Danger Antifeminism: A Struggle for Democracy
The targeted sabotage of feminist goals is an attack on plural society. It is all the more important to counteract this in broad alliances.
Does this situation sound familiar to you: Your best friend posts something about great period underwear on social media. Then “TradWife8” writes sexist comments and emphasizes that “real” women should rather remain silent about “something like that”. “Adleralbert” heats up well.
Or this: The new “DragRace” season is out and a few friends meet for the public viewing in a bar. A small group of people stick stickers on the outside of the windows: “Stop the Gaga!” They claim queer visibility in the media be a danger to children.
Perhaps you recognize this situation as well: you start an open letter to the university management with the aim of introducing gender-equitable language so that everyone is linguistically represented. After a week, a multi-headed counter-initiative was organized by employees, which will make your everyday study life hell. Angry e-mails flood your inboxes and some lecturers do not want to accept your homework because it is written in gender-neutral language.
All of this sucks and hurts. All of this is sexist, misogynist or queer. All of this is anti-emancipatory, derogatory and goes against the everyday life of many people. All this is: anti-feminist.
Why are we dealing with anti-feminism in a dossier? Already in many songs is sung about: “Know your enemy”. Antifeminism is often subtle. How we can unmask it becomes clear when we deal with it: What forms does it take? Who are the actors? And how can we meet him? All dossier texts are available in the Online focus on feminist struggle day.
Now some may ask themselves whether it would not be better to use established terms such as sexism or transphobia and homophobia. Yes, too, because they are part of anti-feminism. Sexism in particular provides the basis for anti-feminism. Sexism describes discrimination based on (attributed) gender. Whether individual, institutional or structural – sexism is somehow everywhere in a patriarchal world.
But not everything sexist is anti-feminist. The everyday examples mentioned show that behind anti-feminist attacks there are almost always organized actors who send a politically and ideologically motivated message. Even if “TradWife8” seems like an angry individual: The support of other, similarly ticking users is no coincidence. Cyber or troll mobs are excellent at organizing and remain anonymous.
What else does “TradWife8” have in common with the sticker people or opponents of gender? They probably like to rub shoulders with one or more of the following topics: gender equality, sexual and gender diversity, physical and gender self-determination or self-determined ways of life and love. In a manner that is usually deliberately strategic and generalizing. The targets are often people or organizations who campaign for the issues mentioned.
This difficult, because very fine distinction between sexism and anti-feminism is necessary in order to be able to recognize and analyze certain phenomena more precisely. At its most extreme, anti-feminism can pave the way for acts of violence and hate crimes. It has considerable radicalization potential, both online and analog.
Anti-feminist motives are too seldom recognized
This is evident not least in the attacks of recent years. So tried in 2019 a 27-year-old neo-Nazito storm the synagogue in Halle an der Saale on Yom Kippur, the highest Jewish holiday. He failed and instead killed the passer-by Jana Lange and the guest of a nearby kebab shop, Kevin Schwarze. Numerous people were threatened and injured.
The assassin streamed his act live and in English on the internet. He published a manifesto – like other assassins before him who inspired him. Several of them referred to the “great exchange” conspiracy narrative in which Jews, Feminism and migration to blame for falling (white) birthrates have in the Global North.
As is so often the case in Halle, anti-feminism was intertwined with other anti-democratic phenomena: racism, anti-Semitism, anti-queerism – you name it. But an anti-feminist motive has so far been recognized and named far too rarely.
This entanglement is not a side effect, but central. Anti-feminist actors usually imagine an external threat from “others”. They find stability by holding on to their own traditional norms while projecting the blame for their insecurity onto something that deviates from those norms. That is why anti-feminism works particularly well in times of crisis.
Antifeminism is especially characteristic of the ideology of the extreme right. Anti-feminist politics likes to use this as a strategic vehicle: making rigid binary gender and role concepts en vogue again in order to agitate against old enemy images. If the anti-feminist ideas of the right become socially acceptable, transphobia, homophobia or racialized genders, for example, will also become more socially acceptable.
But anyone who pushes all anti-feminism into the right corner is making it too easy for themselves. One can imagine anti-feminism as an anti-liberal and anti-democratic bridge, as a hinge or glue that, for example, rights with religious fundamentalists brings together. He connects extremely well, also transnationally, and creates a collective feeling through common enemy images. In this way, a wide range of actors with different ideologies can find a common denominator in their anti-feminist attitudes.
Scientists who persist in long-disproved biologisms, share with right-wing politicians cis-heteronormative gender concepts that discriminate against gender realities outside of certain traditional norms. Some dogmatic religious insist on the idea that women have to fulfill certain serving functions towards men, for example having children – and are therefore not allowed to decide for themselves whether to carry to term or terminate a pregnancy. So-called incels also like to exchange information in online forums about the fact that women are entitled to them and that they have to provide services. They call it sex.
Don’t get it wrong. Antifeminism is not about mundane disagreements or different worldviews. Rather, it is about discourse shifts towards misanthropy and violent statements that ultimately devalue certain groups of people. This insight can be quite overwhelming. Nevertheless, it is important that those who work for anti-discrimination, human rights and democracy stay on the ball even with anti-feminism.
It is important to raise awareness of this topic in society as a whole. But that alone is not enough. It needs solidarity. Anti-feminist actors deliberately want to silence those voices that make critical, emancipated or feminist statements in public. They want to urge her to retreat. The silencing effect hits those who are already repeatedly marginalized – women of color, for example, or trans people – particularly hard. The focus is particularly on individuals and smaller organizations in open, democratic civil society.
Antifeminism constructs a wide range of affected groups into enemy images. However, there is also an empowering potential in this, for democratic alliances that are just as broad. Together it is easier to show attitude.
Incidentally, this can also be done by simply endorsing emancipatory and (intersectional) feminist ideas. In this way, the seemingly isolated voices get tailwind from the masses – and the breeding ground for anti-feminist attacks becomes smaller.
You don’t have to be an activist yourself to work for a diverse and democratic society. Keeping your back free for those who are actively involved: This is also important work against anti-feminism.
Sandra Ho is a consultant at the Gunda Werner Institute Joint project “Confronting anti-feminism – strengthening democracy”. Previously she has worked in different contexts on (anti-)feminism, anti-racism, gender, intersectionality and media.