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Yunyun Zhou. “Theorizing illiberal state feminism: Institutional dilemmas and political parallelism in China’s gender governance.” Women’s Studies International Forum. Volume 98. 2023.


Institutionally speaking, state feminism is manifested by a strong women’s policy agency (WPA) that facilitates bargaining between women’s movements and state bureaucracies. It remains underexplored, however, when state feminism thrives or deteriorates under authoritarianism and what institutional factors account for this. Using China’s contemporary gender politics as a case study, this article aims to develop a more nuanced understanding of illiberal state feminism theory and its internal workings. It contends that deep-rooted institutional dilemmas lie at the heart of an illiberal state feminism such as China’s, which are expressed in four pairs of contradictions: 1) interest consolidation vs misrepresentation, 2) coalition-building vs repression 3) institutionalization vs bureaucratization, and 4) political integration vs parallelism. These internal contradictions lead to the inevitable segregation and marginalization of illiberal state feminism. This article contributes to the current scholarship on state feminism by dissecting the unintended institutional obstacles faced by a single dominant WPA sponsored by an illiberal state.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.