Women’s Role in Far-Right Movements

Angry white men voting for angry white men, this trend was seen as the standard in the right of populism but interestingly women are now coming to dominate right-wing leadership. With this, the gender gap in women’s roles in these movements seems to be shrinking with similar attitudes in feeling ‘left behind’ as well as becoming increasingly worried about immigration and Islam. With at least some power shifting into the favour of women, a new challenge comes from these women to combat the masculinity that is a traditional standard in the more right-leaning parties, trying to move away from the idea of traditional female roles or in the case of Marie Le Pen, trying to soften the party stance on anti-abortion and combatting the need to entice women voters by changing the idea of what it means to be a woman with these views and the male voters not likely to want to move away from these traditional aspects. So now we are thrust into a scenario where the fundamental aspects of right-wing populism are being challenged by the inclusion of women who are then not welcomed for their rebranding efforts.

The Traditionalist View of Apolitical Feminity

Back in 2017, a coworker of mine said she was relieved Marine Le Pen had lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron – because ‘she wasn’t pretty enough’.

The sentiment threw me at first, and our break ended before I had the chance to press her much on what she meant, but the sentence stuck in my mind – and this class has been quite useful in understanding how exactly to situate it in history. It’s a sentiment which arguably tracks with the conservative/traditionalist gender roles discussed in this class, an idea that demands men act ‘as befits men’ and that women act ‘as befits women’, and allows transgression in one realm only if one’s ‘masculinity’/‘femininity’ is indisputably or exaggeratedly demonstrated elsewhere. Exceptions to the gender roles are bought through adherence to them.

This could mean the Nazi model described by Thomas Kühne, under which men were allowed ‘feminine habits’ like pushing their child’s stroller or demonstrating emotion only if they had proved their ‘masculine strength’ through their use of violence. Or it could mean, as I now understand my coworker’s framing, that Le Pen was not seen as having a sufficiently ‘feminine’ appearance to make up for the ‘masculine-ness’ of her political ambitions.

This framing of government as an inherently masculine activity, barred to women unless they meet whatever arbitrary and demanding metric of femininity elsewhere in their lives, has been dissected and lampooned elsewhere with much greater understanding, knowledge, and precision than I can put forth here (or, to be frank, anywhere). It’s a way to silence a demographic, to perpetuate the hold on power of certain groups, so on and so forth; it’s a tactic repeated far beyond the male/female faultline.

That rhetorical ploy to secure male hegemony over governance politics, though, has had interesting repercussions on the discourse regarding other forms of politics.

For one, the ideological tenet that of apolitical femininity left its believers incapable of adequately responding to the very political actions that some women undertook against them. Sofia Rodriguez Lopez and Antonio Cazorla Sanchez demonstrate this well in Blue Angels, where both the Republican and the Nationalist structures dismissed women as incapable of having political agency, despite the fact that said women were quite effective in supporting their sides.

In those cases where the women were punished for their dissidence, they were often framed as being the wives, sisters, or daughters of dissidents – justifying the participation of ‘apolitical women’ in these ‘political crimes’ by emphasizing their connection to men, and thus distancing them from that feminine apolitical ideal. This can also, in a sense, be seen in Hochst Höchst’s quote that she merited her position in modern Germany’s right-wing Alternative für Deutschland because “I could kill every man in the party” – in her interview with the Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis, Höchst emphasizes her prowess in martial arts, reframing it as a ‘masculine trait’ that overrides her woman-ness sufficiently to legitimize her presence in traditionalist politics.

Another example comes in Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies, and ties into some contemporary discussions. Culture is unarguably a form of politics, with heavy influence on who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, and the construction of societal discriminations based off those hierarchies. However, the power of culture in a political sense is that it comes off as completely natural – of course things are like this, of course we do things this way, of course power is distributed in this way, because that’s our culture! Given the important role of women in household and formal cultural education, though, as described by Lower, there is a tension between the obviously political (if subconscious) aims of this indoctrination and the allegedly-apolitical nature of women put forth by that ideology. And for a long time, regimes built on the idea of feminine apoliticism insisted that no activity so dominated by women could be political. Nowadays, though, that blinder is being pulled back, and culture is being exposed to political dissection and contestation on a greater scale than previously possible – no longer shielded by some traditionalist myth that women are innately apolitical.

Challenging female assumption in the eyes of fascist and right leaning movements

By: Conrad Yiridoe

The clearest and most obvious theme to me based from a couple readings this week, stems from the lack of true appreciation of the important roles that women played historically. This lack of understanding is not even fully understood as even multiple authors admit we do not actually understand the full extent to which women were involved in various events through out history. For example, with Lopez and Sanchez’s take on female force in the Spanish civil war, they admit early on the rather obvious fact that historians have significantly neglected the important and critical role that women played during the war.

As well, the extent towards how underrated women were in this period is (in my opinion) well articulated by the authors for example when they note that  the “efficiency of the female-only network of Madrid, which withstood the repression carried out by the Sim, contrasts with the vulnerability of the briefly described, mostly male-controlled, networks in Barcelona, Valencia or Alicante. They were more easily penetrated by Republican counter-intelligence.” Amongst the numerous examples detailed in the article, it appears rather obvious that women played a far more important and significant role in the war, which contrasts with the rather traditionally conservative feminist role that propaganda emanating from that time period would suggest. For example, it is noted that “Nationalist women were supposed to have supported both established social and gender traditions, having collaborated in the war effort without transgressing these roles. During the dictatorship, this was the official truth.”

Another major theme that stuck out to me through all the readings, is the confusion surrounding the idea of women’s involvement in areas that may not have been seen as “traditional”. A modern example of this struggle is described by Chrisafis, Connolly and Giuffrida in their article “ From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right set its sights on women” which dived into the concept of women increasingly moving towards political groups that in the past (as well as now) have roots in opposing “ traditionally feministic” ideologies. What I appreciated with the article, is how the investigation though centered in Europe, avoid the appeal of focusing solely on arguably the most prominent example in Marine Le Pen of France. As well, by describing other examples such as Meloni (in Italy) and Hermannsson (Sweden), the authors convey a sense of scale with how dramatic this movement appears to be growing. It is also interesting to observe that the authors note why these individuals in a sense appear to support these parties for similar reasons as their male counterparts, despite significantly lower numbers in the party compared to their male counterparts. For example, immigration, appears to be a galvanising idea for these party supporters, which is not completely surprising given the continent’s continued and recent brushes with migratory issues (such as back in 2015 with the Syria refugee crisis).

In conclusion, an interesting question raised from this article/situation may be; to what extent that not prioritising “traditionally observed feministic” ideas and instead focusing on other mainstream concepts such as immigration and Islam, will continue to be seen as a winning strategy for increasing larger support amongst women, going forward.

Maintaining Privilege

These readings connected the ways in which women engage in politics and war within fascist movements, from Spain to Germany and ending in France. The largest connection between these women are their ideologically right leanings and the ways in which they navigate the patriarchal structures of their movements and time. What we can see is that even though women on the right advance and protect the patriarchal structure and gender norms, it is because they remain relatively insulated from them or benefit from keeping them. While they actively advocate and engage in violence to ensure that structures remain in place to oppress them, they can still maintain privilege from intersecting structures.

It is interesting to compare the ways women from the fascist party in Spain work within a system and movement that actively preaches the submission and passivity of women, which continues to be normalized in the rhetoric around conflict, yet they both participated, benefited, and upheld these norms. We can see they work against their gender interests to fulfil their other interests, specifically their conservative views, as their actions were devalued and reduced to an extension of the feminine. Their roles were minimized and told through the male gaze, yet these women continued to support and act in defense of fascism. For them, their race/religion/ethnicity surpassed the oppressive structures they existed within, the suffering of other women who had intersecting identities were targeted to maintain privilege. They placed their identities of nationalist, and what that entails, above the ways in which their party and ideology harm women.

Hitlers Furies chapter on Why Did They Kill? Touched on several themes from last week that we discussed, specifically the role of women in violence and murder. While we have been socialized within the patriarchal structures that perpetuate a narrative of victimhood, weakness, and lack of agency for women, Hitler’s Furies challenges these assumptions. The role of women in the Third Reich was violent and bloody, and while we attempt to assign murder to men, German Nazi women showed that murder transgressed gender norms. The role of women and their actions were minimized because they did not hold as many high positions, yet their actions were as abhorrent and violent as their male counterparts. Yet again, the narrative then was German women/children needed protection, and the research on these women is under-developed in contrast to Nazi men. It is also important to connect the ways in which privilege and the desire to maintain white privilege allowed German women to disregard the gendered and patriarchal oppression they were subjected to, similarly to Spanish women.

These very easily connect to the uptick in far-right women in our contemporary society, as demonstrated by Marine Le Pen and her nationalist and violent ideologies. The strategy of the French far-right is to invalidate women’s agency and play into patriarchal norms of women as victims and weak to entrench fear of “the other” within society and highlight herself and her party as saviors. This serves as a catalyst for party’s anti-immigrant sentiments and allows white French women, specifically those on the right, to maintain their privileges within white supremacy.

The overall connection we see with these women, is they are willing to maintain patriarchy if it benefits them. Persecuting others is essential to this, as the idea of scarcity of privilege manifests through violence, they must remove/kill/villainize those who pose a threat to their status, regardless of the repercussions of their own gender oppression.

Sources

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist
Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of
Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713.

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set it
sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019

Are women are adding credibility to far-right movements?

I don’t think it had quite occurred to me until this week how prominent women have been in far right movements. If you look at the major players (at least in Western Europe) there are many lead by women. We have La Pen in France running the National Rally, Corinna Miazga in Germany running the AFD, and Georgia Meloni leading the Brothers of Italy. There are others like Ebba Hermansson, who is part of the Sweden Democrats, who are prominent in their own parties even though they are not yet in a categorical leadership position.

This is interesting for many reasons of which the most interesting one is the fact that these parties seem to be a male dominated scene with all of the trappings one would expect. In fact I would almost go as far to say that the reason these movements are typically dismissed is because of that masculine focus and their majority involvement. Obviously there are many undesirable elements to these movements, which I must add, am merely making a case for the reason why they lose out on so much of the available votes. This trope of “angry white men” hurts these parties in many ways. From making them seem uneducated, emotional, and childish as they are simply lashing out and on the fringe of major politics. These women are not a force to be dismissed though. La Pen is neck and neck with Macron in the polls. She could be the next president of France! As well as the AFD being the 3rd largest party in Germany, and the Brothers of Italy are quickly becoming Italy’s third party as well. So what does this mean? Is it directly related to the fact that people can’t use these tropes and stereotypes to dismiss these groups anymore? Is it entirely unrelated? The AFD has a gender problem in that there is still a huge margin between men and women’s involvement in the party. La Pen does not struggle with that and neither does Meloni. Are they appealing to women better? Or are they fixing their parties PR problems? Or…are they simply good leaders and smart politicians and any attempt to categorize them, and their success, as anything but a sexist argument that dismisses and diminishes their accomplishments?

Women and the Far Right

By: Lucas Lang

This week provided valuable insight into woman’s roles and perspectives within fascist states. Rather than being bystanders or pawns within far-right politics, women are in fact vital and active within political actions and structure. Not only do they serve as the domestic wives and mothers in compliance with far-right ideology, but during conflicts they are willing to act counterintuitively to their ideology, taking whatever steps necessary to preserve or establish the traditions and world they want to see. Ultimately, there are three primary reasons why women, especially in recent times, have sought right wing populist parties and politics. The first is that they feel marginalized by other groups and parties which have previously held power. They feel they have little to no saw in the power and politics of other groups. The second is issues with immigration. Women who sympathize with the far-right on this issue usually do so because of concerns for their personal, or family’s safety and well-being, which is in line with the domestic identity of women supported by the far right. The final reason, quite related to the first, is a rejecting of modern feminism. Typically, there is a sense among women within the right that feminism has gone too far and has already achieved its objectives. Under these terms, support for the far right has been increasing among women.

On a separate note, another aspect this week that was intriguing was men’s willingness to talk about mass killings they participated in with women within chapter 3 of Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies. I could never get a sense of whether when they were speaking with women, they were doing so to brag about their “manliness” or if they were genuinely concerned about their part in the genocides. If so the latter, then would they have been looking for reassurance that what they were doing was right or might they have been seeking scolding and criticism for having participated in the horrific mass murder. Either way, it seems out of character for men living under the Nazi regime to be presenting themselves as week in front of female company. It would be important to note though that this would be occurring in a private sphere and not publicized or promoted by the government. Nonetheless, it was uncommon for women to have criticized the men for participating. By saying nothing though, were they contributing to the genocide?

Far-Right Women and Missing Voices

Written by Emma Bronsema

In many fascist societies, women play a large and important role. Historically, their roles and femininity has been overlooked, generalized, and propagandized; they were often marginalized, and their complex stories were simplified. However, it is not shocking that women were involved in nationalistic and war efforts. They were heavily ingrained in society as secretaries, social workers, and educators, to name a few. They were also in close proximity to where these wartime events were taking place; close to power and close to crime scenes. Many people became desensitized to what they were seeing, in addition to being ideologically indoctrinated by what their government propagandized.

In fascist Spain and Germany, women’s roles were often used to sell a story to various audiences – including women of a different political view to portray them as ideal and the better between the two. “Officially” both Spanish and German women returned back to a domestic role after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War ended. Their stories and accounts of the wars and their contribution often went missing. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that many women did not speak about their actions and the events that took place. Moreover, women’s roles were often propagandized, generalized, victimized, hyper-sexualized, and or given a sympathetic image. Furthermore, many women were difficult to track down because they got married and changed their last names. 

Lastly, their stories were not recorded because they were not regarded as relevant at the time. Women’s roles and experience during the war was not an area of interest for reporters and historians at the time. Another reason for the lack in interest stems from political reasons and change in the government, or women were simply left out of studies done. This resulted in many phenomena that have been suppressed, overlooked and under-researched. As well as the stories that are recorded and get told today are a result of selective memory, where the person telling the story trailers it so it is inline with what their audience would like to hear.

Sources used:

Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 53, no. 4, (Oct. 2018), pp. 692–713. 

Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), pp15-75.

The Foreseeable Rise of Women in the Far Right

There seems to be a stereotype of far-right individuals in Europe that has developed over the last decade.  Young, disenfranchised, angry European males who struggle to find employment and opportunity due to any number of reasons, but who end up taking their frustration out on immigrants, minorities, and other typical targets of far right and fascist rhetoric.  While far right movements, parties and protests in Europe have typically been dominated by men, Chrisafis, Connolly and Giufridda point out that this trend is changing. 

This stereotype ignores the fact that women often undergo the same conditions and hardships that men do.  Suffering from unemployment, being unable to provide for family and loved ones, and a feeling of worthlessness are felt by both men and women in the 21st century.  At the same time, women are just as likely to fall victim to far-right trappings because of these hardships.  Scapegoating certain demographics, fostering bigoted and hateful ideals, advocating antigovernmental measures and even perpetrating violence are all trademarks of fascist movements, and are as easily done by women as they are men. 

This newfound female far-right presence is interestingly not unique to Europe.  In the United States, a number of female Republican Representatives and Senatorial candidates such as Lauren Boebert and Kelly Loeffer have espoused increasingly far right political ideals.  In Canada, Kellie Leitch performed alarmingly well in the 2017 Conservative Party of Canada Leadership Race, running on an anti-immigrant platform.  With immigration being the largest motivator of far-right ideals according to Chrisafis, Connolly and Giufridda, women’s role in far right movements is likely only to increase as more and more countries are affected by climate change, leading to greater and greater surges of refugees and immigrants.

Women and The Far-Right

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources allowed us to take a look at both the historical and contemporary appeal of the far-right to women. I’ve had the chance to take other courses centered on Europe during the twentieth century in which I’ve previously learned about the Nazi regime and fascist ideologies. However, I had always felt like there was a gap in my knowledge as none of these courses explicitly covered the role of women. This week’s readings provided a fascinating perspective and challenged my expectations of women’s involvement in the Nazi movement.  

Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields provided a foundational understanding of why and how women participated in the Nazi movement. One early female activist recounted the political awakening of women to the Nazi movement, in which she said “women could not remain uninvolved in this struggle, for it was their future too, and the future of their children” (p.20). During this time period, women were beginning to gain greater independence – they had a youthful energy and aspirations for a better life. They supported Hitler and contributed to his rise in power as they believed it would be benefitting their nation – in turn, these women aided in committing atrocious crimes. 

It was interesting to read the Guardian article afterwards, From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right sets its sights on women, as it showed commonalities of what interests’ women in the far-right today. Although not the entire reason, one of the contemporary appeals for women to the far-right is the fact that they “feel left behind”. It’s incredibly fascinating to see women gravitate to groups which are or once were dominated by patriarchal ideology in order to further their own aspirations. All in all, I think this week’s sources all provided an intriguing look at the critical role women play in conflict and populist movements. 

The rise of women in Europe’s right-wing movements

by Sydney Linholm

In the article by Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connolly, and Angela Giuffrida, an investigative look is taken at why right-wing populist parties have begun to attract more and more women. The authors focus on how the surge in right-wing populism seen in Europe over the last twenty years has largely been male-dominated, and how this is now changing because of an increase in women that support these parties. Many right-wing European political parties are led by women, with examples being Marine Le Pen, Alice Weidel, and Giorgia Meloni. But why are women becoming more drawn to supporting parties that do not traditionally support feminism and embody patriarchal ideologies?

As the authors hypothesize, one of the explanations for the supporting of right-wing populist parties could be their belonging to marginalized groups in society such as the working class. They use the disillusioned retail staff and grocery store employees as an example, as one of them interviewed in the article details how the elite in power does nothing to support those who can’t make ends meet. Interestingly, she says” We’ve never tried Le Pen before, so why not give her a chance?”

As is pointed out later in the article, it is ironic how far-right movements are allowing women to have a louder voice yet their attitudes towards women have not changed. For example, the AfD’s gender ratio is 87% male and 13% female, yet female voters still firmly believe that they are a better alternative to the current elite in power because they feel as though the right-wing movements are worth a shot in order to improve the lives of the women who belong to marginalized groups. What doesn’t make sense is the notion that a right-wing populist political party that doesn’t even support the women within its party would support women outside of it, and this is the irony of the entire movement.