Judith Butler says the ‘anti-gender ideology movement’ is a dangerous ‘fascist trend’

Judith Butler

Feminist philosopher Judith Butler has labelled “anti-gender ideology” movements a “fascist trend”.

In an op-ed for the US Guardian, titled “Why is the idea of ‘gender’ provoking backlash the world over?“, Butler addresses the links between gender critical activists and fascism.

“It makes no sense for ‘gender critical’ feminists to ally with reactionary powers in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people,” Butler writes, seemingly exasperated.

“Let’s all get truly critical now, for this is no time for any of the targets of this movement to be turning against one another. The time for anti-fascist solidarity is now.”

This piece comes after Judith Butler gave a September 2020 to the Guardian that was edited after publication to remove a comparison they made between TERFs and fascists.

“Anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times,” Butler had explained, and so trans-exclusionary activists “will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism”.

The Guardian was accused of “censoring” Butler for deleting the section, but now, in a 23 October op-ed, Butler has explained their views at length.

Judith Butler:  ‘Anti-gender’ movement is a ‘fascist trend’

“The anti-gender ideology movement crosses borders, linking organisations in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and east Asia,” Butler explains.

The rise of the movement has been seen in many countries in recent years, from Brazil’s homophobic president, Jair Bolsonaro, mocking LGBT+ rights whilst trans people face an epidemic of violence against them, to Hungary’s dictatorial prime minister, Viktor Orban, stripping trans people of the ability to have their correct name and gender on identity documents. In both countries, attacks on trans people by senior politicians have been matched by strong opposition to women’s rights, reproductive rights and LGBT+ rights more broadly.

“The opposition to ‘gender’ is voiced by governments as diverse as Macron’s France and Duda’s Poland, circulating in right-wing parties in Italy, showing up on major electoral platforms in Costa Rica and Colombia, boisterously proclaimed by Bolsonaro in Brazil, and responsible for closing gender studies in several locations, most infamously at the European University in Budapest in 2017,” Butler writes in The Guardian.

But “anti-gender” activists are not limited to the hard right – much of the language they use is shared by more mainstream “gender critics” who condemn trans rights activists as “gender ideologists”.

In the UK, the anti-trans charity LGB Alliance – which claims to campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, denies it is transphobic yet has a narrow focus on “transgender ideology” – recently had a stall at the Conservative party’s annual conference and boasted that it had been endorsed by Tory prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s government has itself been called “proto-fascist“.

Butler continues by writing: “The anti-gender advocates claim that ‘gender ideologists’ deny the material differences between men and women, but their materialism quickly devolves into the assertion that the two sexes are timeless ‘facts’.

“The anti-gender movement is not a conservative position with a clear set of principles.”

But the incoherence of some “anti-gender” arguments is apparent from the lightest engagement with them, which Butler says is part of the point.

“As a fascist trend,” they write, “it mobilises a range of rhetorical strategies from across the political spectrum to maximise the fear of infiltration and destruction that comes from a diverse set of economic and social forces. It does not strive for consistency, for its incoherence is part of its power.

“This form of fascism manifests instability even as it seeks to ward off the ‘destabilisation’ of the social order brought about by progressive politics. The opposition to ‘gender’ often merges with anti-migrant furore and fear, which is why it is often, in Christian contexts, merged with Islamophobia.”

Moreover, “as a fascist trend, the anti-gender movement supports ever strengthening forms of authoritarianism”, Butler points out.

This includes, often in the name of “women’s sex based rights”, encouraging state intervention in “university programs, to censor art and television programming, to forbid trans people their legal rights, to ban LGBTQI people from public spaces, to undermine reproductive freedom and the struggle against violence directed at women, children, and LGBTQI people”.

The ‘anti-gender’ movement is both transphobic and misogynist, says Judith Butler

Judith Butler continues by stating that those who are “anti-gender” are part of a movement that is “nationalist, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic”.

“The principal aim of the movement is to reverse progressive legislation won in the last decades by both LGBTQI and feminist movements,” Butler writes. This includes abortion and contraceptive access, safe shelters from women fleeing domestic abuse, as well as the legal and social rights of trans people to be recognised and treated fairly and equally.

“They deny the legal and social rights of trans people along with a full array of legal and institutional safeguards against gender discrimination, forced psychiatric internment, brutal physical harassment and killing,” Butler says.

“All this fervor ramped up during a pandemic time in which domestic abuse has soared and queer and trans kids have been deprived of their spaces for gathering in life-supporting communities.”