How does antifeminism threaten our democracy? - A résumé
Right-wing populism nowadays often focuses on rejection and resistance to feminism, equality and gender politics. Our five authors from Mexico, Brazil, India, Germany and South Korea resume their observations and make clear that right-wing populism influences gender-specific minority politics and signifies a serious threat to democracy.
By Giovanna Dealtry, Tobias Ginsburg, Bo-Myung Kim, Lydiette Carrión und Kanika Gupta
As reading the letters written by colleagues from South Korea, Germany, Mexico, and India comes to an end, my conclusion is that antifeminism, despite cultural variations, affects women’s realities on every continent. The histories of those countries – from the establishment of neo-Nazi groups supported by misogyny to openly antifeminist government to the naturalization of femicide – are links of the same chain that aims to control women’s bodies and agency and to restore patriarchy. It is no coincidence, as we can observe in Brazil, in Mexico, and in India, in addition to Kanika Gupta’s example of the installation of theocracy in Afghanistan, that religions play a strong role in the subjugation of women to the extent that in many countries, abortion is still criminalized based on the idea of life as defined by religious beliefs. At the same time, as Lydiette Carrión and Bo-Myung Kim show, establishing sustainable advances toward gender equity is impossible without effective public policies. That is the main problem in my view. By not ensuring equity in legislative bodies, ministerial representation, public institutions, or creating specific mechanisms for the insertion of women – particularly mothers and racialized women – in qualified work, the same situation of women’s dependence on their partner or on poorly paid jobs persists, perpetuating a cycle of violence. I believe that a problem as complex as antifeminism needs to be tackled from several sides and privilege a feminist education that includes boys in the discussions. We need to break with – and Tobias Ginsburg’s article shows us this – the idea that masculinity translates into a series of attitudes of manliness and love of country and establish new ways of being a man today. Only then will feminism cease to be a threat to those men’s misogynous identity.
In the last decade, we have not only witnessed the global rise of the extreme right, but also a world-wide alignment of its contents, aesthetics and language. Admittedly, the phenomenon addressed here is not new. Historically, attacks against open societies and democracies have often been targeted against the rights of women and sexual minorities, and autocrats and fascists have never distinguished themselves by their originality. But currently, global right-wing extremism, as demonstrated by the texts collected here, is extremely homogeneous in its macho, hypermasculine rhetoric and its anti-feminist and queerphobic strategies. This disturbing trend cannot be ascribed merely to digital exchange and networking, but also to large-scale transnational campaigns and, unfortunately, also the effectiveness of these tactics. This hate leads to political success and ultimately to murderous violence – just a few weeks before I wrote this text, this violence emerged in an attack of terror in Bratislava, and again just a few days ago in Colorado Springs.
So, what is to be done? Kanika Gupta recently wrote here of the need for a broad, inclusive and intersectional feminist movement, and she is absolutely right. At the same time, I can only hope for Europe that, beyond the constantly repeated equal rights and “anti-right-wing” public mantras, the substance of these inhuman and antidemocratic trends will begin to be seriously addressed. While autocracy and fascism are celebrating a renaissance, a large part of society thinks that fascism is just a nasty word, offensive polemic. This notion is not only widespread, it is life-threatening. Forget all the well-meant mantras “against hate and agitation” - unless we recognise the enemies of freedom and their strategies, we have no chance against them.
Right-wing populism claims that structural discrimination and violence against women do not exist; it twists gender discourse and sexual minority politics into dangerous lines of thought that threaten families and the future of the people. It also presents 'gender equality' based on 'biological and binary sexes' as a new orientation and model of feminism. In this discursive rearrangement, discrimination and violence against women are either invisible or individualized as issues that women must resolve or overcome on their own. Queer politics and LGBTQ human rights are seen as violent groups or perpetrators that destroy the heterosexual family- and conservative social order. Gender equality is redefined as a goal that can be achieved not by changing the gender order, but by making feminism more conservative.
Feminism and women's politics in South Korea, Europe, and Latin America show great differences in their level of development and historical context. However, the right-wing populism that is spreading on the back of hatred and opposition to feminism and sexual minority movements makes us reflect and question democratic principles and the meaning of human rights once again. Feminism and democracy share a common future.
I think that it is very difficult for the various feminist movements in Mexico, at least for now, to lose their momentum. I am noticing a discussion that is very active at the moment, an eagerness to improve organizational forms, to think about the theoretical points of departure and ideas, to express positions, to make cases visible. In some respects, the discussion about women’s rights and gender dissidence has managed to prevail in public discussion, on social media, in print media, and even in laws. All that is very positive. However, in my view, there is a huge gap between the current public discussion and putting it into practice. Femicides continue to increase, as do the levels of cruelty with which they are committed. Violence continues at home, in schools, violence against girls, boys, and youth, and poverty among women continues. And I think that, at this point, our country tends to get stuck between talking and taking action. That is where we have been unable to establish a clear path. With that, look, I don’t want to rule out the advances that have been made, pushed through mostly by women’s movements, but I do want to highlight the lack of correspondence between the public discussion and the changes we need; there is a certain immobility or unwillingness to be able to fundamentally transform the structures that are reproducing these forms of violence. And that immobility, that resistance is so strong that were the organized women to stop, the little progress that has been made would be lost at blazing speed.
What is instore for us? I would like to know, but I am not certain.
Letters from Brazil, Mexico, Europe, India, and South Korea, are testimonies of how antifeminism is taking a life of its own in the wake of growing right-wing agenda globally. It is shocking to see the lengths governments would go to cover up crimes against women, as for example in Mexico where femicides are all but acknowledged or Bolsonaro’s flagrant sexualization of a congresswoman with impunity up until his run to the President’s office in 2018 (Note from the editor: President Bolsonaro has not been re-elected in 2022). As Tobias Ginsburg rightly points out in his Text, misogyny and toxic masculinity are political tools. Indian politicians use them deliberately to keep women in the shadows.
Even in the 21st century, women across the world continue to be targeted. Look at Iran, for example, where a woman was killed for allegedly breaking the code of modest dressing. On the other hand, a Muslim woman in Karnataka was heckled by a group of men for wearing a hijab. But instead of complying, she confronted the group. What started as a small act of defiance became a symbol of resistance as people took to the streets across India to protest Karnataka’s ban on girls wearing hijab in government-run educational institutions.
However, every action has its consequences. Global protests following Mahsa Amini’s death are a testament of how women are raising their voices in unison to demand equal rights. At the same time small victories should not be overlooked: Spain for example is leading from the front in regard to gender equality: 50 per cent of the representatives in parliament have to be women.
As a woman from India who has been at the receiving end of hyper-patriarchy and misogyny in various shapes and forms, I can say with absolute certainty that without gender equality and equal participation of all social groups in decision-making processes, we won’t be successful in our strive for democracy for all.