Far-right extremist groups have been receiving increasing attention in the media and from policymakers, as concern grows about their interaction with anti-governmental sentiment. This article looks at how far-right ideology and anti-feminism are intertwined, as well as how such ideologies can appeal to women. One aspect of interest is the increasing number of women functioning in offline and online spaces as mouthpieces for extremist groups and ideas. Misogynistic language and sentiment are often found in the far-right and adjacent movements – as highlighted by the work of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism – with misogyny acting as a powerful motivator for male activism.
With such ideologies seemingly counter to women’s interests, why is it that some women endorse such a mentality? This article suggests that women within far-right movements act as powerful recruiters and embodiments of idealised traditional values, playing on women’s frustrations and fears, to challenge not just specific notions of feminism but the core idea that gender equality is positive for society.
Equality in Far Right language
The concept that women and men are naturally unequal is consistently portrayed in far-right narratives. Podcasts and other online content highlight the biological differences between the genders to argue that a woman’s place is in the house, rearing children and ensuring that the household runs smoothly. The superiority of the male intellect is discussed openly in online spheres, such as podcasts and other forms of media that are, in some instances, managed by women.
The promotion of far-right narratives in online spheres by women has several purposes, depending on who they are engaging with. For women, far-right discourses portray the image of what a ‘real’ woman is – a mother, a homemaker, dutifully positioned at the side of her husband. For men, far-right female activists underscore the importance of the male nature.
These approaches are channelled through non-threatening, everyday topics and terms that are present in mainstream discussion and are often not overtly political right. Consequently, traditional gender roles are encouraged through direct yet non-aggressive content that highlights the potential benefits of being a homemaker and caretaker, whilst supplementally ‘othering’ those who choose to have a career when they do not have to.
Anti-feminism caters to women and men by exploiting fears and insecurities in modern society. For instance, attacks on women during the Cologne New Year’s celebrations in 2015 were instrumentalised by far-right parties and organisations in Germany and internationally to push Islamophobic narratives. It aimed to politicise fear that women face due to existing inequalities in society, and to galvanise men to target minorities as a means of protecting both women and the security of the state.
Harassment is one of the issues that the far-right proposes a seemingly simple solution to: by embracing traditional gender roles, women are framed as safer and more content at home raising children, whilst men offer financial and physical security for the family unit.
It also offers a powerful but accessible means of positively engaging with far-right movements; women are able to contribute to the cause by staying home and embracing traditional gender roles. This is often reinforced by supportive comments from far-right movements and new online communities.
Sometimes women who take on influencer roles in the name of far-right ideologies do so in the context of the ‘tradwife’ phenomenon. The term (a concoction of ‘traditional’ and ‘wife’) emphasises the importance of rearing children, conducting household chores, and obeying their husbands. Many ‘tradwife’ influencers also tend to promote far-right ideas based on lived experiences.
To women, far-right activists portray the image of what a ‘real’ woman is, with online content including cooking and baking, etiquette, and other homecare. It draws on the feminist language of choice – influencers stating, for instance, “We gave women the choice – that’s the point! Bake banana bread until the sun comes up, if it makes you happy!”.
In contrast, though, modern feminism is framed as forcing women in modern society to take up roles that are not suited to their skills or abilities. A society based on feminism is furthermore seen by such influencers as creating enormous pressure on women to fulfil a number of different and competing expectations – a successful career path, family and home, and marital relationship, amongst others.
To exemplify this, some far-right influencers have also highlighted the supposed threat to women from Islam and their need to be protected by men. The conceptualisation of male superiority is highlighted well in one podcast interview by a Northern Front ‘tradwife’ activist, who states that women should categorically not be allowed to vote due to their cognitive inferiority – although differences were noted by the discussants amongst women, in terms of their mental capacities.
The online ‘tradwife’ movement demonstrates the intertwined relationship of traditional gender roles and far-right movements. By camouflaging and softening the more violent elements of far-right ideologies and acting to authentically portray them in their day-to-day lives, far-right female influencers have proven successful recruiting platforms, spreading extreme ideas to more mainstream audiences.
A certain kind of female choice and empowerment are portrayed. However, this is disconnected from traditional conceptualisations of feminism, as women are encouraged to require protection from the supposed threat that ‘other’ cultural backgrounds pose. This framing draws on a long history of Orientalist and racialised tropes and reinforces a relationship between the ‘purity’ of women and that of the nation.
Such empowerment is also determined and controlled by men. Feminism is explicitly named as an unnatural temptation for women who, not knowing better, are trying to fulfil expectations to pursue a career and a family whilst being doomed to fail.
Such approaches aim to appeal to women who feel under pressure from societal expectations. This messaging and framing of gender roles provide an effective recruitment tool, gathering support amongst individuals who might not be otherwise connected to or interested in the far-right.