Some men pretend to be feminists

Right-wing extremism

Renate Bitzan

Renate Bitzan, born in 1965, studied sociology, political science and history in Kassel. In 1998 she did her doctorate on the gender discourse of authors of right-wing extremist magazines, in 2000 she co-founded the "Research Network Women and Right-Wing Extremism" and worked for several years as a social scientist at the University of Göttingen. Since 2010 she has been Professor of Gender & Diversity at the Technical University of Nuremberg Georg Simon Ohm.

In the past, emancipated and self-confident women did not last long at NPD & Co. At least until now, equality and right-wing extremist ideology have not been compatible. The right-wing extremism researcher Renate Bitzan says in an interview whether this could be different in the future, whether there could be "feminism from the right".

Professor Bitzan, why are there so significantly fewer women than men in the right-wing extremist scene?

On the one hand, it is certainly due to the fact that the scene has always been very masculine - that's why men are more attracted to it. On the other hand, there are substantive reasons: the extreme right-wing ideology is a lot about strength, power and domination, striving for dominance and fantasies of superiority - all points that dock on traditional images of men. And because many boys and men are still traditionally socialized today, they are - consciously or unconsciously - more receptive to such ideological offers than women.

That means women don't want power and don't want to feel superior?

(laughs) No, I didn't say that. But it contradicts the still prevailing image of femininity that women make or enforce claims to power just as massively as men. They do that in a more subtle way. In traditional socialization, femininity is more associated with caring and affection, with softness and sociality - the appearance of the extreme right-wing scene is - at least in parts - pretty much the opposite of that.

Even in elections, right-wing extremist parties usually do much worse among women than among men ...

... roughly speaking, usually a third of the votes come from women and two thirds from men. What is exciting, however, is that the majority relationships with the attitudes are not so clear. If you look at the many right-wing extremism studies, there is actually only one point where women regularly agree significantly less: the acceptance of violence. But in terms of other attitudes - be it racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia - women and men are on the whole pretty much on par.

The main difference is getting active?

Exactly. Much more often than women, men translate their right-wing extremist attitudes into actions that are viewed as political action in the narrower sense. However, everyday actions in the social environment, such as pejorative remarks or exclusionary behavior towards migrants, are also very often found in women.
Renate Bitzan is researching whether there can be "feminism from the right". The journalist Toralf Staud interviewed her and reported on her research results. (& copy 2013 Federal Agency for Civic Education)

What do women find attractive about right-wing extremist ideology?

First of all, exactly the same as men: A racist or nationalist view of the world gives you a feeling of superiority yourself. Correspondingly, women also focus on issues relating to foreign policy, for example, when they turn to extreme right-wing groups or parties.

But there is also a specific attractiveness for women: The ideology enables them to assign themselves an exclusive place, an original role - namely to give birth to and raise offspring and thus to be irreplaceable for the “continued existence of the German people”. Right-wing extremist women can feel like "guardians of the white race", so to speak.

For some women, such an idea may even be relieving. Because the modern dual role in work and family is not so easy to implement in everyday life. The balancing act between gainful employment and childcare often only succeeds under stress and difficulties, or not at all. If an ideology then says: You don't need to be at work, you are also a great superwoman, if you concentrate exclusively on the family, that's even better - then it can be quite attractive.

This is the role far right men like to assign to women. Do right-wing women see it the same way?

We have to differentiate here. There are quite different variants of the image of women among extreme right-wing women. I would differentiate between three main types: Firstly, the just described, very classic role, above all of giving birth to healthy, "pure-bred" offspring in as large a number as possible.

The second type is a somewhat modernized form in which women are not only supposed to be mothers, but also appear in public and political roles. The difference to men is still emphasized here, but women should, if you please, be allowed to feed their point of view into the political process.

And then there is a third type of extremely right-wing women who are definitely critical of sexist structures both in society and within the scene. They even speak of emancipation through to feminism.

What is the numerical relationship between these groups?

It's difficult to quantify. The third type is rather the exception, these women represent a special position. Interestingly, this does not mean that they are pushed out of the scene. The second type is probably the most common when it comes to the practical lifestyle of right-wing extremist women. On the ideological level, however, the first type is most often represented.

So the cliché of the blond Valkyrie with a mother's cross and a crowd of children, known from Nazi propaganda ...

... with healthy boys and girls who later become brave soldiers and again eager mothers and so on, yes. But actually you have to distinguish between two sub-types with this image of women: First, the "strong Valkyrie", who is actually seen in the historical fascist depictions with many children, but without their father. Of course, this picture fits the situation in the war, where the man is in the field and the woman is solely responsible for running the business. Second, an image that is closer to the traditionally bourgeois one, where the woman stands at the side of the master of the house or is subordinate to him, who is not in the world but sits at home, rather delicate and perhaps inclined to embroidery.

This is - in various forms - the classic right-wing extremist image of women. In both, the mother ideology is at the core. And it is clear that political-public activities are not really for women, be it demonstrations, street battles, public speeches or political office.

This type of woman is embodied in the scene primarily by the Association of German Women (GdF). In addition to motherhood, the passing on of the supposedly Germanic culture to the offspring is very important. For example, the GdF publishes a magazine called "Zwergenpost", in which supposedly "species-specific" customs are maintained, it organizes solstice celebrations and propagates old Germanic names of the months and children and so on.

Is this also the NPD's image of women?

Partly, but not only. There are certainly many women and men in the NPD who adhere to this traditional image of women. But with the Ring Nationaler Frauen (RNF) [1] the party has its own women's organization, which since its founding in 2006 has been committed to influencing the political arena and which can therefore clearly be assigned to the second type of right-wing extremist images of women. The RNF maintains a relatively professional website, comments on current issues, wants to bring women into parliaments and tries to make them fit for it. The mother role is still upheld there, but these women also go into an area that is traditionally male and say: We want to help shape it.

Was the establishment of the RNF perhaps a reaction to the special conditions in East Germany, where the NPD has had its focus for years? With the traditional right-wing extremist image of women, the NPD could hardly end up with former GDR citizens who go to work as a matter of course and use daycare, who find divorce and a life as a single parent quite normal.

That can be good. A differentiation of right-wing extremist women's roles could also be observed beforehand. Even in West Germany before reunification, there were cracks in the once homogeneous image of women on the scene, but after 1990 these were certainly intensified. If you look at NPD posters or flyers today, you will no longer find women with long, blond braids, but rather attractive young women who are optimistic about the world. Visually, it fits in with today's times.

The important question, however, is how much tolerance the scene really has for women with more modern lifestyles that involve more than just motherhood. It seems to me that the framework is already set relatively broad and it is not necessarily sanctioned when women also pursue other goals. On the contrary, I have the impression that this is actually being used deliberately. If a woman wants to march on a demonstration, then they say: Great, and get in the first row so that you can get the press photo. The smarter men in the scene have long known that women are image-enhancing.

But so far, self-confident women in the NPD have not lasted long. If it ever got through to the state chairman, like Anja Zysk in Hamburg a few years ago, then the men quickly bullied her away again.

But there are also women who are or were highly esteemed in the scene. I only think of Ursula Müller, who led the Aid Association for National Prisoners (HNG) for many years. She also played an important role in the late 1980s when the neo-Nazi scene split over Michael Kühnen's homosexuality. Ursula Müller was one of the most important pullers to ensure reconciliation.

That's true, but isn't it more of an example of women being accepted in female roles? The HNG was not a fighting organization, but looked after and cared for the (mostly male) fighters. Dispute settlement is also a typical role of women, for example in families. A party leader like Marine Le Pen at the right-wing populist French Front National would be unthinkable in the NPD, wouldn't it?

Sure, something like this has been difficult to imagine so far. But who knows what would happen if there was someone of this format in the NPD. In Bavaria, the party put up a woman as the top candidate in the last state election, Sigrid Schüßler [2], who made no impression at all. She appeared self-confident, cheeky and a bit provocative, the slogan was “Irresistibly different”. Of course these are isolated cases, but it cannot be ruled out at all.

Is the male union culture in the NPD actually being softened? People like to meet in smoky back rooms to drink beer, and after the board meeting - as is gossip within the party - they go to the brothel together.

I can't judge that, I'm not part of it. But man-union structures are not a specific feature of the NPD, they also exist in higher management levels.

Are there issues where the NPD or right-wing extremist women have points of contact with non-right women, where they hit a nerve, so to speak?

Well, family support, for example, is very popular with right-wing extremists - with them, of course, with the aim of ensuring the preservation of the people. But a demand for more child benefit or a so-called mother's salary certainly sounds attractive to many women at first glance.

Or take pornography and sexual violence, both of which are sharply criticized by most right-wing extremist women who express themselves politically. Protests against rape or, in particular, child abuse have often been used by right-wing extremists as a successful mobilization topic, for example for demonstrations at the local level or in Facebook campaigns. The outrage over individual cases is then ideologically escalated, for example linked to anti-liberal positions (modern society is referred to as a "decadent corrupt system") or to racist images (the "strange men" as rapists). Above all, we find this culturalization of patriarchal attitudes towards immigrant men, especially of Arab or Muslim origin, strongly in the right-wing extremist scene, but also in society at large.

Unfortunately, a macho culture, for example, is actually more widespread among young Turks than the overall social average.

Of course there is justified criticism and fears from women, also against the background that their relatively emancipated situation in German society could be fragile. Many freedoms for women are not that old [3]: until 1977 men could forbid their wives to work, rape in marriage only became a criminal offense in 1997, and it wasn't until 2004 that a woman moved to the board of a DAX company for the first time. Of course, there may be concerns that what has been achieved could be limited again the more conservative Muslims live in our country and gain influence.

Nevertheless, such an attitude is irrational. First, because it homogenizes, i.e. all people of Muslim faith are put in one drawer, regardless of their real attitude towards women's rights. And secondly because it distracts: If I point to individual groups that are even worse, the patriarchal structures in society at large or in one's own environment are less noticeable.

Biographical interviews give evidence of projection mechanisms: Young women who have experienced sexual violence within their relatives and cannot address it because it would disturb the supposed family peace, often project the injustice they have experienced onto outside groups. Then the black man is the rapist or the evil Muslim is the one who wants to restrict you. People prefer to use projection surfaces that have been approved by society as a kind of enemy image.

Back to your classification of right-wing extremist women: do the Autonomous Nationalists [4] embody the third type?

Indeed, the Autonomous Nationalists work with modernized images of women, for example in their self-portrayal. They like to show young, cool women on stickers and so on. But apparently this is just a facade, the actual gender behavior is different: Political activism is accepted as a temporary phase of life, but after a few years the young women hear that it is now time to have children and to have a good mother be.

So where do you find these brown feminists?

I don't know of any major organization that embodies this trend at the moment. A few years ago there was the Mädelring Thuringia, a women's group within the neo-Nazi comradeship scene. She published a manifesto on "National Feminism", and her motto was: "German women fight back - against patriarchy and political immaturity". This criticism was also directed very strongly against the own scene. But the Mädelring Thuringia did not question any other elements of the right-wing extremist worldview, any more than the other two types of women. Racism and nationalism form the great ideological bracket for all of them.

How can a "feminism from the right" be theoretically founded?

I don't believe in this term, I call the third type "nationalism critical of sexism", which is more precise.

But in fact there is an ideological attempt that I find remarkable. In an essay in 1987, the extreme right-wing religious scholar Sigrid Hunke attempted to systematically link the superiority of Nordic people with the demand for an egalitarian gender structure. In short, she wrote that the Nordic man was evolutionarily the most developed and therefore predestined to be able to implement equality between men and women. She then invoked alleged traditions in the early Germanic period, when women were held in high esteem; the oppression of women only began with Christianization. Historically, of course, none of this is tenable, but it is a beautiful story. As a result, Hunke can claim the backward-looking legacy and at the same time present a blueprint for the future.

What were the reactions to this essay?

As far as I know, there were practically none.

As the? The concept sounds - in a worrying way - fascinating.

I suspect the scene just doesn't read that much. When I was examining magazine texts by right-wing extremist women for my doctoral thesis in the 1990s, I noticed that there were very few references to one another.A culture of debate like in left-wing magazines, where people are constantly quoted and said, "I agree, I have a different attitude, that is hardly to be found there."

It doesn't always have to stay that way. How can feminism demarcate itself and prevent possible docking attempts from the far right?

I think it is most important that feminists do more than just advocate for the concerns of white middle-class women. That they have a comprehensive view of power and domination, that they do not only look at gender relations, but also at things like racism and nationalism.

If by feminism I mean the liberation of ALL women from discrimination, disadvantage and violence, including black women or Muslims, regardless of whether they live in Germany or elsewhere, then it is completely clear what distinguishes me from alleged right-wing feminists. And then it can actually no longer happen to me that I consider someone completely "different" or inferior because he or she has a different ethnicity.