Commentary

A Global Struggle over Gender and Sex Begins in Peru

Peru´s cities and the chambers of congress have been shaken over the last few months by two related things with global implications: concern for what is called the “ideology of gender” and marches around the slogan “con mis hijos no te metas”, “don’t mess with my children”.

The first was sufficient, given the interests of the majority party in Congress, the Fuerza Popular, to force out a popular Minister of Education. Though there were many issues of power politics at play, the slogan “ideology of gender” and the argument that it was being imposed in the national curriculum set up by the Ministry of Education led the way and gave the struggle great popular resonance.

The argument caught the intellectual and political mainstream by surprise, since it seemed a strange and and almost incoherent position. People did not recognize anything in the ”ideology of gender” slogan that referred to any reality, and certainly not as something that could mobilize people and provoke anxiety and fear.

To understand this, we need to go to contemporary Catholic social teaching, not just in Peru, but internationally. A set of “teaching resources” provided in February by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops helps clarify the issue.

It states that a “challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.” (page 2)

The document goes on to quote Pope Francis that “Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this terrible!” (page 3-4)

Two ideas here provoke the fear and anxiety of parents in much of the world, not just in Peru. The first is the fear that the sex of children can be changed through what children learn in school, that it is not simply given in nature, as Catholic teaching would have it. Of course, there is a contradiction here, in that what is ostensibly given in nature is so fragile that it can be undone by simple pedagogy.

The notion exemplifies a fear of education and learning that can be seen as “forms of colonization” supported by imperial powers (i.e. “influential countries”). That the learning on gender stems from good biological and social science research does not legitimate it, rather it is envisioned as something imposed from the outside that transforms moral and proper indigenous ways, that happen to also correspond to the teachings of the Church which themselves, as in this slogan “ideology of gender” with its attendant ideas have spread internationally in the arms of one of the world’s most powerful global institutions, the Catholic Church.

It is more, the slogan “con mis hijos no te metas”, rich in Spanish idiom, joins this idea of ideology and concern with outside powers imposing gender change, to demand that the system of interests in school and society ostensibly promoting the “ideology of gender” not “mess with the children of Peru.

Con mis hijos no te metas (David Knowlton)
Con mis hijos no te metas (David Knowlton)

In my experience, most of the marchers in the multitudinous and increasingly frequent demonstrations under this slogan, come from Evangelical Churches. Peru has seen the massive growth of Evangelical denominations. While some of them are multinational denominations, many are home-grown, often under the leadership of powerful religious entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, this diversity tends to cover the international connections that have led to unification under this slogan in conjunction with the global Catholic right.

In sum, this joint movement attacks a portion of the state, education, that requires national approval and which tends to meet international standards, but which also is a cutting edge of not just ideas on gender and gender equality, but also leads to secularization of society, i.e. it is perceived to be a threat to the power of religious bodies in national life.

This struggle over gender and sexuality, as well as education, and the place of religion in society is one that will continue to play out in Peru, at the same time it will develop in country after country as part of a global challenge to dominant “civil” and governmental society seen as illegitimate and imperialist.

The fight has just begun and for the moment, the opponents of this movement have been caught by surprise and seem somewhat unprepared, although that will not continue to be the case. This will be a dividing line in society after society throughout the world.

Reference

“Gender theory”/“Gender ideology” – Select Teaching Resources (updated February 1, 2017)
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/Gender-Ideology-Select-Teaching-Resources.pdf

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