From Hungary to Brazil, Gender Studies Programs Are Increasingly Under Attack 


In October, the Hungarian government effectively banned gender studies programs when it revoked accreditation and funding for master’s and Ph.D. programs in the field, a move approved by the country’s authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orban. An Orban spokesperson explained the rationale to CNN, saying, “The government’s standpoint is that people are born either male or female, and we do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially-constructed genders, rather than biological sexes.”

Hungary is not the only country where both authoritarianism is on the rise and gender studies are under assault. In Brazil, a bill is pending in the country’s Congress that, according to the Nation, would ban professors from using the terms “gender” and “sexual orientation” in their classrooms, among other chilling restrictions. In response, the Brazilian Studies Association, an international group of scholars that focus on Brazil, released a statement condemning the legislation, which was first proposed in 2014 and now, with the recent election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro and a more reactionary Congress, has a shot at passing. “If enacted,” the group wrote, “it could very well prohibit teaching topics related to gender in schools and universities, thus disregarding much of the human knowledge produced in the last decades in many disciplines, which consider gender relations as an essential aspect of human experience at all times and in all societies.” The bill is, as the Brazilian history professor Marlene de Fáveri told Inside Higher Ed, a political tool “meant to propagate hatred towards feminists” and “discredit the field.”

The growing assault on university gender studies programs is, according to Inside Higher Ed, the “most extreme manifestation of what seem to be growing attacks on the discipline as right-wing populist parties gain power or influence in many countries around the globe.”

Premilla Nadasen, a history professor at Barnard College, told Inside Higher Ed that she sees the attack on women and gender studies scholars and programs as part of a rightwing push to “return to a heteronormative patriarchal society.” “I think in some places the conversation often centers around abortion, and that has been the kind of launching pad for thinking about the crisis of quote, unquote gender ideology. In other places, it’s about reproductive rights. In other places, it’s about same-sex marriage. In other places it’s about the breakdown of the two-parent heterosexual family or even childcare,” Nadasen said. “In all of these cases the culprit becomes women and gender studies scholars. They become the reason for the supposed breakdown in family values.”

As Middlebury College professor Kevin Moss noted, “Gender studies and gender equality and equality for LGBT people are threatening for authoritarian regimes because authoritarian regimes require for somebody to have more power than somebody else.”

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