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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

War on ‘Genderism’ in Poland: An Intersectional Look at the Responses Dealing with a Shock Campaign that Became Governmental Policy

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Civil Society
Political Activism
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University

Between 2012 and 2014, Poland experienced an unprecedented discursive and institutional campaign against gender. This paper looks in detail at the responses by both activists and academics in Poland to the mainstreamed anti-gender political mobilizations. The initial reaction of feminist academia and activists in Poland to the anti-gender campaign was that of shock and surprise combined with patient attempts at explaining the meaning of the terms ‘gender’ and ‘gender equality’. At first, feminist and LGBTQ+ circles tended to see the phenomenon as a feature of the singularly Polish post-transformation cultural wars. From the perspective of time, research has contextualized the ‘war on gender’ in the broader right-wing and ultra-religious resurgence in Eastern Europe (Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania), but also as part of larger European and global movements following religious writers and organized churches. Arguably, ‘anti-genderists’ diagnose both perceived and lived social insecurities, fears, economic problems and multifarious threats and merge them under the flexible signifier, ‘umbrella’ concept of ‘gender’. The anti-gender critique is also often closely linked with an anti-globalist stance, hijacking post-colonial frames of thinking. Importantly, it can even share affinity with left and feminist critiques of social inequalities and global injustices. The anti-gender campaigns can therefore be understood as an outcome of alliances between multiple inequalities. What does this then mean for intersectional feminist organizing in Eastern Europe? Given that feminism as a movement and a way of thinking has been discredited in Eastern Europe already before (in the early transformation years), the question remains: how does academia and the civil society respond in this specific regional context? What is the importance of the case for Europe and beyond? Polish feminist scholars have shown that feminism and pro-choice activism have lost the language war when it comes to abortion in the last two decades. I argue that unfortunately we may be witnessing a similar process when it comes to ‘gender’. Due to the mainstreaming of the anti-gender attitudes in Polish politics, it is important to ask what this means for future gender equality+ policy initiatives and discourses. I discuss how the current Polish parliament and government have been successfully mainstreaming the anti-gender rhetoric, using it to denigrate and cut funding to any perceived ‘genderist’ programs or institutions in Poland. By taking a closer look at the various reactions to the anti-gender mobilizations, ranging from academic interventions to street protests, I analyse their potential successes and limitations. What have been the alliances like? What is the role of the so-called ‘black protests’ in Poland in coordinating a progressive reaction to the anti-feminist offensive? What lessons have been learned? What is the affective and effective power of mobilizing along gendered lines (both for and against equality+)? This paper is an initial attempt to take stock, synthesize the available literature on the anti-gender movements, and combine it with tracing feminist reactions in Poland, in order to draw conclusions for feminist alliances.
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