Gender in the Politics of Tradition and Belonging
Realpolitik and the Family: Reinventing Tradition in Russia and Zimbabwe”
In recent years, incidents of homophobic rhetoric and violence in various locales have become a staple in Euro-American imaginings of the non-Western world. In this respect, Russia and Zimbabwe are characteristic of places where social attitudes towards homosexuality have become signifiers of broader social progress to Western observers. Both nations also share a number of similarities in terms of the recent emergence of homophobic discourse in their leaders’ rhetoric. During times of political crisis and significant anti-government protests, and when Western countries have tacitly or openly lent their support to groups advocating ‘regime change,’ there has been an uptick in political interest in queer sexualities.
In this paper I examine these relatively recent waves of attention focused on queer subjects in Russia and Zimbabwe. The conventional interpretation of political homophobia, in the tradition of scholarly work on moral panics, suggests that, as individuals occupying a peripheral social positios, gay people are convenient scapegoats onto whom are projected concerns about group boundaries and rapid social change. However, I suggest that these moments of ‘moral panic’ are less related to issues of social membership as indicative of fears surrounding the extent of Western opposition at the highest levels of government and its encroachment, paradoxically, on the ‘traditional’ culture of the intimate sphere. In both Russia and Zimbabwe, waves of political discourse regarding the control of queer sexualities have emerged at times when the possibility of direct Western intervention on domestic politics was at a peak. I argue that in both these sites the renewed emphasis cultural tradition – in particular concerns relating to the domestic sphere, reproduction, and masculinity – are responses to geopolitical anxieties about Western power and coercion. I propose that homophobia is an element of broader conversations surrounding the intimate sphere and questions of social reproduction that have become important ideological battlegrounds for both solidifying the nation against the Western threat and for reinventing a tradition at odds with contemporary attitudes towards sexuality in the West. This focus, perhaps surprisingly, parallels the inverse incorporation of queer subjects into the familial nation-state by liberal Western governments through the extension of rights relating to gay marriage and reproductive kinship.
Regulatory Affairs: En-Gendered moral authority and the politics of contemporary food safety reform in Tbilisi, Georgia
In 2014, Georgia and the EU signed an Association Agreement, after which the Georgian National Food Agency, a department of the Ministry of Agriculture, began a process of “harmonizing” its legal food safety codes in accordance with those of the EU and of global organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization. In this context of regulatory reform, my paper focuses on imaginaries of the Georgian countryside as a site of “primary production” in expert and non-expert discourses on food safety in contemporary Tbilisi, Georgia. By comparing two very different feminizations of the Georgian food-producing countryside as imagined at sites of my fieldwork in Tbilisi between 2013 and 2016, I hope to demonstrate the moralized politics involved in contemporary discourses around the objects and limits of transnational food safety regulatory regimes. First, I will examine the kind of feminization of the countryside emergent in a day-long conference on the “Future of Food Safety in Georgia,” wherein EU and global regulatory experts moderated a discussion on regulatory policy and responsibility between Georgian state and private-sector interests. In this idealization, the countryside (embodied by “small-scale family farmers”) is understood in paternalistic terms: vulnerable and in need of care and reform; fertile but cheap, lacking in relative market value; and inexperienced. I will then compare this particular feminized imaginary to a very different feminized imaginary of the Georgian countryside, one that non-expert Georgian Tbilisians invoke when talking about and practicing food provisioning on a daily basis. In this case, the countryside (embodied by “grandmothers”) is imagined as a kind of caring, plentiful, and generous figure, skilled and morally authoritative in her relation to Tbilisi families. Last, I will ask what these processes of gendering might tell us about the kind of moral authorities that are claimed and emergent in the politics of transnational regulatory regimes.
“Now that’s true solidarity”: Christian Refugees and Czech Secularism
The Czech Republic is one of the most atheist countries in the world. And yet, when confronted with the prospect of accommodating refugees from the Middle East, the government, engendering as well as reacting to a strong anti-Muslim sentiment among the population, chose to accept only Christian refugees (and only 13 families at that), claiming Christian foreigners would better assimilate into the Czech cultural context. The current sentiment strongly contrasts with late 1990s when the country accepted thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees; a change in sentiment that not only led to a 2016 right-wing public rally demonstrating gallows and nooses, but also continues in a legal challenge on wearing hijabs in schools (arguments about both hygiene and women’s oppression are being marshaled here). While much of the popular sentiment is fueled both by a hostile president and a perception of economic precarity, in this contribution I want to historicize the Czech anti Islam discourse by looking at exclusionary nationalism and secularism. I will explore how secular arguments have been used in the anti-Islam debates to simultaneously uphold the country as largely secular but, more or less overtly, reassert its nature as Christian.
Women, Religion and the Defense of Europe
Gendered pedagogies of literacy in francophone Geneva
In much of Europe, as elsewhere, concepts of migrant integration and citizenship are coming to be (re)calibrated according to European models and frameworks for literacy. The growing importance of literacy requirements in policies and programs related to residency and naturalization provide one example of this reconfiguration. My contribution will reflect on the terrain of literacy/language education – and its attendant discourses on “integration” – in one French-language literacy program in Geneva (whose public historically includes migrants from Southern/Eastern Europe and, more recently, North Africa, the Middle East, and South/East Asia). In particular, I explore how pedagogies of literacy have employed specifically gendered discourses on migrant education, enabling and constituting longstanding civilizational distinctions. These include distinctions not only between secular vs. non-secular practices of language/signification, but between democratic vs. non-democratic social orders – that is, orders which ostensibly align with, or else violate, Genevan Republican/Swiss visions of gender equality. I suggest that these distinctions are crystallized in the discursive construction, in pedagogy literature, of a particular kind of gendered figure: the female analphabète (loosely, “non-literate person”) as a subject of emancipation. My contribution reflects on some implications of mobilizing literacy and/as gender equality in the regulation and management of migrant mobility.
“An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem”: the Secular State, International Expectations, and the Role of Catholicism in Ireland’s Abortion Debates
In the last several years, political movements across Europe and around the globe have been mobilizing anti-gender, anti-sex, and homophobic discourses in order to devalue the ideals of liberalism and secularism once considered central to European identity and politics. In Poland, the nationalist Law and Justice party and the Catholic Church have become preoccupied with the threat of Western “gender ideology” to the safety of children and the integrity of the family unit. In France and Germany, right-wing nationalist and populist political leaders have argued that liberal social policies, like same sex marriage, adoption by same sex couples, and abortion, violate national Christian values. Beyond Europe, leaders like Putin and Mugabe have employed homophobic rhetoric while demonstrating resistance to the increased acceptance of homosexuality in the West.
This ferocious backlash against liberalism and secularism – and the social policies and practices they facilitate – appears to be gaining momentum both in and outside of Europe. In this paper, however, I point to the Republic of Ireland as a location where anti-liberalism and anti-secularism movements have so far failed to secure or retain much support. Instead, Ireland has seen a dramatic increase in popular support for liberal social policies. Accordingly, the Irish state has begun to revise a number of laws grounded in Catholic social doctrine, particularly those related to gender, marriage, parenthood and reproduction.
Yet the process of disentangling Irish law from Catholic social doctrine can at times be halting and tentative. In this paper, I discuss the recent Mellet v. Ireland case, in which the U.N. Committee on Human Rights determined that Ireland’s prohibition on abortion constituted a violation of human rights. I suggest that Ireland’s responses to the judgment reveal some of the tensions and contradictions involved in its process of secularization. On the one hand, the state wants Ireland to be regarded as a modern, secular nation by the European and international communities, and so it must demonstrate that the Church’s anti-abortion stance will not influence state law. On the other hand, the state wants to respect that family life and reproduction in Ireland have been profoundly shaped by the Church and Catholic social doctrine, and so it is reluctant to exclude the Church’s perspective from discussions of reproduction policy. I propose that the Irish state is negotiating these tensions by appropriating and domesticating international women’s rights discourses, which allow the state to simultaneously include and defang the Catholic Church as a political actor in the abortion debate.