. The efforts of a few organizers to coordinate conservative family attitudes in immigrant populations with domestic views have mostly foundered on religious differences, exacerbated, as in France, by openly racist antagonisms. Contemporary European nationalisms no longer pit nation against nation in the language of race, power, or historic right, but they do seek to revive putative traditions of family norms, reproductive sexuality, and lineal kinship that marginalize many of their own citizens in the name of a fertile homogeneity.
The strength of antigender movements varies widely throughout Europe, and they are organized in different ways. Many have relied on the extant profamily, antiabortion, or men’s rights movements that have been in place since the 1970s, but the majority have constituted...