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Varieties of Gender Regimes

Are New Varieties of Gender Regime Emerging?

Three issues need to be questioned and analyzed in light of the emergent varieties of gender regimes: violence, inequality in care and the concept of crisis. Credit: John Twohig /flickr.

February 25, 2022

The identification of emergent varieties of gender regimes and the trajectories through which they have developed matters for gender relations and for society, as my colleagues and I have argued in the special issue of Social Politics in 2020. While most attention has been on increasingly unequal forms of gender regimes, there are also emergent practices that might be indicative of less unequal gender regimes. There have been pressures on some (but not all) societies that drive an increase in gender inequality; these pressures include COVID, Brexit, and Trump, as well as economic recession. There are also forms of collective response that drive a decrease in gender inequality, including state-based (e.g., public health) and non-state-based (e.g., feminism) forms. These raise issues of violence, care, feminism, and the intersection of gender and class. In the context of debates on varieties of gender regimes, what did these pressures and crises change or illuminate? What new distinctions, if any, do we need to make in the typology of varieties of gender regimes to encompass these changes? How are the processes leading to different trajectories through the domains of economy, polity, civil society, and violence best understood? What more is needed to theorize the changes taking place: is the concept of crisis and critical turning point sufficient, or are different temporalities and spatialities involved that require new concepts? Three broad questions may be identified.

Credit: aesthetics of crisis /flickr.

First, to analyze increasing inequality, is “neoliberalism” a sufficient concept? How is the turn to the right and associated increases in inequality to be identified and theorized? Are concepts of “conservativism,” “authoritarianism,” or “fascism” needed? With regard to the increase in violence, the theorization of violence within the varieties of gender regime is posed anew. Is the characterization of the state as authoritarian needed, or can this violence still be absorbed inside the concept of neoliberal? Does the rise of private militias acting with the complicity of the state require a concept of fascism as a reference point, whether or not the sustained contestation from both civil society and within the state has been sufficient to prevent this possibility from being achieved? On COVID-19: Does the attempted restructuring of the political economy of health services in the direction of for-profit private firms require not only a concept of neoliberalism but a more engaged discussion of the intersectionality of gender with class?

Second, to analyze decreasing inequality: is social democracy enough to grasp emerging practice? Are there new forms of social democratic gender regimes that have a different relationship to a national state than the historic form in the Nordic countries? Do concepts need to distinguish between social democratic forms: polity, state, and non-state (commons, community, neighborhood, local) engaging different forms of collectivity and solidarity? On COVID: On the one hand, the COVID crisis shows yet again the significance of state-based forms of social democracy in the central role played by state-based public health in suppressing the virus. On the other hand, it is at the local state level that knowledge and action is needed to deploy effective testing, tracing, and support for isolation. The relative failure to address the transmission of the virus through the physical and social contacts involved in providing and receiving care has applied whether or not this care is unpaid or monetized, at least in Europe, suggesting that some distinctions in the gendered debates on care have surprisingly little traction for COVID. This raises a number of questions: What implications do feminist interventions on the provision of care have for the gender regime? How might we theorize emerging practices in care relations? What would the theorization of spatiality and scaling in gender regimes look like?

Credit: aesthetics of crisis /flickr.

Third, on crisis: Is a typology of outcomes of crisis (recuperate, intensify, transform, or catastrophe) sufficient? Is the conceptualization of the key moment as a potential critical turning point sufficient? How is the uneven impact of feminism to be understood? The critical turning point, or tipping point, into a new path-dependent trajectory is usually conceptualized as an “event,” largely on the basis that it has a short temporal duration and concentrated spatiality. Three alternative formulations that offer further differentiation are possible: “cascade,” “catalyze,” and “wave.” In the concept of cascade there is reference to a sequence of crisis points in which the crisis may or may not cascade through the social systems of society; this has been used for the 2008 financial crisis and 2020-21 COVID-19 crisis. In the concept of catalyze, there is reference to a slightly longer duration than is usually encompassed by the concept of event; it contains the idea of acceleration, linked to notions of spiral, in addition to sequence and cascade, which has been used to capture the development of social democratic forms of public gender regime in the middle of the twentieth century in Nordic countries. In wave, there is a dynamic force of change (e.g., global feminism) affecting more stable institutional forms, in which the outcome depends on the interaction between them, drawing on the concept of “rounds of restructuring,” which offers improved spatial as well as temporal nuancing of the changes.

The three issues noted above offer engagement with the debates on varieties of gender regimes in Social Politics in 2020 and with contemporary societal developments.

Sylvia Walby, City, University of London, UK, Co-Coordinator of ISA Thematic Group on Violence and Society (TG11), and member (and former President) of ISA Research Committee on Economy and Society (RC02), and Women, Gender and Society (RC32), <Sylvia.Walby@city.ac.uk>

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