In the context of populist regimes and movements, the role of women and their ability to engage with their surroundings has incredible historic repercussion in the growth and perpetuation of feminist ideals.
Women’s movements are nothing new. Women have been fighting for equal rights in many capacities since the suffrage movement. The interesting element is the ability for women to do that under populist regimes. This has benefits, and consequences. In the wake of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and violence, the general public is starting to understand the power of mass female movements, and their influence in the larger political context.
In the 1930s, the rise of Nazism gave way to a political climate of fear and violence. This was not only issues through the war, but also through the Holocaust. Women under the Nazi party used the institutions in place to move their way through the ranks. At the time of Nazi power, women still did not have the right to vote, a symbol of their poor political and social status. Their ability to participate in the war greatly affected their ability to organize. This came in the form of working as secretaries, marrying high ranking officers, and serving as nurses or militia women.
Serving in the war came at a great cost to women in Germany. As explained in Wendy Lowler’s Hitler’s Furies, women were expected to take on more responsibility in lieu of men going off to battle. By the end of the war, women made up 40% of the roles in high ranking Gestapo offices. Under the anti-Semitic regime of Nazi Germany, there were three main categories for women: witnesses, accomplices, and murderers. One of the testaments in Lowler’s novel, made by Erna Petri, stated that she justified the violent actions against the Jewish people as a desire to prove herself to the men, and to further advance her social status.
Parallels exist between female militancy in Nazi Germany and segregation movements in the United States. A women’s group in the United States known as Daughters of the American Revolution are a group of ladies responsible for the maintenance of American culture. Over the years there has been swirling controversy over their practices. Until recently, there was heavy segregation for black American women in the group, as well as the funding to preserve Confederate generals’ statues. In light of the neo-Nazi demonstrations in places like Charlottesville, these symbols and statues continue to promote pro-slavery rhetoric and fuel the overall segregated, populist sentiment.
The difference between movements of the past, and today, is the ability to resort to violence and exclusionary politics in the face of populism. While the women in the previous examples were able to use the political institutions for their own personal advancement, it was at a detriment to other individuals and social groups.
On the other hand, women during the Trump administration era today are supporting each other and using their stories to inspire. While the President is a known molester, women have come out in large crowds, of every race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation to march and protest for their basic rights. In 2017, just a few months after Trump was elected to office and cut programs like Planned Parenthood, over 500,000 women and supporters marched in Washington to advocate for legislation reform in support of women’s rights and social programs. The movement has grown to multiple cosmopolitan cities across the United States and worldwide, reaching numbers of marchers again in the hundreds of thousands.
This gives me hope because in the face of racist and hateful world leaders that are using populist rhetoric, women today are coming together and fighting for what is right and important, in a way that supports each other.
Featured Image from: CNN