The rise of women in right-wing populism

News reports are suggesting that Marine Le Pen may win the French presidency in 2022 when the election cycle reboots. Profiles on Le Pen during the last French election cycle describe her with values and policy ideals like that of Donald Trump. She boasts anti-immigration views, seeking to curb legal immigration and engage in protectionist and isolationist policies in order to further the goals of her party, and according to her, France. It is important to note that the party she leads, the Nationalist Front, was founded and run by her father, with whom she shares many troubling views. Thus, her connection to politics and right-wing populism is dynastic, as she shares few similarities to the populations she represents and advocates for, especially in terms of disenfranchisement. While we understand her connection to right-wing populism as dynastic, it is still difficult to fathom why a woman would engage in something that historically, and contemporarily advanced sexist and misogynistic policies and ideas. Do her views on anti-immigration and racism trump her identity as a woman? How is she benefitting from the targeting of communities made vulnerable? Considering the rising concern that she will win the next French election, and the overlap between her and the current government regarding secularism, interrogating the manifestation of right-wing populism in women becomes urgent.

While we can see in the United States that women are becoming more heavily engaged in right-wing populism, it is important to note that shared characteristics of identity exists within each region. Specifically, that many of these women are straight, cis, white women, much like Marine Le Pen. These identifiers are important as they provide insight to why these women feel comfortable within the right-wing populist sphere. Right-wing populism has focused on mobilizing the “left-behind, white, working class”. In addition to targeting white working class people, Le Pen and other right wing populists, have also begun to weaponize womanhood using anti-immigrant fears. While we can see that some white women share the same disenfranchisement as their male peers, capitalizing on xenophobia and misunderstandings of Islam and Muslims has become an important facet of their campaigns. Women are being incorporated into the right-wing populist movement despite patriarchal undertones by capitalizing on racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. In making women, specifically white women, fear the “other,” Marine Le Pen can capitalize and benefit from patriarchy, rather than attempting to dismantle the roots of women’s fear. She is not looking to alleviate their fear but profit off it.

What is important to note within all of this, is that while acknowledge understand the ways in which economic disenfranchisement and fear of the “other” can lead to a rise in right-wing populism, we cannot remove accountability for supporting and perpetuating racism and xenophobia. Marine Le Pen is garnering a significant amount of attention and support, enough for observers to make claims of a potential presidential win, thus meaning it is increasingly important to challenge these violent structures and reaffirm that voting for a xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic, regardless of reason, makes you at the very least, complacent with these actions. Economic disenfranchisement and unsubstantiated fear cannot serve as a shield to how votes impact marginalized communities, including women. If economic disenfranchisement and gendered fear were truly the main concern, community building with marginalized populations would become more mainstream, as immigrants and racialized peoples disproportionately face financial insecurity and violence, including gendered. When we see people justify their voting habits based on these types of fear-based policy and disenfranchisement at the expense of those targeted by right-wing populist leaders, we remove accountability for their actions and perpetuation of violence. If right-wing populists intended to alleviate economic disenfranchisement and help women, they would actively engage with those groups most impacted, which would be immigrant and other marginalized communities, not solely white women and the white working class. Yet, we do not see Marine Le Pen, or other populist leaders doing this. In turn, what we do see is the purposeful stratification of the population based on identity. Those who continue to choose their own economic prosperity and safety over the safety of communities made vulnerable are actively engaging in the violence of the leader and party.

We can no longer afford to legitimize the idea that people vote for right-wing leaders solely for economic reasons or perceived safety from the “other”; we need to reconcile with the fact that they are either ok with the rhetoric and actions of their party or actively holding and engaging in those ideals themselves.

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