How The Radical Right Distorts The Science Of Gender
Dr. Miranda Christou is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in Sociology of Education at the University of Cyprus.
“Never has the institution of the family been put in such jeopardy as it is today. Wars, tyrannical rulers and the reducing of entire peoples into slavery, although never absent from history, had damaged or even destroyed individual families, but the institution itself had never been touched. […] Behind this nightmare of our times hides the ultimate goal of this war on the family: the eradication of the human race.”
To say that these words are hyperbole is an understatement. Yet, the tone of impending doom – and ultimate horror – permeates Roberto Fiore’s book “The Attack on the Family and the European Response,” published in 2016 and reprinted in 2019 (Logic Förlag, Sweden). As the President of the Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF), an EU political party with ultra-nationalist and Eurosceptic principles, Fiore communicates the “natural family” dogma in a way that speaks to the APF’s members. (This includes representatives from Forza Nuova (Italy), the National Democratic Party (Germany) and neo-Nazi affiliates such as Golden Dawn and the former Swedish party SvP (Party of the Swedes)).
However, and contrary to how the Christian Right has persisted in its denunciation of gay marriage, the far-right joins the gender debate armed with a different kind of ammunition. This post follows my previous blog on the “family lobby” and outlines how Fiore’s use of “scientific” language allows the radical right to defend homophobia with the tools of liberalism.
Fiore’s book begins by establishing the concept of the “natural family” through a haphazard historical overview that mentions Cicero, Aeschylus, and Christ in the same breath. Fiore’s main goal is to prove the significance of marriage (between a man and a woman) starting from pagan Rome and ancient Greece in order to conclude that Christianity served to solidify this already sacred institution. But the book does not linger much on the will of God. In fact, he mentions on p. 11: “Marriage is not exclusively Christian, some ‘invention’ of the Church. Today, more than ever, it is crucial to reaffirm and emphasize its age-old, natural aspect.” In other words, (heteronormative) marriage is not fundamental because the Church says so—Fiore goes beyond this and states that, in his view, it is the natural state of human affairs.
It is important to appreciate how this argument on the naturalness of marriage between a man and a woman signifies the radical right’s shift on handling these debates compared to mainstream Christian reactions. The book does not delve into a scriptural inquiry of Christian dogma on marriage—instead, Fiore goes through a painstakingly detailed presentation of academic publications, surveys, and statistics in order to demonstrate “scientifically” that the heteronormative family is an inevitable and indispensable part of “human nature.”
The book’s defense of the “natural” family builds on all the connotations of the term—good, necessary, inescapable—but avoids the usual religious pitfalls of irrational (i.e. unscientific) moralizing. Fiore presents meta-analyses and indicators and argues for the importance of representative samples and peer-review journal articles in order to support his point. For a far-right extremist with a clear Christian viewpoint, this is very different from the sloppy extremism of the Westboro Baptist Church, for example, that has simply relied on the “God hates Fags” motto.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Using “science” to defend homophobia
Fiore’s crafty use of the language of science signals the radical right’s readiness to play in the same sandbox as their opponents. In one of the first chapters of the book that attempts to establish “The advantages of the natural family”, Fiore concludes based on “several sociological studies” that “the natural family based on [heterosexual] marriage is the one that best guarantees the ‘being’ and the wellbeing of children, adults and the whole of society” . He also argues that the state should be allowed to “discriminate” between supporting this type of family against other types of union, because “[a]ny other would not only be unnatural but is also anti-scientific”.
The fact that “science” is presented as a fundamental reality, in line with Christian tenets, is a curious and ironic twist given the history of the two institutions. Yet, Fiore deliberately builds his case of the attack against the family through—supposedly—the same repository of research results that informs “liberal propaganda.” His whole argument is that if we pay attention to scientific evidence then we would be convinced that “gender” does not exist, gay people are sick and kids need both a mom and a dad. Contrary to the various Pontifical declarations aiming at preserving the natural family against the evils of “gender ideology,” Fiore asks sophisticatedly: “Does gender theory have a scientific basis?”
Of course, for Fiore, the question is answered in the negative through studies which show that there are sex differences in newborns. More importantly, the book references troves of studies and publications to prove “the harm of LGBT parenting.” Fiore starts by “debunking” the “false orphanage problem” where he argues that by allowing gay couples to adopt orphan or abandoned children we simply prolong their suffering and turn them into commodities for the pleasure of those adults “who have chosen a lifestyle that prevents them from having children naturally”. The book references more than 60 journal publications, which supposedly prove that same-sex parenting is bad for children.
Needless-to-say, Fiore’s allegiance to scientific results is superficial at best since it ignores conflicting evidence and reports selectively on the results of some studies. For example, he cites a 2001 study published in the American Sociological Review where the authors raise methodological problems in research comparing same-sex parents with opposite-sex parents but nevertheless concludes that there were no systematic differences between children in these different types of families. Fiore’s text presents the phrase “systematic differences” in bold font and then argues that the article shows “feminizing effect” and “masculinizing effect” of lesbian mothers (also highlighting these phrases in bold text) whereas the authors of the study never used these terms.
For people who harbor homophobic sentiments but lack the language and the arguments to explain their positions, this is an indispensable book. It offers “evidence” against the adoption of children by gay couples and personalized testimony about the “tragedy” of growing up in gay families. Fiore has done some homework, as he makes sure to namedrop Simone de Beauvoir, Shulamith Firestone, Donna Haraway and Judith Butler in order to turn them into caricatures of feminist nihilism.
The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to fact-check every single misreading, omission, and distortion of scientific results in order to set the record straight; and this is exactly the point: “The Attack on the Family” is a book that traffics in the idea of multiple truths and alternative facts. A homophobic tantrum that masquerades as a completely unfounded demographic alarm. It purports that slavery did not destroy the institution of the family, but gay couples will. If you are ever in a position to debate gender and sexuality with a radical right follower, you may need to be prepared to talk more about epistemology than theology.