Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fascism with a Feminist Face

NEW YORK – Western feminism has made some memorable theoretical mistakes; a major one is the frequent assumption that, if women held the decision-making power in society, they would be “kinder and gentler” (a phrase devised for George H.W. Bush in 1988 to appeal to the female vote). Indeed, so-called “second-wave” feminist theory abounds in assertions that war, racism, love of hierarchy, and general repressiveness belong to “patriarchy”; women’s leadership, by contrast, would naturally create a more inclusive, collaborative world.

The problem is that it has never worked out that way, as the rise of women to leadership positions in Western Europe’s far-right parties should remind us. Leaders such as Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Pia Kjaersgaard of Denmark’s People’s Party, and Siv Jensen of Norway’s Progress Party reflect the enduring appeal of neofascist movements to many modern women in egalitarian, inclusive liberal democracies.

The past is prologue: Wendy Lower’s recent book Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields adds more data to the long record of women embracing violent right-wing movements. And the rise of far-right movements in Europe – often with women in charge – confronts us with the fact that the heirs to the fascism of the 1930’s have their own gender-based appeal.

One obvious reason for the success of women like Le Pen, Kjaersgaard, and Jensen is their value for packaging and marketing their parties. Just as Bush sought to revamp the Republican Party’s “brand’ of cold-hearted elitism and hostility to women, so Europe’s far-right parties today must appeal to citizens by not seeming dangerously extreme and marginal. How dangerous can the movement be, after all, if women are speaking for it? Such parties come to be seen as more mainstream, and their appeal to traditionally harder-to-win women supporters receives a boost.

As Lower shows, the Nazis reached out with special programs – from organizing homemakers to colonizing the conquered Eastern territories – that gave working-class women things they craved: a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves (fascism’s eternal draw), backed by a complex official iconography in which the traditionally devalued roles of wife and mother held a crucial place in the national drama. Young unmarried women who were sent to administer the neocolonial efforts in conquered Poland and other territories gained adventure, advanced professional training, and opportunity.

And, for all of these women, as for any subordinate group anywhere, fascism appealed to what social scientists call “last-place aversion”: the desire to outrank other groups. Add, finally, the gendered appeal of the strong authority figure and rigid hierarchy, which attracts some women as much as some men, if in different psychodynamic ways. As Sylvia Plath, the daughter of a German father, put it in her poem “Daddy”: “Every woman adores a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you.”

Certainly, many of the same themes in far-right ideology attract the support of some women in Europe today. And we can add the fact that right-wing movements benefit from the limitations of a postfeminist, post-sexual-revolution society, and the spiritual and emotional void produced by secular materialism.

Many lower-income women in Western Europe today – often single parents working pink-collar ghetto jobs that leave them exhausted and without realistic hope of advancement – can reasonably enough feel a sense of nostalgia for past values and certainties. For them, the idealized vision of an earlier age, one in which social roles were intact and women’s traditional contribution supposedly valued, can be highly compelling.

And, of course, parties that promote such a vision promise women – including those habituated to second-class status at work and the bulk of the labor at home – that they are not just faceless atoms in the postmodern mass. Rather, you, the lowly clerical worker, are a “true” Danish, Norwegian, or French woman. You are an heiress to a noble heritage, and thus not only better than the mass of immigrants, but also part of something larger and more compelling than is implied by the cog status that a multiracial, secular society offers you.

The attraction of right-wing parties to women should be examined, not merely condemned. If a society does not offer individuals a community life that takes them beyond themselves, values only production and the bottom line, and opens itself to immigrants without asserting and cherishing what is special and valuable about Danish, Norwegian, or French culture, it is asking for trouble. For example, upholding the heritage of the Enlightenment and progressive social ideals does not require racism or pejorative treatment of other cultures; but politically correct curricula no longer even make the attempt to do so.

Until we stop regarding cultural pluralism as being incompatible with the defense of legitimate universal values, fascist movements will attract those who need the false hope and sense of self-worth that such movements offer, regardless of gender.

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    1. Commentedwilliam shantz

      While Genesis 1-3 does not read plausibly as true HISTORY, elements may portray certain truths about human functioning as STORIES (not unlike Greek and Shakespearean plays).

      Thus, Genesis 2:20-24 describes Eve being created from Adam's "rib" (perchance a euphemism for 'phallus') as a "help meet for him".

      By this STORY, "Hitler's Furies" would simply be 'helps meet for ' Hitler, the verbally/conceptually 'phallically' dominant German male at that time.

      The human gene pool (physical and psychological) is not limited to contributions by females and nice men; nor are the latter always interesting to females. In the words of the female vocalist: "Bad boys make me feel so good".

      The Genesis 2-3 "Garden of Eden" STORY (actually a teaching RIDDLE that Adam gets wrong) represents what happens when a man fears and respects his imaginary 'God' more than his real Wife whom he, in turn, blames/blasphemes.

    2. Commentedwilliam shantz

      In the epigraph to "The Second Hearing" of his "Darkness at Noon" Arther Koestler proffers a Christian quotation that may apply to all (political?) institutions: "When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison, death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed to the common good." DIETRICH VON NIEHEIM, BISHOP OF VERDEN: De schismate libri III, A.D. 1411

    3. CommentedHarland Brown

      You provide no information to suggest that Marine Le Pen is a fascist. I doubt that she would claim the title for herself. It seems so wrong-headed to look at poorly understood societies under the filter of U.S. gender studies. The mainstream French political parties have recycled the same failed policies and candidates for many decades and many people are tempted by a "to hell with them all" sort of attitude. While I do not agree with Le Pen's policy proposals, I take exception to characterizing them as "fascism."

    4. CommentedMC Caplan

      What does this mean as well?
      " If a society does not offer individuals a community life that takes them beyond themselves, values only production and the bottom line, and opens itself to immigrants without asserting and cherishing what is special and valuable about Danish, Norwegian, or French culture, it is asking for trouble."
      Sounds like two separate issues are being conflated into one here. It appears also, as though an assumption is being made about what Women as a whole experience in a culture. Is that a reasonable assumption? I don't think it is. Again, "Women" are not part of a hive mind. We are individuals. Our experiences may or may not share commonalities and how we deal with our experiences is always individual.

    5. CommentedMC Caplan

      What does this even mean?
      "'The attraction of right-wing parties to women should be examined, not merely condemned."
      Are we to assume that women who lean to conservative organizations are sick in the head? Are they dupes? Victims? Women like Men do not all think alike. Why is this? Who knows! Tis' A Mystery! Maybe its personality, maybe its Karma. But how a womanof any race or color or creed chooses to align herself politically has NOTHING to do with her vagina.

    6. CommentedBetty Wiggins

      That is precisely what happened, CM. As I was reading about these individual women, I kept remembering KLEIN's excellent detailing of how Keynesian philosophy came to saturate Western intellectualism so completely (and has since totally-annihilated class politics, including and maybe especially feminism). There is another author whose name escapes me (not Naomi, I hope for our sake!) on how reformism swept the West, so that today if you even name neoliberalism as an ideology people look at you funny.

    7. CommentedCicada Monroe

      I guess ms. wiggins is confusing naomi wolf with naomi klein, of "shock doctrine" capitalism fame?

      Speaking of capitalism, betty is entirely right that WOLF'S neo-liberal (she was a presidential advisor for god's sake) leanings are showing, in that she seems to have an inability to even grasp at what radical politics means, which is to view people in terms of classes rather than individuals. Why else would she write a piece on the mere presence of *individual* women in fascist movements when statistically those movements *as a whole* are OVERWHELMINGLY male?

      I can't personally speak for Klein's penchant toward masochism (she is a burqa defender, after all), but her inclusion of the poetry of sylvia plath, romanticizing of "brutes", plath being a depressed writer who eventually-committed suicide, strikes as particularly-desperate.

      Here's some more Plath poetry:

      Now they want to make a film
      For anyone lacking the ability
      To imagine the body, head in oven,
      Orphaning children

      [...] they think
      I should give them my mother's words
      To fill the mouth of their monster,
      Their Sylvia Suicide Doll

      Misnaming aside, betty's incredulousness at klein's implications that radical feminist assertions as to women's nature are somehow disproved by the behavior of women in white male supremacist colonialist capitalism, is spot-on. Maybe it's that klein can't conceptually-grasp what so-called "second wavers" (the 'waves' designation refers to a time period, atually there are radicals today and there were liberals then) were even talking about, which was an assertion of a world WHOLLY-ABSENT of the institutions created by male power into which women assimilate (in the case of fascism and all totalitarian contexts, women learn to live and breathe allegiance because they are *as a class* particularly vulnerable to consequence for rebellion; in the case of every day conservatism, because there is particular reward *as individuals* for taking up the banner of a party inevitably hostile to women's interests- the same reason the Republican party snaps and props up african americans- their prominent appearance there is precisely *because* a neutral front is badly-needed).

      Most disturbing here is this so-called "feminist" seems to be equivocating between a "feminist face" and a "woman's face", as is so-common the case with liberals for whom liberation of a sex caste has taken backseat to western lifestyle protectionism- fascists definitionally are opposed to the interests of women as a class, and even their less-extreme neoliberal cohorts seem uninterested in confronting male power.

      Wolf has fallen down the postmodern rabbithole with this one.
      No one ever remotely-asserted individual women cannot be Fascists in Fascists environments. From the very first paragraph: "...if women held the decision-making power in society". They don't. Women do not head banking and trade cartels, they do not control cultural institutions such as the media, and they own a 1-digit percentage of global wealth.

      A sad article for Project.

    8. CommentedBetty Wiggins

      Leave it to ms. Klein to dismiss second wave feminist imaginings of a female-centered society on the basis of women integrating into the current male-created and -dominated power structures.

      Oh, ms. Klein- I regret so much that someone who thinks radicalism is remotely assimilationist would ever be allowed to write and be read by masses of people.

      From the reference to "psychodynamics" and women's supposed daddy complexes (rhetoric of a right winger if there ever was any), to the phrase "regardless of gender" (surely you mean regardless of SEX, in which case you're bizarrely trying to erase the fact that the oft-noted political gap between men and women is global), this is clearly the rhetoric of a factually-ignorant and frankly sexist person.

    9. CommentedTim Chambers

      Isn't that the truth. I returned home not long ago for my first family in seven long years. I found my sister embracing all kinds of fascist notions. It started with homophobia, but now she rants about multiculturalism. She doesn't seem to understand that in a society of immigrants, it doesn't do to treat other people in ways they find offensive, and to discount the contributions that they might make to the culture. It deeply offends her that the PC crowd (in her view) treats its own culture with such contempt. Living abroad, as I do, I am not close enough to it (neither is she, as she spends her time cloistered at home) to know whether that is true or not. Much of what she says is cant she picks up from right wing websites. But much of what I see, especially from the New Left, would tend to support her thesis. Opposing imperialism is one thing, but devaluing everything ever produced by men of European extraction for the simple reason that it was produced by men of European extraction takes a lot more hutzpah than devaluing a culture with little to show for much of its existence ( if indeed there are such cultures).