From Erika Ohr to Catherine, the Cashier: A Look into the Women of the Far Right and their Own Women’s Rights Movement

By Bryce Greer

Erika Ohr, a sheepherder’s daughter, was approached by nursing recruiters in 1938 while she worked as a domestic servant for a priest in Swabia. To her, she felt left out, a stranger, who then was forced to join the Nazi Party’s League of German Girls. Yet while here, she became inspired by two Red Cross Nurses who told their story of leaving behind the farms to make a name by their choice of profession. For Ohr, this was her choice to leave behind her old life. To her, she wanted more. Not unlike Ohr, Catherine, a cashier at a budget supermarket in Paris in the contemporary, wanted more. To Catherine, “the elite in power hasn’t got a clue what life is like for real people.” To Catherine, then, the answer to her “more” was Marine Le Pen and the far-right. In both accounts, the far-right had an appeal for women to make their own choices and to begin their own movement – one that was active but not like what we should perhaps now call a left-wing women’s movement through feminism.  

This week’s readings showed a nuance to women’s rights movements, and equally showed a disillusioned failure by academics in understanding the role of women in the far-right. Rather than just a passive victim, some themselves find their own agency in the right just as well as men, and many still feel left-behind. Ohr’s story in Lower’s Hitler’s Furies is one of many that showed a sense of belonging for women in professions through the Nazi movement. Emphasized by Lower was the idea that the far-right fed on idealism and energy of young people, yet for women this idealism came to surface through a wish of ambitious want in life. The aspiration, Lower now calls cliché in the contemporary, was its own revolutionary movement in the 1930s.

The ambitious life is one that becomes equally valued in the Auxilio Azul Maria Paz movement in Madrid, as written about by Lopez. An all women organization, the Auxilio Azul showcased the active working of women in fascist movements despite the prescribed misogynistic world that fascism sought. Even so, the group, although differing from contemporary belief, were women who fought “to live the quiet, domestic, traditional, Catholic lives… and saw their own reality.” (Lopez, 713) To take into this consideration then, the pro-Franco women in Lopez’s reading were agents of their own movement to sacrifice for the right of others to live “ordinary lives” that were patriarchal in nature.

With Catherine’s story being told alongside the current women in power of the far-right, Chrisafis’s question on why women of the far-right are turning to groups that traditionally opposed feminism, is seen now through Franco Spain or Nazi Germany. This was a time before feminism really found its movement, and yet women still had their own movements for agency and rights. In Lower’s work, it was Jewish men that became a sexualized form of anti-Semitism that allowed women to become their own protector of their body and rights. Today’s far-right continue this blame and add Muslims and any other immigrant to their mix now as well. And despite a misogynistic world of the far-right, women like Le Pen, Hochst, or Miazga have shown the active role they can play to appeal for the far-right and women’s rights. To combat misogyny is universal, and women of the far-right have found their own active movement outside of the “leftist” feminism.

Works Cited:

Angelique Chrisafis, “From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: How the European far-right set its
sight on women” The Guardian January 29, 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/29/from-le-pen-to-alice-weidelhow-the-european-far-right-set-its-sights-on-women

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)

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