The Perils of Populism: Feminist Conversations


The Institute for Research on Women (IRW) announces its twenty-first annual interdisciplinary seminar, “The Perils of Populism: Feminist Conversations.” A rightwing populism that scapegoats society’s most vulnerable populations is emerging across the west and enjoying growing political power. Drawing upon age-old themes of racial resentment, such movements pose nationalism as the solution to economic and social malaise. In the United States, the resurgence of populism has resulted in a dramatic rise of violence, harassment, and hate speech directed against immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Jews, LGBT people and other marginalized communities. How can a feminist lens diagnose the current political moment, and help us to move beyond it? What, if anything, can we learn from the ways feminists have challenged reactionary populism in Europe, as well as in South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America? Might feminism help us combat hatred and despair and move toward a more just future?

As observers have argued, globalization, growing social inequality, the changing media universe, and other factors contribute to the rise of reactionary populist movements. Though not always explicitly articulated, gender plays a central role as well, as it does in all aspects of political life. Gender shapes how the powerful mobilize, how social issues are framed, and whose narratives—and lives—count. Gender also intersects with race, sexuality, nationality, and class in organizing support for such movements, and resistance to them. Rage against the political system is frequently articulated in gendered terms as a defense of hegemonic forms of masculinity, reinforcing gender binaries and shunning gender transgression.

Feminist analyses have helped identify strategies for organizing, movement building, and the pursuit of policy change. Some feminists suggest that in order to oppose growing reactionary political tendencies, women must be elected to public office. Others have mobilized around salient gender-related issues, such as reproductive rights, employment equity, sexual harassment, and violence. Still others have played leading roles in movements with broader political objectives, from the LGBT movement to Black Lives Matter. Feminism has helped scholars and activists conceptualize powerful visions of a more just world. In the 2017-18 IRW seminar we will build upon this important work, looking specifically at the roles feminist knowledge and praxis can play in a period of rightwing populism. 

2017-18 Seminar Fellows
2017-18 Seminar Schedule
2018-19 Seminar Call