Professor Judith Butler is a prominent philosopher and gender theorist. In this recent, brilliant article in The Guardian, she examines what is truly behind the right-wing social movements that have attacked the very idea of gender (the socially constructed roles of men and women) as an “ideology.” Rooted in Catholic and evangelical Christian worldviews, these well-funded, transnational movements stoke fear through various, often incoherent claims about gender: that the traditional family is under attack, that men are losing their authority, that children are being indoctrinated in schools to become gay or trans, that war is being waged on Christianity (or Islam). Butler notes that “These reactionary flames have been fanned by the Vatican, which has proclaimed ‘gender ideology’ ‘diabolical’, calling it a form of ‘colonizing imperialism’ originating in the north and raising fears about the ‘inculcation’ of ‘gender ideology’ in the schools.”
The solution proposed by anti-gender forces: to reimpose a rigid division of people into two biological sexes, assigned at birth, and to organize society and families along those lines. Biological males will be leaders, breadwinners and warriors—the dominant ones; while biological females will be mothers, wives and caretakers—the subordinate ones.
Butler counters that, while there are “generally two sexes,” the movement of intersex persons (persons whose anatomy doesn’t fit the medical definition of male or female) has shown us that sex assignment is a “complex and revisable process, reversible in time for those who have been wrongly assigned.” And of course, whatever sex might be assigned at birth or thereafter to a person says nothing about what their gender identity should and will be, and what roles they can and will play in society.
Butler makes clear the “nationalist, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic” character of anti-gender movements, and their support “for ever strengthening forms of authoritarianism,” from Poland to Hungary via Brazil and Turkey. “[Their] tactics encourage state powers to intervene in university programs, to censor art and television programming, to forbid trans people their legal rights, to ban LGBTQI people from public spaces, to undermine reproductive freedom and the struggle against violence directed at women, children, and LGBTQI people. [They] threaten[s] violence against those, including migrants, who have become cast as demonic forces and whose suppression or expulsion promises to restore a national order under duress.”
Trans persons, including trans children, have borne much of the brunt of anti-gender movements. “That is why,” argues Butler, “it makes no sense for ‘gender critical’ feminists to ally with reactionary powers in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people. Let’s all get truly critical now, for this is no time for any of the targets of this movement to be turning against one another. The time for anti-fascist solidarity is now.”
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Judith Butler: Anti-gender movements support “ever strengthening forms of authoritarianism. It makes no sense for ‘gender critical’ feminists to ally with [them] in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people.”