No country for losers? Gender, (in)equality, and the discursive construction of subjects and values in Polish politics
Gaweda, Barbara Justyna
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Mainstream scholarly literature has examined the post-1989 transformations in Eastern Europe without sufficient attention to gendered perspectives. Most feminist scholars and mainstream political scientists expected that the processes of democratization and Europeanization would be harbingers of positive change, and have not fully succeeded in explaining the current lack of gender equality in the region. This dissertation attempts to fill the gap by combining the insights from ‘Western’ theoretical contributions with empirical research of the Polish case. By drawing on multiple theoretical angles (post-colonialism, nationalism and gender, feminist institutionalism, feminist political economy, Europeanization), I aim to rethink the complex position of Poland in the processes of Europeanization and soft norm diffusion. The recent ‘war on gender’, which took the form of a virulent anti-equality and anti-minorities discursive campaign, has demonstrated that, despite the political and economic changes after 1989, gender inequality and social exclusion persist, and indeed may have intensified. My research explores the current discursive products and legacies (construction of subjects and values) of transformation and Europeanization as observed in mainstream political debates. This dissertation focuses on debates in the Polish parliament, the Sejm, because it is the main site of political discourse in Poland and thus influences also broader societal debates. My main argument is that gendered discourses in the Polish parliament reproduce patterns of domination and inequality, thereby creating discursive categories and subjects that are excluded and marginalized. Dominant discourses on masculinity, femininity, and sexuality prescribe a conservative set of social relations in the family and the nation. This implies that anyone who does not fulfil these discursive standards gets symbolically stigmatized and emerges from the political process as a discursive ‘loser’. Furthermore, the dissertation argues that the ways in which Europeanization and democratization were implemented in Poland, focusing primarily on neoliberal economic reforms, have left free rein to right-wing forces and the catholic church to define values and subjects. I specifically address the influential role of the catholic church in the Polish political context and argue that the anti-gender equality and anti-diversity mobilizations are cyphers for a broader backlash led by nationalist conservative actors against Europeanization and globalization processes. My contributions lie in the theoretical and conceptual bridging of various literatures (i.e. on transformation and gender) and the application of critical discourse analysis to the study of Polish parliamentary debates. Moreover, the thesis exposes invisible and ‘gender neutral’ norms about subjects and gender roles as constructed in Polish politics, with particular focus on welfare and family models and the construction of the nation. I highlight hegemonic masculinities and the marginalization or silencing of alternative discourses. The analysis provides insights into the mechanisms of gender power that construct some groups as the norm and others as problematic or deviant.