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.

If you can’t beat them, join them – coronavirus edition

Much has been written about the American failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, with a death toll over 465 000 and rising. Much has also been written about Trump’s own role in that failure, refusing to publicly acknowledge the threat and rally support for preventative measures.

The problem wasn’t Trump as a person.

The problem was Trump as a populist. The problem was Trump, the problem was Bolsonaro: populists the world over opted for ‘trial by fire’, hoping to brave the storm with minimal protective measures and minimal economic damage.

There are two key factors that make a populist vulnerable to a pandemic: pride and malice.

The first comes from the simple reality that preventative measures, as we’ve heard ad nauseam over the past year, can generally only ‘flatten the curve’. That isn’t to say that eliminating community spread through mask-wearing and social distancing is impossible – with New Zealand an often-cited point there – but that, given the measures politically palatable in a democratic ‘loose society’, it is unlikely.

And that means that the leader must spend months encouraging the population to stay strong just a little longer, and must spend tremendous political capital – the leader must beg with no guarantee of success. That is unacceptable for a populist leader having built his entire reputation around personifying the strength and ‘alpha’-ness of ‘his people’.

Instead, by bluffing that his current efforts are sufficient, the populist leader can simply remove himself from the game: rather than failing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he simply isn’t trying. It may be childish and petty, but in the narrative spun by those leaders, it works.

More than that, it allows those leaders to mock political opponents who do implement restrictions, yet fail to completely stop the spread. Those political opponents are lampooned for offering bad from both worlds – continued contagion paired with life-altering restrictions – while the populist leader fights for ‘freedom’. The leader might even actively undermine the restrictions, for example by hosting crowded political rallies, in order to flaunt his resilience. (The impact on infection rates has not yet been fully determined, but it seems a fair assumption to make that these rallies served as ‘superspreader events’, making Trump’s opponents seem even more ineffective in their attempts to ‘slow the spread’.)

The populist looks strong, his opponents look weak; pride is preserved.

The other element is malice. And that malice becomes obvious when we look at who is most affected by the pandemic: urbanites, given the greater population density and thus greater potential for contagion, who typically voted against the populists; and ‘Others’, typically a racialized group, who are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to securing aid or treatment, and who are excluded from the populist’s ‘Nation’.

In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, one such group of ‘Others’ are the indigenous peoples in Amazonian territory. Bolsonaro, as part of an “institutional strategy”, sabotaged attempts by these peoples to prevent the spread of the disease within these communities, which consistently opposed his plans for rainforest development.

In other cases, such as in the United States, the three categories intersect. Black and Latino Americans have found themselves assailed from all sides, living largely in Democratic-led cities and excluded from ‘white collar quarantines’ due to the manual jobs held by many, and have suffered death rates nearly three times higher than those of non-Hispanic Whites.

On the flip side, the rural populations that forms the backbone of these right-wing populists’ electoral constituencies are much better insulated, if only due to lower population density and their ‘in-groupness’ offering them better access to care and treatment. That protection doesn’t last forever, but it shields ‘the base’ from the mediatized consequences of the pandemic.

The ‘Nation’ led by the populist is protected; the ‘Others’, described as preventing society from returning to its glory days, are suffering. Malice gloats.

Pride, and malice. Pride and prejudice, one might say, if this were a lighter topic. It isn’t a pretty picture. As much criticism as our leaders may deserve for their handling of the pandemic, at the very least we should be grateful they aren’t worse.

Where leads this road paved with good intentions

Given my previous posts have centered on picking out some example of discrimination on the basis of sex, this week’s readings seem a natural fit.

I’m instead going to take a different tack, addressing right-wing accusations that societal reckonings over gendered and neocolonial dynamics are the basis for a new fascism, a new Marxism, something between or something worse than both. Paternotte and Kuhar’s article addresses these most clearly, as they detail the religious-conservative alliance pushing back against same-sex marriage, cast as a Trojan horse for an Orwellian and anti-Catholic redesigning of society, and (co-opting arguments from the left) a new imperialism looking to forcibly restructure non-Western social networks.

Actually addressing this gets a little delicate, even under a pseudonym. Yes, the current conversations happening in society – in terms of identifying and hopefully, eventually, somehow counteracting and redressing the countless ways in which centuries of hierarchy have infused nigh-on every part of daily life with some insidious flavor of sexism, racism, classism, etc. – do, taken to their logical conclusions, require a social revolution. And yes, given the problematic role of religious institutions in maintaining many of these divisions, they would necessarily be put under close scrutiny.

It’s on the basis of such statements that Paternotte and Kuhar’s conservative groups accuse social liberals of serving as ‘useful idiots’, paving the road for a totalitarian regime.

One such totalitarian movement, the 1930s-1940s Romanian Legionary Movement described by Sandelescu, did indeed see its quest as the construction of a New (Fascist) Man. This New Man (and Woman, notwithstanding the focus on men) was to be created “in the Nest, the work-camp, in the organization and the legionary family itself” – an environment the Movement emphasized would re-educate its members and purge them of the perfidious influence of those looking to divide the nation (referring here to Jews).

On a basic level, dabbling in horseshoe theory (that the far left and the far right eventually come to resemble each other), one can see similarities. Society is depicted as corrupted, and as requiring redemption through a re-education dictated by those enlightened/woke. While this isn’t enforced at gunpoint nowadays, the religious-conservative alliance will point to ‘cancel culture’, arguing that ousting non-compliant individuals from their livelihoods is a clear threat of violence, simply economic rather than physical, an ultimatum to silence oneself or be silenced.

However, that distinction – economic versus physical – is a significant one, and not one that can be handwaved away. It’s a distinction that keeps the Sleeping Giants, Time’s Up, and others within the realm of legitimate, democratic, majoritarian politics. It’s a distinction that allows for even far-right communities to create their own economic ecosystems and legal drolleries, as described by Cynthia Miller-Idriss, to continue their activities. It’s a profoundly important distinction, by which ideas are to be defeated through the soap box and the ballot box, rather than at the hand of magistrates, judges, and guns.

As well, this ‘social revolution’ is – by its very nature, arguing that injustice towards one is injustice towards all – decentralized, looking to unearth injustice towards every one. Though there may be prominent figures, there is no centralized mouthpiece; there is no populist firebrand who, as per Finchelstein, could shake off the post-Hitlerian taboo on populist violence. And could there even be such a leader in such a movement, capable of corrupting its fundamental principle that all of society is wounded by the maintenance of artificial hierarchies?

That is not to say that there have not been excesses – there have been, and academics have underlined and spoken out against those. But the movement as a whole has remained well within the bounds of legitimate political activism, and to criticize it on the basis that its fringes may create a slippery slope to potential authoritarianism – or that a dictator may drape itself in the language of the movement – is of questionable intellectual honesty.

Eroding the Wall Between the Political and the Private

Photography has, perhaps, unique implications for that fragile boundary between the private and the public, the personal and the political. Everything that painting could do, the development of casual photography made accessible to everybody. As Umbach elaborates, any interwar German could capture a moment in time, creating a precious memory to be shared and handed down.

This ability to easily create snapshots is of particular interest to a totalitarian regime. Now, those grandiose displays of strength so favored by such regimes – massive military parades, the reconstruction of the Colosseum, or directed tourist routes revealing the poverty of other countries, as per Baranowski – can be preserved, and the picture-takers are deputized into message-bearers for the regime, as they redistribute the regime’s chosen message in their own photos, more authentic and personal spokespeople than centralized party newspapers.

In the same way as the symbolic nature of those events can be redistributed forever, so to can those individuals in the photos, captured as they are, in alignment or in opposition to the regime’s raison d’être. In a populist context, where the movement’s legitimacy rests on its protracted struggle to return the nation to the glorious days of ere, this becomes of particular importance – and so the appearance of those who are captured in those photographs is also of particular importance to the State.

To return on my comments last week about the centrality of controlling female sexuality to the fascist narrative – where racism could be tempered to build wartime alliances, but under no circumstances could ‘the Women of the Chosen Race’ be allowed to stray – this same concern, and the same obsession with control, are also illustrated here. Nazi guards were quick to caution German women who got too cozy with locals at their tourist locales, with Baranowski describing how little it took to incur sanction: “Ignoring warnings that their deportment flouted that demanded of a ‘master race,’ the women cheerfully posed for snapshots with blacks against scenic backdrops, in return for a few cigarettes.” With photography allowing for the creation of a permanent memento of this ‘race mixing’, even if the actual event lasted only a second, it necessitated a state response.

The hypocrisy appears when those women are chastised for interacting with locals, while those very same locals are incentivized by the State to develop tourist-attracting amenities by the promise of, as per Crumbaugh’s dissection of the Franco-era movie El turismo es un gran invento (Tourism is a grand invention), “Booby girls” coming to visit these new tourist destinations. The woman in this scenario do not control their bodies, instead being dictated a list of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ partners, and being promised to those who serve the nation faithfully.

Sexual politics aside, the snapshot ability of photography allows for a jealous/totalitarian-minded populist movement to constantly probe its followers for any disloyalty. To counteract this, it becomes important for movement adherents to constantly signal their allegiance. This can be done consciously, such as through the adoption of specific Hitleresque poses as described by Umbach in Nazi Germany, but this might fall short – particularly nowadays, with the ubiquity of photography and the potential for surreptitious capture. To be safe, one needs a physical shibboleth, something that constantly indicates one’s support for the movement, even in photographs taken without one’s knowledge.

Miller-Idriss gives a fascinating overview of these symbols, with the rapid rise in the past two decades of articles of clothing clearly linked to populist-nationalist groups. As she explains, these clothes serve to indicate ideological affinity, effectively serving as a key to prove one’s group-membership, and thus unlocking access to certain communities or events. They also, though, serve to create a shared economic interest, with those articles of clothing manufactured by companies specifically hiring and thus funneling money to like-minded individuals.

Now, the popularity of these clothes may be linked more to the growth of population density – serving to identify allies in cities where it is no longer feasible to know everyone personally – rather than to the fear of being ostracized from a community after being photographed without the proper apparel. Pragmatically, that may be the case. Philosophically, though, it may well be worth seeing this as part of a slippery slope, where the political drills ever more peepholes into that wall separating it from the personal, gaining ever more technological tools to record and scrutinize every moment for a hint of dissent.

When the political begins demanding constant allegiance to a narrative, that becomes particularly worrisome. The mixture of populism and social media (between public-facing social media or leaked private chats) seems primed to be a toxic brew – but adequately addressing that particular debate would far overspill the (already well exceeded) word limit of this piece.

Baranowski, S. (2004). Racial Community and Individual Desires: Tourism, the Standard of Living, and Popular Consent. In S. Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (pp. 162-198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Crumbaugh, J. (2009). Prosperity and Freedom under Franco: The Grand Invention of Tourism. In J. Crumbaugh, Destination Dictatorship: The Spectacle of Spain’s Tourist Boom and the Reinvention of Difference (pp. 15-39). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Miller-Idriss, C. (2018, May 9). Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss – The Extreme Gone Mainstream; Presentation on ‘The Extreme Gone Mainstream: Commercialization and Far Right Youth Culture in Germany’. International Institute of Islamic Thought. Retrieved from

Umbach, M. (2015, September). Selfhood, Place, and Ideology in German Photo Albums, 1933-1945. Central European History, 48(3), 335-365.

Discrimination in Wartime Fascism

Étienne Plourde

Wartime fascism, it turns out, had very few absolute tenets.

Even the idea of racial supremacy – perhaps the first, infamous, element that will come to the mind of most asked about fascism – was warped to fit the needs of the regime. From one side of the mouth, the fascist State spouted racist tropes to manipulate its population towards the New Men and the New Women it desired; from the other, it sought to arouse collective consciousness amongst, and bolster the position of, those very groups it denigrated.

 That isn’t to say, of course, that the entirety of fascist bigotry was a psychological game; to put it quite coldly, the sheer scale of the Holocaust – and the documented ways in which it detracted from Germany’s war effort – make it clear that fascist rhetoric on race was more than just a populist flourish.

At the same time as the systematic extermination of Jews was taking place, though, Nazi Berlin was backing ethnic separatists seeking to free their homelands in the Global South from European imperialists. As elaborated upon by Motadel, Germany offered a sort of asylum to political dissidents from British India, French Africa, and Russian Central Asia, and amplified their voices as it saw fit – not unlike the way in which the Second Reich had steered Communist dissidents to tsarist Russia to destabilize its foe during the First World War.

As Motadel continues in an unrelated New York Times column, there is room for ‘international nationalism’: “global cooperation among supposedly homogeneous, organically grown, closed national communities – call it ‘reactionary cosmopolitanism’.” The driving force behind these ‘supposedly homogeneous’ communities, and the tenet on which fascism could not compromise, was sexism.

Ben-Ghiat illustrates this most clearly by describing the punishment for miscegenation – sexual relations between races – in the Ethiopian colony of fascist Italy. From 1937 onwards, an Italian man found guilty of sexual relations with an African woman would be sentenced to five years in prison. An Italian woman in the same situation would be publicly whipped and sent to a concentration camp.

Despite this humiliation of the individual, state media endeavored to emphasize the virtue of the Italian Man and Woman as a whole, by actively painting the other partner – African men and women, whether or not they participated in miscegenation – as aggressively hypersexual creatures and thus blaming them for this ‘transgression’. Ben-Ghiat cites the case of one contemporary Italian movie, where an African warchief is shown kidnapping a European woman to force her into marriage. In the English dubbing, the accusation is mistranslated, instead making an even more blunt accusation that he is kidnapping her to rape her.  

This ‘crime’ of ‘stealing’ a woman ‘from’ ‘her race’ (with, yes, scare quotes around every word in that phrase) is a recurring theme in fascist media, presented as an aggression against the purity of the race and the chastity of the woman, and depriving a New fascist Man of the wife and virility he was promised in exchange for his allegiance to this new State.

Racism is an instrument of fascism, but it is only an instrument. It can be retooled and redefined to fit the geopolitical needs of the State at the time.

Sexism, on the other hand, is an immutable part of the social contract of fascism. The woman is a tool of the state, used to grow the population and traded to buy the allegiance of men; anything that threatens that grand bargain is an existential threat, and the fascist State must – as it did – exert considerable effort to reinstall its authority.

Motadel, D. (2019, July 3). The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It. New York Times. Retrieved from

Motadel, D. (2019). The Global Authoritarian Moment and the Revolt against Empire. American Historical Review, 124(3), 843-877.

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2015, April 9). Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema. New York University. Retrieved from

Ben-Ghiat, R. (2001). Conquest and Collaboration. In R. Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945 (pp. 123-170). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Why Use Political Analogies?

Étienne Plourde

Comparison and analogies are a key political tool: they insinuate a certain course of action will have the same outcome as another, or they create a hierarchy of events. As per the example cited by Gordon’s piece, comparing the camps along the contemporary American-Mexican border to the camps of Nazi Germany serves (for those making the comparison) to bind Trump’s immigration policy to Nazi horrors, while those opposing these comparisons argue they are preserving the ‘non-partisan’ status of the Holocaust as a metonym for ‘ultimate evil’.

I am particularly interested in the rhetorical value of making these accusations (when they are facile or politically motivated, and fail to conform to the intellectual honesty described by Moyn). Why is it not sufficient to debate the issue at hand purely on its own? There must be some special rhetorical value to this avenue of attack to justify its use, particularly given that the diminishing returns associated with this strategy.

As Moyn warns, use of analogies is itself analogous to ‘crying wolf’: if dire warnings of ‘existential threats’ are trotted out at every action, the population may simply become inured to these calls to action. Overuse of these analogies may also, as de Grazia describes Mussolini as doing, leave the accuser open to accusations of having no political platform other than sabotaging the accused. This tactic has certainly made a resurgence in the past four years of American politics, with criticism of the Administration being dismissed and mocked as the results of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’.

The most obvious motivation, I think, is to tap into the power of whatever metonym is being invoked. By describing something as ‘Nazi-like’ or ‘quasi-fascist’, the accuser is hoping to clobber the accused with the already-settled societal value that ‘Nazi = bad’. The terms of the debate, with that accusation as an opening volley, are not built around the morality of the accused, but around the strength of the analogy. The power of this shorthand is revealed in the examples given by de Grazia, where the case for foreign intervention in Vietnam and Libya and Yugoslavia and Iraq is argued in terms of their similarity to the Third Reich; as well as the way in which political parties that may flirt with Nazi ideology will reject the labels.

Arguably, tainting a political actor with accusations of Nazi-likeness hopes to legitimate action against them in two ways. Firstly, there is what is mentioned above, in which the agreed-upon equation that ‘Nazi = valid target for violence’ is applied to the new target. Secondly, though, there is the insinuation that the target is following a foreign ideology, that it is acting in a way alien to the country and thus is an illegitimate ruler due to this imported creed.

By presenting fascism as this amorphous force that has inflicted pain across borders and eras, then, referencing it serves to build alliances. By claiming that a political actor is but the latest iteration of a fascist evil unbound by time or place, the accuser calls for all the others who have been victimized by its previous forms – of which there are countless alleged cases, as Allardyce and Finchelstein bemoan – to avenge themselves. It is a cry for allies, it paints the accused as an iredeemable pawn of a loathed movement that must be put down wherever it is found, and it allows the accuser to claim the moral virtue of Holocaustic victims, as they fight the same enemy.

While the individuals lobbing accusations of ‘fascism’ and ‘Nazism’ are presumably not plotting the specific appeals of this strategy, I believe the above serves to cover at least the basics. Calling the opponent a Nazi simplifies the argument by removing the need to argue morality; it delegitimizes the opponent by painting them as irredeemably evil and exogenous; and serves as a rallying cry for opposition, aligning the accuser with the societally-recognized victims of fascism and calling for those who care about those causes to take action regarding this one.

Works Referenced

Allardyce, G. (1979, April). What Fascism is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept. The American Historical Review, 84(2), 367-388.

de Grazia, V. (2020, August 13). What we don’t understand about Fascism: Using the word incorrectly oversimplifies history – and won’t help us address our current political crisis. ZOCALO. Retrieved from

Finchelstein, F. (2017). Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past. In F. Finchelstein, From Fascism to Populism in History (pp. 1-30). Oakland: University of California Press.

Gordon, P. E. (2020, January 7). Why Historical Analogy Matters. Retrieved from The New York Review of Books:

Moyn, S. (2020, May 19). The Trouble with Comparisons. Retrieved from The New York Review of Books:

Introduction – Étienne Plourde

Hi all!

My name is Étienne; and as my name suggests, I’m from the Quebec side of the river. I used to live in Montreal before moving here for my undergrad. Before that, though, I lived in the United States – I’m a dual citizen, which gives me something of a special interest in the whole ‘Trump/inauguration’ drama we’re covering this week.

I’ve also spent some time working on U.S. affairs with Global Affairs, but that’s more of a coincidence; I’m not planning to focus on American issues in studies or work. Instead, I’m doing my master’s in the EURUS program, where I’m studying Turkish settlers in Cyprus and what that means for Turkey’s relationship with the European Union. Turkey, in a sense, fits particularly well in this course, both undergoing something of a populist movement and being targeted by movements in Europe. I’ve spent some time in Turkey, and have some basics of the language, but improving that has been one of my COVID projects.

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to find good slow-cooker recipes; running an online board game club; co-opting a book club to finally get through all the books I’ve snagged at garage sales; and critiquing the 3D ‘open house’ tours on a real estate site (a bit odd-sounding, perhaps, but excellent fun with the right company; I’ve gotten creative to keep up with Ottawa folks since I’ve returned home).

My apologies for the delay – after a bit of a struggle, I thought I’d take the ‘wait for class’ option written in the initial post, but eventually figured it out.