Far-Right Narratives

The Anti-Feminist Narrative: Theory vs. Practice

“I believe we are the only party in Germany who is really fighting for women’s rights, because we point out we’re in danger of losing the freedoms and rights of women for which we’ve fought for centuries.”

You might assume that this quote is from a left-leaning or progressive German party. In that case, you are mistaken. These words were spoken by Nicole Höchst, member of the German far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Since one of characteristics of the far right is their anti-feminist narrative, this seems contradictory, does it not? 

I believe the anti-feminist narrative is less well-understood than other far-right narratives, leading to such seemingly contradictions. However, research into this narrative in growing. A noteworthy author in this regard is Andrea Pető. As an increasing number of women support far-right parties and even lead them, for example Marine Le Pen in France and Pia Kjærsgaard in Denmark, it is crucial to correctly understand what the anti-feminist narrative entails but also how it is utilized by far-right parties. 

Anti-feminism in theory: what does it mean? 

New England Housewife in the Kitchen (commons.wikimedia.org)

Far-right parties are characterized by controlling and protectionist stances on gender. As such, these parties oppose same-sex marriages, abortion, and promoting gender equality. However, not all far-right parties oppose these elements. A more prominently featuring characteristic is the promotion of traditional family values and roles of women as mothers and wives. Consequently, feminism is viewed as a threat to these values and as it is associated with the political left, the far right opposes the feminist movement. Far-right female figure heads such as Pia Kjærsgaard, often publicly emphasize their roles as mothers and wives and endorse the narrative. This might seem confusing: why would women oppose a movement that pursues gender equality and women’s rights? 

The anti-feminist stance of far-right parties has been brought forward to explain why women vote less for the far right than men, referred to as the ‘gender gap’. Though smaller, the fraction of women voters is not inexistent and it is wrong to assume that this narrative consistently withholds women from voting far right. Other scholars have attributed the gender gap to socio-economic differences or the fact that female supporters do not vote for far-right parties as quickly as men. Yet the question of why women do vote far right, instead of why they do not, remains under-researched.
To better understand the paradox of female far-right voters and leaders, it is necessary to look at the utilization of this narrative in practice. 

Anti-feminism in practice: its strategic utilization

It is important to discuss the narrative’s utilization, partially because it explains the differences between far-right parties. Where some parties are very strict in their adherence to this narrative, others have held more pro gender equality positions
I consider this utilization to be ‘strategic’ because many far-right parties have succeeded in theoretically endorsing the narrative while simultaneously using aspects of feminism for the parties’ political benefit. A good example of this is linking women’s rights and protection to immigration and Islam threats.

To illustrate: after the murder of a German girl by her Afghan refugee boyfriend Abdul in 2017, several AfD demonstrations took place, justifying their anti-immigration stance in the name of protecting women from immigration-fueled sexual violence. After sexual attacks on women on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Germany and Switzerland, the sexual freedom of women and gender equality was utilized to criticize mainstream immigration policies. Furthermore, gender equality is promoted when targeting the headscarves of Muslim women. Thus, there is a discrepancy between theoretically opposing gender equality and the feminist movement, and, using feminist aspects as a disguise to further anti-Islam and anti-immigration objectives. Furthermore, female party members are strategically employed to contradict that women are discriminated or that feminism is necessary and to bring the parties closer to the mainstream electorate. Again, there is a discrepancy between promoting the roles of women as wives and mothers, and allowing them to hold political functions. 

This discrepancy between theory and practice could in part explain why far-right parties attract female voters and why women lead such parties. 

Conclusion: the discrepancy between theory and practice

In theory, the far-right anti-feminist narrative promotes traditional values and opposes the feminist movement. Examining its utilization reveals that far-right parties reinforce this narrative while simultaneously using aspects of feminism, such as the protection of sexual freedom and gender equality, to further anti-immigration objectives. Furthermore, it allows us to further understand how and why women are able and willing to lead these parties and vote for them. 

It is important to understand that anti-feminism is thus not only what is theoretically narrated by far-right parties. I believe many people are unaware of its strategic utilization and of the discrepancy between theory and practice. 
Yet, it is this discrepancy that possibly explains the far right’s ability to maintain conservative voters, through the theoretical narrative, whilst attracting new voters, through its ‘softer’ representation in practice. Perhaps this could be generalized as one of their strengths: their ability to utilize, or even manipulate, narratives for their own benefit without losing credibility. At the same time, this poses the question and further research avenue: if this is possible without losing credibility, what does that say about the far-right electorate? Do far-right voters truly not notice this contradiction?

(Featured image: The Ladies’ home journal (1948))

Author Image
Anna Born

16 thoughts on “The Anti-Feminist Narrative: Theory vs. Practice

  1. We found your article amazing, the picture is truly reflective of the topic. One more picture in the blog post would be perfect to add to the visual aspect of a blog. Furthermore, we have some smaller suggestions, which you probably already know, is to reduce the length of your post and to add more hyperlinks. Apart from these smaller adjustments we found it perfect.

    1. Hi! Thank you very much for this feedback! I could not agree more! I have reduced the length of my blog and added some more hyperlinks, as you suggested. I am also taking your suggestion to add more pictures to heart. Once I have found and added some more pictures, I would be very interested to hear your opinion on the edited blog entry!

      1. We love the final version of your blog post, especially the photo you chose! We are glad you found our comments useful and to see them realised!

  2. Very good blog! Good start with the quote, makes the reader start thinking and wanting to read further. Good use of pictures and headings. If this is still a draft be careful not to exceed the word limit. Overall very good article.

    1. Thank you for this feedback! I was indeed exceeding the word limit, however, I have now updated the blog to respect it.

  3. Hi Anna,
    Reading your blog was very interesting. The opening, the structure and the argumentation not only caught attention but actually helped to grasp the topic. Beyond that it was new to us that the dramatic events of New Years Eve 2015/16 were not limited to Cologne or Germany but actually took place Europe wide. Could you, in this regard, maybe send the links, we would like to read more into this.
    Eventually, thanks for this post.

    1. Hi Kilian! Thank you for your feedback! I am very glad to hear this blog entry has helped you to better understand the anti-feminist narrative! Indeed, I specifically want to thank you for bringing the misuse of the term ‘European wide’ to my attention. In the article, hyperlinked to that sentence, I read about sexual attacks in more cities than only Cologne, namely Hamburg but also Zurich in Switzerland. The article also used the term “large-scale sexual attacks”. I think this led me to, wrongly, conclude that these attacks were European-wide, which is an overstatement of the case at hand. Once again, thank you for pointing that out. I will edit this part of the blog! For further information on the events of New Years Eve 2015/16, please follow the hyperlink. Another source that mentions this specific event is the article by Lynn Berg: “Between Anti-Feminism and Ethnicized Sexism. Far-Right Gender Politics in Germany”, which you can find through this link https://www-degruyter-com.mu.idm.oclc.org/document/doi/10.1515/9783839446706-006/html
      I hope this helps you in your further research!

      1. Hi Anna,
        We are glad we could contribute to the editing process of your post! Also thanks for the link, we only heard about the case in Kandell from a short YouTube documentary, this source is compared to this way more insightful!

  4. Dear Anna,
    Your blog is a real attention grabber! Starting of with the quote and added visuals, it looks really polished. Especially the ending where you keep the readers on their toes by presenting a question that makes them think about the topic, very well done.
    This being said, there was very little for us to actually comment upon. Maybe a suggestion, adding one or more hyperlink in the conclusion part to make it more cohesive with the rest of the post.
    Great job!

    1. Hi! Thank you for the feedback! It is much appreciated! I will definitely consider adding another hyperlink to the conclusion. I understand your point about making it more cohesive, however, I thought it also might look strange as a conclusion is usually meant to summarize the main findings again and therefore, I don’t know if I should hyperlink sources that are already hyperlinked above. In academic papers, I also thought the conclusion should not contain sources anymore. However, I am interested in hearing your opinion on this or if you have any specific suggestions about where exactly a hyperlink would be fitting in the conclusion? Thanks again for the feedback & suggestions!

  5. Hi Anna, the post is well done. I love the picture you chose, they fit perfectly with the topic. The text is easy to read and very interesting overall. I think you could consider sharing a post from any social media written by a far-right female politician in which she promotes her position as a mom or as a wife. It’s just an idea, but it might be very interesting. In general the post is really well written and it analyses a super relevant and intriguing topic. Nice job!

    1. Hi Anna! Thank you very much for this feedback! I will definitely consider it and see if I can find an appropriate or fitting social media post. Thank you for this suggestion! 🙂

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