Against the Heresy of Immanence: Vatican’s ‘Gender’ as a New Rhetorical Device against the Denaturalisation of the Sexual Order


Sara Garbagnoli 

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, FR
About Sara

Sara Garbagnoli is a PhD candidate at Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her research interests lie at the intersections of feminist theory, discourse analysis and sociology of social movements. Her research focuses on the historical process of the autonomisation of the field of gender studies and the resistances it raises. Among her publications are the following: “Denaturalizzare il normale. L’interrogazione paradossale degli studi di genere e sessualità”, Genesis. XI/1-2, 2012; Non si nasce donna. Percorsi, testi e contesti del femminismo materialista in Francia, (S. Garbagnoli and V. Perilli eds.). Roma, Alegre, 2013; “L’hérésie des ‘féministes du genre’. Genèse et enjeux de l’antiféminisme ‘anti-genre’ du Vatican”, in Diane Lamoureux et Francis Dupuis-Déri (eds.), Les antiféminismes. Analyse d’un discours réactionnaire, Montréal, Les éditions du remue-ménage, 2015.


Since the mid-1990s, the Vatican contests the concept of gender as forged by feminists to study social arrangements through which the sexual order is naturalised. This contestation came with the distortion of the analyses and claims formulated by feminists and LGBTQ scholars and social movements. This article understands the Vatican’s invention of ‘gender ideology’ as a new rhetorical device produced both to delegitimise feminist and LGBTQ studies and struggles and to reaffirm that sexual norms transcend historical and political arrangements. It also investigates how the transnationality of this discursive construct relates to the specific features it has taken in two different national contexts – France and Italy. The article is structured as follows: it first highlights the logic and structure of the anti-gender discourse. Then, it analyses how the same argumentative device is performed in anti-gender demonstrations. Finally, it scrutinises the rhetorical and performative strategies through which anti-gender actors have formulated their views and argues that ‘gender ideology’ can be understood as a political reaction against the entry of minorities into the fields of politics and theory.