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The Feminization of the European Far Right

In Europe, the far-right strategy is to lure women for support.

The name of Austria’s far-right party — the “Freedom Party,” led by Barbara Rosenkranz — is striking both for its simple, faultless suitability to any faction across the political spectrum and how the far right’s authoritarian pride does not yet indulge in parading itself openly in the name of the party that represents it.

Whilst traditional, democratic parties — be it the left, center or right — would not hesitate to call themselves like the Austrian far right, they would also not hesitate to adopt a name flaunting their ideological stance as well. Only the far right needs to hide under a sheepskin. Other parties hide in plain sight by including in their name the supposed truth of their political leaning.

In fact, both are different forms of showing off, opposed but converging. Since legalized far-right parties participate in the democratic process, the difference between how traditional democratic parties and their far-right counterparts portray themselves is, beyond their actual proposals, rooted in their different pasts — namely the historical knowledge of what they have done when holding power.

While mainstream parties dwell in democracy, the far right exploits society’s disillusionment in politics to advance a radical solution that begins in xenophobia, racism and hatred and is followed by murder. Once defeated, an imperfect democracy is established again, always better than extermination, in an unavoidable loop as historical cycles attest.

Appearance and showcase may change but kernel does not. The more forms convolute, the less we feel core-close but the more we approach it unknowingly. Everything sophisticates, but nothing really changes.

Hence the rise of the far right in Europe and the West becoming a reality again. A skeptical observer would point at democracy as a faith — with humanity as its subject and object — but the apex of religiosity in the human yearning for a city upon the hill to govern themselves (i.e. to tame themselves) stands out with the far right, whence its sprouting resurgence whenever an economic crisis shakes a nation.

Crisis; a rejection of aliens and  immigrants focused now on Islamophobia; Euroskepticism fueled by economic downfall as a pretext to crave for an autarkic anti-liberalism, resentment and frustration; anger and revolt of those left behind — these are the thrusts leading many people to opt for the far right rather than the mainstream democratic parties they previously voted for. As Hannah Arendt once wrote, people are “obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects.”

Faith is what feeds the desperate option of voting for the far right in desperate times. Never in good times does this snake break out from its egg. How is this so if its proposals yield the one big solution to all of society’s problems, even when prosperous? Why does the far right take center stage only when bleakness spreads? It is despair-voting that triggers fear — both the essential nutrients waking the far right up from its latency.

The far right’s demagoguery, a parasite of ignorance or forgetfulness, is reflected in a supposed rationality about ideas not taken into account during calm times, when rational minds are not muddled by despair. The simple, repetitive, forceful far right’s rationality is just faith in disguise as it needs to be believed so people vote for it. With this comes the construction of the “Other” as a nightmarish threat, annihilation-prone.

MARINE LE PEN: WOMEN AND THE FAR RIGHT

A great deal of varnish is now needed to hide the authoritarian irrationality — so much so to attain women’s disenfranchisement and get them back to their role as men’s helpmates, subservient and devoted to childbearing and child-rearing in a traditional patriarchal family. The reversal of women’s gains is not as easy as it was in Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s or Spain in the 1940s. They are no longer wafer-thin, so a great challenge for the far right is to get support from half of voters: women.

How do you convince women to vote for an option that despises them? Cynicism is the answer. Kicking the can down the road is usually dazzling enough to unwary voters and, therefore, far-right parties pay homage to an emancipated women-based society mimicking their rise to high office by way of appointing women as far-right party leaders — such as Frauke Petry in Germany, Siv Jensen in Norway, Pia Kjærsgaard and Pernille Vermund in Denmark, and Anne Marie Waters in Pegida UK. No compunction whatsoever over image-renewal — faith and image always go hand in hand.

Among female leaderships in the European far right, Marine Le Pen’s stands out as a shrewd operator over collective psychology. Not only did Le Pen purge her own father — founder and former leader of the National Front — who anointed her as his successor. She also displayed a Volumnia-like poise asserting her own female authoritarianism above the usual male authoritarianism de rigueur in a far-right party, in an extraordinary layout of political patricide unseen since King Lear times.

The vote for the National Front in France has spiraled since, mainly thanks to a marked increase of female voters closing its gender gap. Nothing better than a self-asserting woman to lure female voters away from democratic mainstream parties to instead back a politician who, even if far right, is presented as someone who “better understands our problems as women.” Nothing better to soften the public image of the far right than by having a female leader like Le Pen, able to vanquish men at their own game, even her own deposed father, impersonating the symbols intended to disempower women to her own advantage like Aeschylus’ Clytemnestra: androboulon — with manly purpose. Fear of terrorism and crime and hatred of the unknown are heated up to woo women into the embrace of a strong protector: a manly woman.

That’s a staggering break from the usual role of powerful women in far-right regimes, who are seen as influencers, softeners, caring Virgin Mary-like figures alongside a ruthless strongman whose dreadful whims are thus moderated — from Benito Mussolini’s Margherita Sarfatti to Magda Goebbels, from Evita Perón to Carmen Polo de Franco, from Azerbaijan’s Mehriban Aliyeva to Ivanka Trump — magnetic distractions from an authoritarian regime, the heart in a heartless clique, normalizers of the abnormal. If those reasonable, sensible women can stand by the strongman, so could everyone. That’s the message those shrewd profiteers willingly spread: nurturers beside murderers.

Again, it’s all a matter of faith. The far right was never meant to uphold and fight for the rights of women — far from it — even now appealing to them just to advance a stronger populist argument to raise votes: immigration. Muslim immigrants in Europe are presented as the paramount danger to the rights of European women, whilst the far right cynically refuses their rights to have free choice over their own body, sacrificed to its natalist, nativist policies.

Women are used again and again to attract votes but not really taken into account. They are manipulated into embracing a candidate who “better understands women” just because she happens to be a woman and courts their votes carefully. Rather than scaring them off, this candidate parades around as their protector to lure them to the polls against a bigger threat to their security and rights than the far right itself: Muslims.

Self-deception and faith know no gender boundaries among desperate people who crave for belonging and consistency amid economic dislocation, rootlessness and the feeling of being expendable — a risk that has never stopped beating and never will.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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