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Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte (eds.), Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe. Mobilizing against Equality, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Mieke Verloo (ed.), Varieties of Opposition to Gender Equality in Europe, New York: Routledge, 2018.

1 These two timely collections appeared virtually simultaneously, both reflecting the fact that the premises and politics of equality-seeking movements and policies are under threat around the globe. While both books concentrate on European countries – broadly defined to include Russia in the Kuhar and Paternotte collection – they locate the European experience in the larger global picture. Both books also use the currently accepted broad definition of gender, termed gender+ in the Verloo book, as applicable to social relations beyond the binary male / female.

2 The books diverge, however, in four ways. A first is with respect to what they include under the label gender (or anti-gender) claims-making. While considering assaults on the rights of LGBT+ in several countries, the collection edited by Verloo is primarily troubled by the flagging support for policy actions to realise feminism’s agenda of equality between women and men in multiple domains. The chapters in Kuhar and Paternotte, in contrast, use the concept “anti-gender” to characterise rejection of non-binary representations of masculinity and femininity (and neither) via recognition of sexual and reproductive rights, especially same-sex marriage and parental rights as well as, in some countries, access to reproductive technologies for homosexual as well as heterosexual couples and individuals. These definitional choices lead to two different research questions. In her introductory chapter, Mieke Verloo sets out a list of questions (p. 5-6) about factors facilitating, fostering, hindering, generating or eliminating opposition and asks “which feminism is being opposed?” In subsequent chapters, the authors take up such questions by examining antagonism to dimensions of the feminist project, from economic equality to domestic violence and abortion rights. The research question of the other collection is different. It asks about the source and support for an “anti-gender ideology” constructed by identifiable intellectuals and institutions. The ideology is described in a consolidated way and then particular manifestations are studied in detail in 12 countries. Thus the Verloo collection asks about opposition to the positions and actions of a social movement, feminism, while the Kuhar and Paternotte collection asks about movements’ opposition to a set of positions that have been grouped together as being “about gender.” This dissimilarity in the research questions leads then to a third difference around theoretical tools. The chapters in the Verloo book draw on multiple approaches, from public policy analysis to public opinion and structural analyses of power, while the Kuhar and Paternotte collection positions itself within the social movement literature. Fourth, as their titles indicate, the books also disagree about the coherence and sources of opposition to equality-seekers. Whereas the title chosen by Verloo emphasises “varieties” of opposition, the Kuhar and Paternotte collection prioritises a single source of opposition: ideological antipathy to any approach to “gender” that rejects the traditionally conceptualised masculine and feminine.

3 As noted, the editors and authors of Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe locate their analyses within social movement studies, with a particular emphasis on the construction of discourse and the discursive bonds of coalition making. This entry point leads to an examination of mobilisations and campaigns against ideas and policy initiatives labelled as inimical to traditional family forms and roles. Campaigns include the widely mediatized opposition to gay rights and same-sex unions. The chapters also, and importantly, analyse the less visible and researched mobilisations against access to reproductive health services and to sex education in schools that have driven oppositional movements in countries of Western Europe (France and Italy, for example) alongside those in Eastern Europe (Croatia and Hungary, for example).

4 Often their opponents excoriate equality initiatives as contrary to national values and they rely on nationalist discursive tropes. Despite this emphasis on national values, however, for this book the main driver of anti-gender campaigns is the interventions of the Catholic Church (and Russian Orthodox) which depend on transnational linkages from a central authority (Rome and the Pope for the Roman Catholic Church) to local hierarchies and mobilization of believers. Indeed in several countries, there is a simple equation of “national” and “Catholic.” Following this analytic entry point, the Introduction by Paternotte and Kuhar lays out the principles of “gender ideology” as constructed by identifiable actors and organisations, and then says: “the invention of ‘gender ideology’ is closely connected to debates within the Catholic Church” (p. 8). While conceding that other political movements, such as populism, may also be influential, the subsequent chapters focus on the local manifestations of the transnational discourse, the role of the Church, the strength of anti-gender mobilisations in the Catholic strongholds of republican (France) or religiously diverse countries (Austria for example) as well as predominantly Catholic ones (Ireland, Poland and so on). Fully one-quarter of the 12 case studies highlight the role of the Church in the title: “Defending Catholic Ireland” (McAuliffe and Kennedy); “From the pulpit to the streets: Ultra-conservative religious positions against gender in Spain” (Cornejo and Pichardo Galán); “‘No prophet is accepted in his own country’: Catholic anti-gender activism in Belgium” (Bracke, Dupont and Paternotte); and “Resisting ‘gender theory’ in France: A fulcrum for religious action in a secular society” (Stambolis-Ruhstorfer and Tricou). An additional three chapters signal the Church’s role via subtitles (Slovenia; Russia; Germany).

5 Informed by social movement analyses, several chapters also look at resistance to anti-gender politics, and consider some cases where – at the time of publication – anti-gender politics had made less headway. The Belgium chapter finds the reasons for the relative lack of success of the anti-gender movement in organised resistance by equality-seekers, in the character and experience of the Belgian Catholic Church, and in the timing of pro-equality reforms. The chapter on Hungary (Kováts and Pető) explicitly asks why, while anti-gender discourse was circulating, mobilization has not yet happened, attributing its absence to a relatively weak Catholic Church and no necessity for the right-wing forces behind the government to foster an “enemy.” Resort to such a contingent factor as explanation obviously reveals the fragility of the absence of anti-gender mobilization; at any moment, such an “enemy” may be identified. Despite such exceptions, the collection overall points to a wide-spread trend, one that may be locally manifested by particular and different social movements but that is driven by Catholic anti-gender positions on a transnational scale.

6 The chapters in Varieties of Opposition to Gender Equality in Europe examine opposition to feminism and apply a variety of theoretical tools. Among other things, these analyses raise concerns about the future of democratic politics in a hostile age, as the institutions of democracy come under the influence of forces antagonistic to feminism and feminists. The empirical chapters examine a range of institutions and actors, depending on the object of analysis. The Court of Justice of the EU (chapter by Holzleithner) is analysed as one source of blockage, while legislators’ opposition is tracked in the process of scaling back reproductive rights in Moldavia (chapter by Kajevska). Chapters scrutinise social movements, mobilising against same-sex marriage in France (chapter by Paternotte) and women’s movements’ seeking protection against domestic violence in Hungary, Poland and Romania (chapter by Krizán and Popa). Equality activists are solicited to describe their own understandings of indirect opposition in the EU (chapter by Ahrens) and some feminists’ opposition to prioritising gender over class is revealed in Sweden (chapter by Bergqvist, Bjarnegård and Zetterberg). Two chapters pay less attention to organised actors; one analyses patriarchal power relations underpinning violent anti-equality discourse on-line (chapter by Strid) and another tracks attitudes towards economic equality and gender non-conformity (chapter by Spierings). It should be clear, in other words, that this group of authors locate multiple sources and terrains of opposition to feminism’s agenda and apply a variety of theoretical tools in their analysis.

7 In other words, the book edited by Mieke Verloo, as her two chapters elaborate, is a wide-ranging and ambitious collection that seeks to open a new research field appropriate for the current conjuncture of surging right-wing and populist forces challenging democratic practice and fearful of globalisation and of movements such forces associate with structural, cultural and political changes that they fear. It is less coherently constructed than the collection edited by Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte, but its ambition is greater. Each is a must-read for anyone trying to understand why gender studies programmes are being shuttered around the world, access to reproductive rights scaled back dramatically, patriarchal diatribes accepted as legitimate political discourse, and the politics of fear rising, all with their “… nostalgia for a lost golden age, where everything was simpler and genders were what they looked like …” (Kuhar and Paternotte, p. 14). Victories that so many second-wave feminists and advocates of sexual citizenship thought had been “won” are yet again in need of defence.

Jane Jenson
Département de Science politique, Université de Montréal
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 23/04/2020
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