Women in right-wing parties are supposed to give inhuman ideologies a human face. The strategy works great.
In feminism, there is rarely a consensus. As well as? After all, in the fight for gender equality, people with different experiences and expectations meet – and the Feminism never existed anyway.
In principle, this is not a problem, disputes and debates are important for social progress. But there should be a certain consensus in the common struggle. For example, that a political belief that is inhuman can no longer be feminist. But reality shows again and again that there is no such consensus – most recently in the elections in Italy.
Last Sunday, the right-centre alliance achieved an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament, the Fratelli d’Italia became the strongest force, the right-wing extremist Giorgia Meloni will be Italy’s first female prime minister. Not surprising, but a frightening result nonetheless. Frightening because it is clear that under a democratically legitimized neo-fascist government, Italy ein even worse and more dangerous place for migrant and disabled people, for the poor and refugees, for queers and women.
But some still turn a blind eye to this danger. When asked about Meloni by a journalist in early September, former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said: “Every time a woman is elected head of state or government, it’s a step forward.”
focus on gender
At best, Clinton didn’t know who Meloni was when she testified. But she is not alone in her assumption that Meloni as prime minister represents social progress. Countless international and national media headlines earlier in the week put their focus on Meloni’s gender rather than her political leanings.
The news service Reuters wrote: “The nationalist Meloni wants Italy’s glass ceiling smashed.” A metaphor for the fact that women do not rise to managerial positions. And also political uses the narrative of the woman who has prevailed against all odds. Meloni as Girl Boss. on Spiegel.de writes Anna Clauss under the heading “The New Strong Woman” Although she is not happy about Meloni’s election victory, she comes to the conclusion that she might do better as a woman. She writes that Meloni must prevent a crisis of confidence in Italy and continues: “Who knows, maybe a woman – even if it’s a populist who is sometimes aggressive – is better suited than a man.” Why a woman is better suited to it remains open in the text.
The list could be extended. Hardly anyone sees a concrete feminist success in Meloni’s election victory, but the neo-fascist’s victory is often seen as social progress instead of a threat – and that is extremely dangerous.
It is true that only a fraction of the heads of state and government are women. And it is also true that representation has a high relevance. But representation is not everything. Especially in politics it is much more relevant how queer and women-friendly a policy is. The fact that Meloni is not perceived as a threat by many is a win for her. And one that also has something to do with her gender. When we think of right-wing radicals, many people still have the image of a beefy bald man in combat boots in their minds.
Beate Zschäpe – have you forgotten?
And that’s no coincidence: for a long time, women in the extreme right-wing spheres were rather invisible. There, the woman is hierarchically below the man, in the national image the idea of a woman who stays at home to take care of the household and family dominates. This situation has changed in a number of ways in recent years. The fact that women can also be neo-Nazis should have been clear since Beate Zschäpe at the latest – she too was long underestimated by the authorities and the media.
Women are now more visible in right-wing extremist movements, right-wing women present themselves in social media, present themselves as caring mothers of the movement with nationalistic symbols, proclaim homeland security and hate the “enemies of the people” they appoint. And they are also pushing upwards in right-wing and extreme right-wing parties: So it is no wonder that, alongside Meloni, women such as Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National) in France and Alice Weidel (AfD) in Germany are at the top of their party.
But how come? Right-wing extremist parties have also arrived in the modern age, and the fight for equality is also blossoming there. The right-wing know how to use the contradiction that a woman in a top position propagates a backward-looking image of women without physical self-determination for themselves. They suggest equality even though their politics are misogynistic and anti-queer. In this way they want to show that left-wing feminism with its quotas and “gender gaga” is exaggerated and useless. Her wives are living proof that one can apparently be a mother and a top politician at the same time without the use of politically emancipatory tools.
Maternity is an important aspect of this. During the election campaign, Meloni had always presented herself as a caring mother who knew the needs and concerns of the mothers of the nation. She didn’t draw any political conclusions from this – but she insisted on “solidarity among moms”.
Again and again, Meloni and Co devote themselves to so-called women’s issues, such as the protection of women. As a rule, however, these narratives are only used to propagate anti-trans, anti-queer and racist content. An example for is the video of a rape on the open street that Meloni distributed online during the election campaign. She was not concerned with the lack of shelter for women, but simply with pushing the image of the “criminal foreigner”.
And although the actions of Meloni, Le Pen and Weidel are often so easy to see through, they still benefit from the stereotype that women are better and more peaceful people than men. They should give the inhuman ideology a friendly face. And the coverage of the elections in Italy shows that they are succeeding. When the media focus their reporting on how glass ceilings are broken and male bonds left behind, they fall for the politicians’ narrative.
But that should not happen in a democratic society. Feminists should agree that neo-fascism and far-right ideologies are never compatible with the desire for equality, but are always a danger to be fought.