Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gender ideology as everything to everyone

This is a good overview of the tempest in Latin America surrounding a bogeyman called "gender ideology".  Basically, if you're trying to oppose a progressive social agenda (human rights, a negotiated end to war, you name it), a great way to gain a lot of traction for your cause is to allege that those in favor of this positive agenda are somehow imposing on the good citizens who would prefer to be able to discriminate against others based on gender, class, sexual orientation, or whatever happens to be their preferred mode of oppression.  You can say that the human rights advocates subscribe to "gender ideology", which doesn't really mean anything, but it effectively conjures up vague images of activists trying to turn your kids gay and tear down the Church.

This worked marvelously in Colombia to sabotage the peace process that would end a war that has raged for over a half-century.  Ex-president Uribe, plus a coalition of other oligarchs that would be at risk of being brought to trial for war crimes if the peace agreement were ratified, seized on the fact that the peace accord included explicit references to gender.  In this case these references were largely centered on the fact that women have suffered in specific ways during the war, things like being targeted for rape as a weapon of war, and they should be given special consideration, treatment, and reparations that respond to these violations that were based on their gender.  I don't know any sane human being that would oppose such a common-sense measure (in fact, in the field of international development in general, we do a lot of this gender-sensitive analysis, because whether you're talking about economic growth or health care or educational outcomes or a peace process, gender is real and it matters in designing your programs to achieve results).  But by conflating this gender-sensitive approach to peace and justice with a scary "gender ideology" that would turn your kids gay, Uribe and his ilk were able to derail the whole peace process.

The ultra-conservatives in the US don't really use the term "gender ideology", but they are thinking the same thing as their Latin American counterparts when they allege that an assertion of equal rights for queer people somehow represents an imposition, an oppression even, of redblooded Americans who want to discriminate in peace.  It is a similar line of thought that assumes that blacks protesting lynching and extrajudicial execution are somehow out to oppress whites, or that people who wish to speak Spanish at home are trying to impose their language on others.  In short, it is a way for oppressors who demand every privilege and advantage in society, to paint themselves as an oppressed group when someone tries to push back for their own equal rights.

One additional thing that I've noticed makes the term "gender ideology" so effective is that it is inherently ambiguous, in that when someone uses the term it is often unclear if they are referring to a bogeyman that they think really exists, or if they are referring to the fiction believed by this first group of people.  The result is that those advocating for equal rights for women and LGBTI people decry "gender ideology" as a falsehood invented by ultra-conservatives to justify inequality, while these same ultra-conservatives sincerely decry "gender ideology" as the real conspiracy being advanced by Leftists to undermine traditional society and turn everyone into a homo.  You can see this in action in the comments thread of the above-cited article.  Most commenters get the author's argument that the only "gender ideology" that exists is a bogeyman made up by the Right, but a significant minority of commenters sincerely rail against the "gender ideology" that they see creeping into their heretofore upstanding traditional Catholic societies.  It occurs to me that this ambiguity works to the advantage of the Right in this case, because while everyone will pick up on the anger and frustration that underlie use of the term by all sides, it is a lot more difficult to wrap your head around the meta-criticism being advanced by progressive voices, and a lot easier to accept the surface genuineness of the conservative voices that believe in the bogeyman.  Once again, simple but wrong trumps complex but accurate.

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