Problems in the Absence of Gender and Sexuality Analysis in Fascism and Populism Scholarship by Julia Aguiar

As was manifest in our conversation last week regarding the obscurity of the Middle Ages, the readings from this week make clear that despite the lack of clarity surrounding fascism and populism, they are terms used frequently and without much care given to their historical significance.

For all the good work that the readings do to come to nuanced historical understandings of terms that are often treated with great abuse, they overlook the role of gender and sexuality in the development and understanding of fascism and populism. When I think of fascist and right-wing populist regimes both throughout history and more contemporarily, I am irked by their hyper-masculine and heteronormative underpinnings. I am thinking of Rodrigo Duterte in his offer to protect soldiers should they rape women or any number of Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic comments to identify a few examples. It begs the question, is there something innate in fascism and populism that encourages the objectification of and discrimination against women and the LBGTQ community? Can we trace this historically? In being critical of the absence of gender and sexuality analysis in the readings, I hope to come to a better understanding of the misogynistic and hyper masculine trappings of contemporary fascism and populism. To further explore these ideas, I will take a closer look at Allardyce, Finchelstein, and Mussolini and Gentile.

In his article, Allardyce is interested in moving away from a generic conception of fascism. Indeed, his overall mission is to think about fascism in terms of “what it is not”. In doing so, he considers fascisms roots in Italy and Germany as well as fascism in different countries across the world. It is not only that a discussion of gender is absent from Allardyce’s article, but I also found the tone to be decidedly masculine. Allardyce acknowledges nationalist politics as a defining feature of fascism which encourages genocidal practices, but lacks nuance in considering how gender and sexuality intersect with genocide. To illustrate this and in an effort to add to Allardyce’s conversation surrounding the genocidal practices of Nazism, I would encourage people to consider why marginalized women and members of the LGBTQ community were disproportionately targeted for experimentation. 

Finchelstein makes clear the relationship between fascism and populism in his article by speaking of fascism as the antecedents of populism. Whereas fascism celebrates dictatorship and violence, populism exists in unequal democracy. While Finchelstein does mention “macho-populism” at the end of his piece, he does not do much with it. My main frustration with Finchelstein’s article was that he anchored the piece so strongly in the context of the Cold War, speaks of twentieth century decolonization, but ignores Cold War gender politics and the rise of second wave feminism that were crucial historical moments happening alongside the establishment and rise of populism.

Finally, Mussolini and Gentile’s “The Doctrine of Fascism” is a rich primary source for considering how early fascists viewed themselves and how that might manifest contemporarily. The excerpt offers an explication of the founding pillars of fascism in Italy. Particularly, fascism, as Mussolini and Gentile articulated, “wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him…” I am not preoccupied so much with the use of masculine gendered pronouns as with the way “manfully” is invoked as an adverb. In this sense, fascism is posited as the project of men. 

Works Cited:
Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.

Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past” in Federico Finkelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (University of California Press, 2017).

Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” Enciclopedia Italiana. 1932.

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