Contact person:
Isobel Squire
  • Department of Global Political Studies
Project members at MaU:
Time frame:
01 February 2019 - 01 February 2024
Research environment :
Research subject:

About the project

The emergence of powerful, transnational antigender campaigns since 2012 has overseen the stifling and dilution of sexual and gender equality norms across the globe; demonstrating that progress made towards gender equity has been stagnant, uneven and far easier to reverse than previously imagined. The concept of ‘gender ideology’ is a key discourse and coalescing force in this renewed opposition to gender and gender equality.

Strategic use of the concept has questioned the epistemological ‘truth’ of gender, reframed gender equality initiatives as a covert political strategy, attacked the wider feminist project and threatened liberal democracy itself. The exact meaning of ‘gender ideology’ is hard to pinpoint, rather it has many meanings as the term is stretched and moulded in order to fit distinct discourses and contexts, functioning as an “empty signifier”.

That said, it has been understood to represent opposition to gender in three broad ways;

  1. when gender is perceived to be an ideology highlighting the ways in which actors have attributed a neo-Marxist character to feminism and LGBTQ+ political theories and demands
  2. epistemological opposition to progressive understandings of the concept of gender wherein actors argue gender identities and sexual desire are biological attributes only and
  3. opposition to ‘genderism’ which is perceived to be a social practice or political project that is a form of global conspiracy, ideological totalitarianism and neo-colonialism.

This research project moves forward on the understanding that while gender and gender equality have always been contested concepts, increasing polarization of politics and increased politicization of gender and sexuality has popularised understanding of gender as an enemy moniker in global politics. There is a need to explore how connections around gender and gender equality have been broken down and to investigate the diffusion of ‘gender ideology’ within this. To that end, this research project aims to explore the relationship between ‘gender ideology’ and the increasing identification of gender as an enemy in global politics. Using case study research methods this research focuses ‘gender ideology’ in two case study countries: Hungary and Poland.

The gendered modus operandi of both Polish and Hungarian governments is well documented and the emergence of ‘gender ideology’ as a salient strategy in opposition to gender equality initiatives has been well researched. In an effort to simultaneously situate analysis of ‘gender ideology’ within broader socio-economic, cultural and political contexts, and recognize the strategic role of illiberal actors as agents of ‘gender ideology’ discourse, and critically consider the role of social justice actors working to defuse the gender crisis, this research turns to norm literature to investigate the diffusion of ‘gender ideology’.

The research seeks to extend the theoretical framework of norm literature building upon Amitav Acharya’s theory of norm circulation. The four dimensions of norm circulation structure the focus of this research project which explores:

  1. the source of ‘gender ideology’ in Hungary and Poland
  2. the context in which the concept emerged
  3. agents promoting ‘gender ideology’ as a policy and approach
  4. the feedback/contestation ‘gender ideology’ receives from social justice actors

Two forms of empirical data are to be collected for this research project: text and interviews. The textual data gathered is both primary and secondary. Primary texts are taken from particular periods and events in which ‘gender ideology’ discourse was cited, for example, both Hungarian and Polish governments presented of family mainstreaming with government policy (as opposed to gender mainstreaming) and contestation surrounding the Istanbul Convention. Secondary data is gathered from previous academic study in the field. Interviews are sought with actors working to promote ‘gender ideology’ as a policy.