Theme Panel: Discontent with Gender Justice

Discontent with Gender Justice: Backlash, Resistance, and Opposition Worldwide

Endorsement of gender justice is often assumed to be a defining feature of democracy. Indeed, policies promoting gender justice are often used to signal a country’s commitment to equality and inclusion. Yet recent developments suggest not just a stalled commitment, but backsliding born of discontent. Women candidates and presidents have been defeated or impeached by male leaders hostile to diversity and countries have decriminalized or decreased penalties for domestic and sexual violence, to name a few examples. This roundtable considers how recent resurgences of populism, nativism, illiberalism, economic inequality, and greater political polarization have increased discontent towards gender justice. Senior and junior scholars from American politics, comparative politics, and political theory address two central questions. First, how might scholars conceptualize, measure, and study discontent with gender justice?

Second, what interventions and policies constitute best practices, allowing advocates of gender justice to persevere? Shauna Shames and Jennifer Piscopo bring their respective expertise on American and comparative politics to bear on theorizing the forms of resistance, opposition, and backlash that appear across emerging and advanced democracies. Comparativists Denise Walsh and Erica Townsend-Bell build on this discussion by debating how to operationalize discontent in different political contexts, as well as how to incorporate diverse social locations into the analysis. Juliana Restrepo Sanin and Zein Murib introduce case studies. Restrepro Sanin discusses violence against women politicians in Bolivia and Murib addresses how the Trump administration has undermined LGBTQ rights while simultaneously claiming to protect LGBTQ persons from harm. Feminist theorist Mary Hawkesworth concludes by proposing visibility politics as a mode of resistance to discontent with gender justice. Taken together, these interventions provide scholars with new ideas and tools for investigating how and why a core discontent with the democratic project — gender justice — has taken hold both in the United States and across the globe. The roundtable will also provide reflections on responses and solutions.


Denise Marie Walsh, University of Virginia (Chair)
Jennifer M. Piscopo, Occidental College (Presenter)
Shauna L. Shames, Rutgers University, Camden (Presenter)
Erica Townsend-Bell, Oklahoma State University (Presenter)
Zein Murib, Fordham University-Lincoln Center (Presenter)
Juliana Restrepo Sanin, Rutgers University (Presenter)
Mary Hawkesworth, Rutgers University (Presenter)