The world-wide operating Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is the intellectual activist center of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) which presently governs Germany in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party under Chancellor Angela Merkel. As their publications and conferences reflect, the FES pushes for same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, biotechnology, sexual diversity, gender equality, and sexual education. It also publishes reports with the intention of “naming and shaming” individuals, organizations, parties, and networks which work on behalf of life and the family.
The FES’s latest publication takes an international approach, describing anti-gender activists and actions in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Titled Gender as Symbolic Glue: The position and role of conservative and far-right parties in the anti-gender mobilizations in Europe, the report was published by something called the Foundation for European Progressive Studies—“with the financial support of the European Parliament” and the Budapest branch of the FES.
The authors are alarmed over the growing resistance to “gender politics” seen at the grass-roots level (e.g. La Manif pour tous movement in France and Demo für alle in Germany) and expressed in referendums held in several countries across Europe. In addition, they cite the opposition of political parties at the local and European levels, and the “anti-gender” declarations of bishops’ conferences. What is seen as a dangerous development by the sexual left is really a testimony to the success of the pro-life and pro-family movement in Europe. The authors say:
Anti-gender movements want to claim that gender equality is an “ideology,” and introduce the misleading terms “gender ideology” or “gender theory” which distort the achievements of gender equality … This phenomenon has negative consequences for the legislation on gender equality.
The Symbolic Glue report then provides “policy recommendations for the progressive side to stand up against fundamentalist political activism.”
The individual country reports on the “reactionary backlash” against gender politics in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia give a good overview of the situation in each country and the positions of the conservative and right-wing parties. In contrast to previous publications from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which tried to defame and stigmatize conservative individuals as right-wing radicals, bigots, and family-fundamentalists, the Symbolic Glue report largely refrains from such slanderous language. In fact, the authors sound worried that conservative activists are acquiring dominance in public debates, and are influencing party politics and legislation by:
- coining the terms “gender-ideology” and “genderism”;
- giving “scientific” evidence against “gender ideology”;
- mobilizing at the grass-roots level through “fear-managing language”;
- making use of “authoritarian themes” such as the polemic against the French schoolbook Tous à poil (All Naked);
- creating “moral panic” that “allows socialist officials to be accused of … jeopardizing the future of society”;
- re-articulating “parent-power” or parental involvement in “promoting the parents as actors of the restoration of authority and traditional values at school”;
- the “gradual subordination of educational institutions to Christian conservative worldview, carried out by local authorities in cooperation with the Catholic Church and religion-based organizations”;
- utilizing “hate-speech towards Gender Studies” (as an academic subject) and relying on “freedom fighter rhetoric”;
- pointing to the EU as a “cultural colonizer”;
- leading successful constitutional referendums for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Symbolic Glue also analyzes the deficiencies of the sexual left. It is difficult to say whether this self-critical stance is a tactical device to arouse sympathy and motivate people to engage in the anti-anti-gender battle, or whether it is really dawning on the authors that anti-gender movements can have “grave consequences not only to women’s and LGBT rights but to the emancipatory promise of the Left altogether.”
The sexual left, according to the authors’ own evaluation, seems to be missing “symbolic glue.” They see:
- “difficulties of building an ideological response to conservatives”;
- “lack of public campaign against the anti-gender discourse”;
- “the inability to articulate a progressive agenda in the concrete experience of ordinary people”;
- the counter-reactions of leftist parties to the anti-gender mobilization being “one step behind those of extra-parliamentary forces.”
The ultimate intention of the authors is to cure “progressives” of these deficiencies. But it is good that they also let conservatives know how they want to achieve this.
Indeed, it is difficult to convince “ordinary people” of the notion of gender theory, and that the traditional identity of man and woman are restrictions on human freedom that must be overcome by voluntarily choosing one’s gender identity according to one’s feelings. Since the authors supply no definition for the concept of gender identity, we have to refer to the Preamble of The Yogyakarta Principles, since it is one of the rare places where a definition is given:
“Gender identity” … [refers] to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.
The solution to the incompatibility of gender theory with common sense—rooted in nature—is apparently to drop the concept of gender entirely. “Using the concept of gender as a technical category in the long run can be more self-destructive than useful while encountering this new political challenge.” The progressives intend to move away from a “framework of identity politics” and reclaim the “real leftist values, using the language of solidarity” by “creating a counter-language, which reflects the emotional-fear language of the rightists.” Furthermore, “[i]nstead of putting the emphasis on ‘human nature’ or ‘traditional values,’ progressive actors have to take advantage of other aspects of ‘common sense’: us/them distribution of power and wealth. Defining political antagonism is a pathway to hegemony.” The authors recognize that the opposition is composed of hard-to-control grass-roots movements and, therefore, advise progressive actors and left-wing parties to “strongly connect to grassroots [sic] organizations, local and individual initiatives.”
Furthermore, the public is to be provided “with concrete information about gender studies and policies through academic conferences, articles and statements from gender experts.” But in addition to conferences and a public dialogue between feminists and Catholics in order to “ridicule the anti-gender campaign,” an “e-learning course on … gender equality”, developed in Slovakia, is recommended as “best practice,” targeting administration staff, students, and the general public.
The authors of the Symbolic Glue report also sound somewhat startled to see a “paradigm change in science as we know it.” They describe the science they know as the “post-modern turn of modernity … where science became a moral and normative category acknowledging the positionality of the knower. This approach also questions the subject-object division and brings in new symbols, new myths and redefinitions.”
It is worth noting that with the exception of Andrea Petö, who wrote the Epilogue, the report’s authors are all young women who belong to the “millennial” generation born around 1980. Several of them are in the process of obtaining a Ph.D., so their academic formation took place during the last ten years. This is precisely the period during which “gender studies” was established as an academic subject at the universities. (In German-speaking countries there are more than 200 professors for “gender” or “queer studies,” nearly all of them women.) “Gender studies” was and is a wide-open door for female careers and a booming market for jobs.
These young women only know a “science” which is subordinated to the aim of effecting a political change in society—and academics is seen as an instrument for serving the cause of feminist and LGBT-interests. This so-called “science” has completely severed the academic commitment to the search for truth—which is, or was—the moving force behind the unfolding of European culture.
In general, Gender as Symbolic Glue, which was published by a foundation with a certain scientific claim, does not show the slightest intention of dealing with arguments on their merit; it just wants to pillory the enemy. Twenty-three individuals—perceived as enemies of the sexual left—are presented in an “Index” at the end of the book. (Wasn’t there an aversion to Catholic “indices” among enlightened liberals?)
In the end, the report says more about the weaknesses of the gender identity movement than about its opponents. The young authors must feel that their “intellectual house” is built on sand, otherwise they wouldn’t express such worried dismay over the opposition they are facing. After all, international institutions like the UN and the EU—with their sub-agencies like the Fundamental Rights Agency and European Institute for Gender Equality—and national governments, with the superpower US leading the way, as well as global corporations like Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, and global NGOs like IPPF and ILGA, to name but a few, all with billions of dollars at their disposal, are on the side of the gender identity activists in this cultural war.
So why are these young women worried about the opposition of 23 people and a few comparatively tiny organizations with extremely small budgets? The answer is simple: Because they feel that the truth is on their side.
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