By Maria Elena Indelicato
In the last few years, we have witnessed the rise of a few strands of reactionary feminisms, which, alongside the spreading of femonationalist and homonationalist stances, have lended new legitimacy to far right anti-migration and anti-’gender ideology’ conspiracy theories. Faced by this phenomenon, summer 2022 represented an important opportunity for Europe based feminist scholars to think about the concomitant curtailment of women and LGBTQI+ rights across the continent. Two conferences were at the centre of these major moment of reflection, the 11th European Feminist Research Conference, which was held in Milan in June, and the European Conference on Gender and Politics, which was held in Ljubljana in July. Whereas some of the feminist scholars who, like me, attended the first conference also participated in the second, the two conferences were largely unrelated to each other and only coincidentally focusing on seemingly oppositional social phenomena. To my surprise, most of the scholars I had the opportunity to listen to during the two conferences could only express astonishment at the paradox of seeing women and transwomen joining far right populist political parties vocally advocating ‘traditional’ gender identities, roles, and families
Whereas, at the level of the unconscious explanations might be abundant, as a race feminist scholars whose work focuses on the ways in which, historically, various population groups have been racialised, my interest lies on showing how such paradox is not a paradox at all. As a matter of fact, if race is taken into account, it is then possible to observe how, on one side of the population line of Europe (colour blinded coded as native versus migrant), there is a dimension of collective identity that feminist and LGBTQI+ supporters of far-right political positions share in common: they are all white. Let me unpack this claim in a three steps explanation.
Step number one: in Europe, femonationalism and homononationalism have relied upon the Orientalist understanding of Muslim sexuality as excessively deviant because of ‘religious irrationality.’ On the basis of this appraisal, femonationalists and homonationalist LGBTQI+ activists have endorsed the far-right populist characterization of muslim men as inherently misogynist and homophobic and, accordingly, positioned themelves as a higher risk of violence because of ‘migrant men.’ Implicitly yet consistently, this endormenent has led all ‘native’ population groups purportedly vulnerable to Muslim male violence to be aligned with the dominant male one by virtue of sharing, in the words of Jasbir K. Puar, the same ‘secular and liberal humanist’ understanding of themselves as‘ fully self-possessed speaking subjects, untethered by hegemony or false consciousness, enabled by the life/stylization offerings of capitalism, rationally choosing modern individualism over the ensnaring bonds of family.’
Step number two: in Europe, anti-gender movements are more or less explicitly Islamophobic. As documented in the growing literature on the topic, even in its most original Vatican inspired manifestations, anti-gender ideology stances have consistently equated the alleged threat that social reforms concerning, for instance, same-sex marriage and adoption, and sex education pose to the ‘natural’ sexual order to that one engedered by the purported islamization of European nations. Anti-gender stances enshrined by non-religious movements such as Generation Identity are even more transparent with regard to what lies in the heart of patriotic anti-gender crusaders. More than fearing a take over from gender fluid leftist post-millennials, they are afraid that, if not biologically countered by a higher ‘native’ birth rate, Muslims would demographically take over, leading to either the exitinction (white genocide) or replacement of European ‘native’ populations. Collectively referred to as a ‘the great replacement theory,’ the catastrophic projection of a total loss of ‘native’ hegemony by means of natural demographic events, once more highlights how the true enemy of European nations is neither feminists who took their liberation too seriously nor sexual minorities. In this regard, anti-gender stances, especially those brought forward by far-right groups, should be understood as much as backlash against the political gains most recently attained by feminist and LGBTQI+ movements in Europe as a call for all ‘native’ subjects to safeguard their racial best interests.
Step number three: in Europe, the sexual order is white. Anti-gender movements have framed debates concerning their stances as if the ‘natural’ sexual order of Europe is just about gender heteronormative identities. In this regard, they have been riffing on a split in feminist theory, one which is marked by Judith Butler’s problematization of gender (feminine and masculine) as a hegemonic discursive regime we are socialised into to secure both heterosexuality and heteropatriachy. This understanding of gender has led in the LGBTQI+ community to a proliferation of gender based identities beyond the imperative to pick either one gender or the other, but also contributed to conceal how the sexual order is bigger than gender. It includes, for instance, how queer theory informed critique of settler colonialism have shown, various sets of ideal relationships with the self (i.e. fully self-possessed speaking subjects untethered by hegemony or false consciousness), others (i.e. rationally choosing modern individualism over the ensnaring bonds of family), and the state (i.e. acknowledging the exclusive political authority of secular institutions). When this broader understanding is taken into account, it becomes painfully clear that, even when feminist and LGBTQI+ subjects might be seen as threatening the sexual order from within, they are still considered part of it. In contrast to them, it becomes equally obvious that it is exactly because they abide by traditional gender identities and roles that Muslim minorites have been marked as culturally backwards, thus ineligible for membership to the sexual order of European nations.
In my career as a race feminist scholar I learnt that, contrary to our best expectations, gender and/or sexuality based solidarity is rarely stronger than the affective bond established by, and through, whitennes. In this regard, I was not much surprised when I saw that neither the feminist scholars who attended the 11th European Feminist Research Conference nor those who participated in the European Conference on Gender and Politics had not yet joint the dots between the consolidating femononationalist and homonationalist ‘anti-male migrant consensus,’ the growing legitimacy of anti-gender movements, and the concomitant mainstreaming of far-right conspiracy theories. Race informed theoretical spectacles do help and make the trick of observing beyond the gender binary and seeing what does the sexual order of Europe truly stands for: whiteness.
Maria Elena Indelicato (she, her, hers) obtained her Ph.D. at the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney. She is currently a CEEC FCT researcher at the Centre for Social Studies (CES), University of Coimbra, working on the project ‘A Colonial History of Anti-Racism in Education: Anthropology, Race Displacement and Knowledge Transliteration,’ co-editor of the section ‘Anti-Racism/Mobilisations and Resistance’ of the forthcoming online Routledge Encyclopaedia of Race and Racism, and associate editor of the Journal of Intercultural Studies. Besides her monograph Australian New Migrants: International Students’ History of Affective Encounters with the Border (2018), Indelicato has published in feminist, critical race and cultural studies journals such as Outskirts: Feminisms along the Edge, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies e-Journal, Chinese Cinemas, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Paedagogica Historica, Transnational Cinemas, Feminist Review, Postcolonial Studies, and Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies besides several chapters on edited books on international education, settler colonialism, and Chinese cinemas.