COMMENTARY

First, the book-banners came for CRT and LGBTQ. Now they're censoring women's history

Wyoming moves to ban gender studies, further bringing GOP in line with Russia and Hungary's authoritarian crackdown

By Amanda Marcotte

Published March 1, 2022 1:35PM (EST)

Display of banned books or censored books at Books Inc independent bookstore in Alameda, California, October 16, 2021. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Display of banned books or censored books at Books Inc independent bookstore in Alameda, California, October 16, 2021. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Just in time for Women's History Month, the Republican book banners are trying to erase women's history.

On Friday, the Republican-dominated Wyoming state Senate passed a bill barring the University of Wyoming from funding "any gender studies courses, academic programs, co-curricular programs, or extracurricular programs." Unsurprisingly, the Republican senators who supported this used hyperventilating language to justify this censorship. Sen. Charles Scott called it "an extremely biased, ideologically driven program that I can't see any academic legitimacy to." And the bill's sponsor, Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, claimed that the program "caused me to lose some sleep," because "I felt that this was one that our constituents, I know certainly mine, wouldn't agree with."

RELATED: What's destroying democracy around the world? At least in part, misogyny and sexism

This move is an expansion of the same hysterics we've witnessed for the past year or so over "critical race theory." In real life, "critical race theory" describes a specific academic approach largely found in law schools and other graduate programs. But in GOP hands, it has become a broad scare term use to demonize any book or course that addresses factual history about racism, slavery or Jim Crow oppression. Books about Martin Luther King Jr., the Holocaust and the era of American slavery were immediately marked for banning. The circle of censorship swiftly expanded to expunge any acknowledgment of the existence of queer people. In Florida, the "don't say gay" bill was justified with overwrought language implying that teachers were somehow sexifying kids. It soon became apparent, however, that the bill as written is so expansive that teachers could potentially be sued simply for letting students raised by same-sex couples talk about their families in class. 


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Readers will not be surprised to find out the same idiocy is going on in Wyoming, one of the most conservative and most rural states in the nation. The courses that are keeping Steinmetz up at night have titles like "Victorian Women's Lives: Their Art, Literature and Culture" and "Women, Gender & Migration." As Kate Hartmann, a Buddhist studies professor at the University of Wyoming, tweeted, this would "affect 30 academic programs and 105 courses, and limit the ability of students to learn about the many ways gender affects our past, present, and future."

Hartmann went on to note that gender affects all aspects of our lives, including health care, education and even marketing — a reality so deeply ingrained that it's frankly impossible to talk about human life without addressing it. As with the way bans on "critical race theory" have been used to attack teaching the history of the civil rights movement, this sort of ban could make it difficult to teach basic historical facts about feminism and the suffragist movement. 

Steinmetz, who brought forth this bill, is no stranger to talking about the impacts of gender on human life, albeit in ways that celebrate rigid and unforgiving gender roles. She has previously backed legislation stipulating that marriage is "between one man and one woman," which would have allowed health care workers to deny care to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. She has also backed bills banning trans girls from playing on girls' sports teams. None of these stances make sense without the acknowledgment that gender affects how people live, even if Steinmetz's views favor using gender as a tool of oppression. 

RELATED: Meet Christopher Rufo — leader of the incoherent right-wing attack on "critical race theory"

Unsurprisingly, Christopher Rufo — one of the main architects of the "critical race theory" hoax — was ecstatic about this new attack on academic freedom. Of course, Rufo's claims to believe in race neutrality were always a lie, as well. He's been on Twitter screeching incoherent nonsense about how progressives supposedly want to "abolish white people," which shouldn't be a concern to the supposedly colorblind folks who "don't see" race. 

That, of course, gets to the crux of this nonsense. None of these book-banning efforts are about "neutrality" or "unbiased" education. They're a blatant effort to force educators to adhere to biased, outdated and downright false views on race, sexuality and gender. Bans on talking about "sexual orientation" won't be used to punish teachers for talking about straight people or to censor books that feature heterosexual couples. Bans on "critical race theory" will only cover books that frame racism as a bad thing, but will not target books where white supremacy is unquestioned. This attack on gender studies is about censoring any education that proposes that misogyny is bad or that gender is more complicated than the religious right would have you believe. But acknowledging gender in hidebound, sexist ways will undoubtedly continue, or in fact be accelerated.  


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As Yale professor and expert in fascism Jason Stanley noted on Twitter, Wyoming's proposed ban "goes much further than what Orban did in Hungary." He's referring to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, who barred two Hungarian universities from offering a master's degree in gender studies. Orbán has become a hero to the Trumpist right in the U.S., frequently praised by Tucker Carlson of Fox News as a hero who has turned a culturally rich European nation into a white nationalist utopia that Americans could emulate for the low, low price of giving up democracy. Orbán's vision isn't just racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic. He's also, like most if not all authoritarian leaders, homophobic and misogynist, and attached to the view that a woman's place is in the home, where she can focus on breeding more white Hungarians. 

RELATED: Meet James Lindsay, the far right's "world-level expert" on CRT and "Race Marxism"

This Wyoming bill serves as another reminder of how much the tide of authoritarianism in the U.S., catalyzed and to some degree led by Donald Trump, is rooted not just in racism, but a profoundly insecure sexism. Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida recently released an 11-point GOP vision for America, much of it centered on enforcing rigid gender hierarchies and heterosexuality, insisting that it's "God's design for humanity." Much of the lavish praise that Republicans have offered to Russian President Vladimir Putin — even as they try to backpedal away from his invasion of Ukraine — is also gender-obsessed. Conservatives repeatedly insist that Russia is "strong" and America is "weak," either implicitly or explicitly because of Russia's oppression of women and LGBTQ people. And of course the GOP is moving rapidly to ban abortion, having already done so in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has also signed an order that threatens to remove trans children from parents who love and accept them. 

There are still questions about whether this Wyoming bill will last very long, since it likely violates the First Amendment and is so extreme that even many Republicans in that overwhelmingly conservative state oppose it. Still, the fact that it passed the state Senate represents a chilling advance of the GOP's ever-expanding book banning campaign. The right shows no signs of slowing down its campaign to terrorize educators in public schools or universities who teach anything that might conflict with old-school conservative ideology. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Book Banning Cheri Steinmetz Commentary Critical Race Theory Gender Studies Women's History Wyoming