Abstract by Prof. Dr. Elżbieta Korolczuk

What’s (anti)gender has to do with populism? The Polish case and beyond

In recent years patriarchal gender norms and ideologies have become an integral part of the right-wing populist parties programs. Right-wing leaders, including Jarosław Kaczyński, Victor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro and Matteo Salvini have invested in creating their image as defenders of traditional family and the nation against the excesses of what they call “gender ideology.” Such a stance have helped them to gain public support: a 2019 opinion poll showed that when asked about the biggest threats for Poland in the 21st century, the majority of young men and older people declared that their biggest fear is the threat of the “gender ideology and LGBT movement.”

The presentation will focus on the relationship between populism and gender. Rather than looking for specific gendered aspects of populism as an ideology, it examines a growing opportunistic synergy between the right-wing parties and ultraconservative groups opposing “gender.” This synergy plays out on two distinct levels: ideological/discursive and strategic/organizational. Since populism is not a robust ideological project, it readily feeds on ideas and narrative structures promoted by the anti-gender ultraconservative movement, albeit often in an opportunistic and selective fashion. Populists also cooperate closely with the anti-gender organizations as they need new cadres in the process of a sweeping elite change. Simultaneously, the actors behind anti-gender campaigns use the organizational resources that right-wing parties offer and access to political processes, especially in contexts such as Poland where the latter are in power. What facilitates this collusion is the fact that the ultraconservative critiques of “gender” have been framed in populist terms. The movement presents itself as a necessary and courageous defense of “the people” against powerful and foreign “liberal elites,” with “gender ideology” emphatically identified as a modern version of colonialism.