Gender ideology: after all, what are they talking about and what should we be talking about?

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Mariana Mazzini Marcondes*

On October 06, 2019, there were elections for Tutelary Councils in Brazilian municipalities. And SHE was on the agenda. Fighting ALS was one of the main flags of some conservative candidates.

On September 03, 2019, the governor of the State of São Paulo, João Dória, ordered collect school handouts from the state network. According to him, the material was apologetic to ALS. On the same date, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, informed that he had asked the Ministry of Education (MEC) to draw up a bill to ban ALS. In your inauguration speech, on January 1, 2019, Bolsonaro had already highlighted that the fight against ALS would be one of his main missions at the head of the Presidency of the Republic.

These are some of the most recent examples of ELA's presence in the Brazilian political debate. She, gender ideology.

But where did it come from? And what does it mean? Why, after all, is it so central to the current political debate? These are some of the many questions raised by gender ideology. The answers are equally multiple. And it seems fundamental to us that the progressive field committed to democracy and equality formulate its own.

For that, however, we need to start by situating where it all began.

Gender ideology: tracing its origins

Richard Miskolci and Maximiliano Campana build a genealogy of gender ideology in Latin America and Brazil. We follow the itinerary proposed by the authors in the next paragraphs.

The foundations of a holy battle against gender ideology were laid by Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) in an effort to counter the 4th World Women's Conference of the United Nations (UN), held in Beijing in 1995.

These ideas spread and landed in Latin America in the context of V General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2007. The Document of Aparecida, resulting from the meeting, identifies in gender ideology a mechanism that weakens and belittles family life.

Image credit: The Facts

Seeking to deepen theoretically what the Catholic Church had been signaling as a contemporary crusade, the Argentinean Jorge Scala In 2010, he published the book Gender ideology: neototalitarianism and the death of the family. In the book, whose translation into Portuguese has a preface by conservative jurist Ives Gandra da Silva Martins, the author identifies in gender ideology a global power tool that attacks the family and sustains a new form of authoritarianism.

Although the emergence of the notion of gender ideology is a tribute to the conservative fractions of the Catholic Church, sectors of the Evangelical Churches also began to guide the debate, especially through neo-Pentecostal organizations.

In Brazil, it was in the educational field that the battle over gender ideology gained materiality. Initiatives such as the School without Party, created in 2004, to tackle supposed ideological indoctrinations in schools. It was, however, as a response to the “Homophobic-free schoola” that gender ideology has become an effective discursive weapon in the hands of conservative groups. The project proposed to contribute to combating homophobia in the school environment, through educational materials that would guide the appreciation of sexual diversity in schools. Nicknamed Gay Kit by the Evangelical Bench, the pressures led the Dilma government to abandon the material. It was a first victory for defenders of the holy war against gender ideology.

Others came. Perhaps the most emblematic of them was the Removal of the term “gender” of National, State and Municipal Education Plans across the country, in 2014 and 2015. Even the passage of an icon of feminist studies was in the crosshairs of the dispute. In 2017, the lecture by the American Judith Butler brought together groups that demonstrated against and in favor of the author, in her passage through São Paulo.

Thus, in less than 20 years since its first formulations, gender ideology has become a mandatory topic in the debate on public policies in the country and in Latin America. But, after all, what is gender ideology?

Gender ideology: with the word, the creators

A definition of gender ideology can be found in the Document of Aparecida, mentioned earlier. In its terms, it means the possibility of “choose your sexual orientation, without taking into account the differences given by human nature".

Texts and videos disseminated over the internet, and linked to conservative groups from the Catholic and Evangelical Churches, state that, through gender ideology, an attempt is made to teach in schools that there is no sex, which is not something natural, but that each choose yours, which puts at risk the wedding, the family, or it can be associated with pedophilia.

To better understand this discussion, it seems useful to go by part. Let's start with the concept of ideology.

Ideology: a bit of theory

The concept of ideology is as widespread as it is permeated by vague definitions and even stigmas. Terry Eagleton identifies, in his book on the subject, at least 16 possible definitions for the term.

Perhaps one of the most recurrent ways of defining ideology is what we can call negative or strict sense. In it, ideology would be a distortion or falsification of reality, to serve interests and relations of domination. This is a formulation widely used by Marxist reflections and, curiously, is not far from the one adopted by the creators of the concept of gender ideology.

In one of the texts disseminated by the New song, one of the main organizations to spread the fight against gender ideology in Brazil, ideology is identified as a set of false ideas (but which can also be true), at the service of political, religious, economic and even sexual interests.

Ideologies establish and legitimize relations of domination through a set of mechanisms, such as naturalization, universalization and opacity. In summary, this means that these ideas are presented as natural to human beings and universally valid, becoming confused with common sense, in a dynamic that interests in games become opaque, as if they were not there.

It is also possible to adopt a enlarged conception of ideology. In this case, it would correspond to the ways in which the senses are used to establish and legitimize relationships of domination and oppression, but also to question, challenge and transform these relationships. That is, they would be mobilized to build alternative projects for society.

We will shortly return to some of these points. First, however, we need to make some comments about the other key word in this discussion.

Genre: A bit of theory

Gender is a central concept for gender studies and feminist practices. It can be understood as a element that constitutes social relations, based on differences that are perceived and socially constructed in relation to gender. If sex is natural (and even that can be questioned), gender is social and historical.

In other words, it is not your biological anatomy that defines the color of your clothes, if you play with dolls or cars, if you do or do not do housework and if you have pleasure with men and/or women (or with anyone). . More than that, it does not even define how you identify yourself in terms of gender (a trans woman or man does not identify with the gender that society tries to impose on your body, for example). Based on the ideas of Butler, which was in the sights of conservative groups during its passage through Brazil, there is no automatic relationship between sex, gender and desire.

Gender, as we experience it in our society, is permeated by power relations, which result in domination and inequalities. Not just for women, for men. But also towards LGBTQ+ people. Furthermore, these relations are linked to other ways of producing inequalities, such as class, race and ethnicity relations.

This definition bothers the creators of gender ideology, in their holy war. This is because this way of understanding masculine and feminine could put marriage and the family in crisis. And even the identity of the individual, leading to the annihilation of the person and their relationships of affection.

Gender ideology (for inequality)

The use of gender ideology, in the terms defended by its creators, presents an interesting example of ideology to establish and legitimize relations of domination. This is because the power and domination relations that emerge in the dynamics of gender inequalities are mediated by ideologies, which establish and legitimize these inequalities. Is it a little abstract?

When someone says that men are naturally more violent and that they cannot control their sexual impulses, there is an ideological naturalization of a social way of experiencing gender relations. The same thing happens when women are left with all the housework and care work, as if women had in essence the chip with information on how to clean a house, which was missing from the male chromosome. And as these ideas are part of the common sense of our daily lives (and jokes, movies and the like), their connection with male interests and privileges become opaque, inhabiting the shadows. But exactly why, making yourself present.  

In these terms, it would be possible to answer that gender ideology does exist. And it has contributed, decisively, to the oppression of women. So that they suffer violence, receive worse wages, are less in spaces of power and decision-making. And also, so that LGBTQ+ people suffer violence, cannot love freely and are discriminated against in public and private spaces. And that not talking about it in schools only aggravates this scenario, including the pedophilia. After all, if children don't know what sex is, how can they protect themselves and denounce violence suffered?

Gender ideology (for equality)

If we assume an expanded understanding of ideology, we can also present a second answer. In this case, we could say that there are indeed ideologies that promote gender equality.

They do not destroy marriages, but allow them to be based on consent, autonomy and equality. And that people can decide whether or not they want to get married, which includes the LGBTQ+ population. This ideology is not against families. On the contrary, it defends all of them, in the plural. A couple of trans women with two children is a family. Just like a woman who lives alone. Equality between women and men also contributes to longer-lasting and healthier relationships of affection.

Finally, this ideology for gender equality does not question the identity of individuals, but respects and values ​​their multiplicity. And, in this way, it increases the potency of human action. It is an ideology that can be professed, indiscriminately, by anyone who has any belief or religion, and even by those who do not. This gender ideology is the foundation of a project of society based on equality, justice and affection.

*Mariana Mazzini Marcondes, a feminist, is a professor at the Department of Public Administration and Social Management at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN)

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