The rise of the far right is costing women their dignity and human rights around the world – here’s how

While there is no denying that the explosion of populist neo-fascism is troubling for many reasons, male supremacy is at the very core of far-right ideology

Maya Oppenheim
Saturday 11 May 2019 15:21 BST
Alabama proposes law to make abortion punishable by up to 99 years in prison

What do Donald Trump, an Italian court and Jair Bolsonaro have in common? They have all suggested some women are too ugly to be sexually assaulted.

Brazil’s far-right, populist President Bolsonaro publicly abused a female lawmaker, shoving her and telling her she was “too ugly to deserve rape”. The US president suggested the women who have accused him of sexual assault are too ugly for him to attack. And an Italian appeals court initially overturned a rape verdict by arguing the woman who was attacked was too ugly to be a credible rape victim.

All of the above are examples of how unapologetically aggressive misogyny is pushing its way into the mainstream. This can be partly attributed to the lurch towards the far right that we have seen in recent years. From the parliamentary gains of far-right populist parties in Europe to those authoritarian demagogues that have gained power at the national level – such as in Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, the Philippines and the US – it is neither hyperbolic nor fearmongering to say the far right is growing.

And while there is no denying that the explosion of populist neo-fascism is troubling for many reasons, it’s also clear that women are not faring well from it. After all, male supremacy is at the very core of far-right ideologies.

Of course, it is not just women who are aggrieved by the rise of the far right. It is everyone. Even those who are taken in by the drug of fear, which sadly can be easier to digest and more intoxicating than hope, are hurt by it. This new breed of proto-fascism is not only sexist but also racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and ethno-nationalist, and we all suffer because of it.

But these far-right leaders and the movements which are becoming increasingly emboldened – and legitimised – by their electoral success subscribe to a dangerously conspiratorial view of feminism, plagued by needless paranoia and mistrust that paints all feminists as misandrists, and sees feminism as an intrinsically toxic ideology vying for world domination at the expense of men’s needs, desires and goals.

Recently an ultra-conservative Spanish group used an image of Adolf Hitler wearing make-up with the symbol of feminism on his military cap to launch a grossly offensive bus campaign against feminism that branded women’s rights campaigners “feminazis”. If this is not proof of this kind of neurotically delusional thinking, I am not sure what is.

We must unpick where this warped, topsy-turvy view of victimhood stems from. Fascists might be getting better at PR and sugar-coating their views – after all, white supremacy has now been rechristened white nationalism and the far right is now the “alt right” – but the deeply problematic ideology that underpins their ideas has not changed.

The plan to achieve white male supremacy is strengthened by a focus on the “nuclear family” in which women are first and foremost breeding machines. This stretches back to the famous Nazi slogan Kinder, Kuche, Kirche, which was centred around Hitler’s belief that women’s lives should exist around children, cooking and church.

Women across the board – and in particular those who are not rich, white, straight and cisgender – are already being badly hurt. To put it simply, the rise of the far right means women’s basic rights are coming under fire from all angles. Freedoms we took for granted are being clamped down on.

Anti-abortion activists are waging war on women’s bodies in the US and trying their utmost to overturn Roe v Wade – the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide in America in 1973. This is by no means beyond the realms of possibility now that we have new conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – both Trump appointees – sitting on the Supreme Court.

Last month, legislation was introduced in Alabama that would make carrying out an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy punishable by 10 to 99 years inside the least sweet and homely place going: American jail. The strict abortion ban, which has been branded a “death sentence for women”, would even criminalise performing abortions in cases of rape and incest. Trump himself sparked mass fury on the campaign trail by calling for “some form of punishment” for women who have an abortion should it be outlawed in the US.

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Depressingly, the so-called free world is not alone; the backlash against women’s rights is a global phenomenon. We are seeing more and more policies explicitly championing the family in places like Italy, Brazil and Hungary. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right prime minister, who has been called “Trump before Trump” by Steve Bannon, has proposed “a comprehensive agreement with Hungarian women” to bear more children. The leader, who has earned the moniker of “Viktator”, promotes debt-free education for women but only if they have at least three children.

Over in Spain, Vox, an anti-immigrant nationalist party gaining electoral clout, vilifies “gender ideology” as a threat to heteronormative, Christian and white family values. They want to annihilate subsidised feminist groups, create a Ministry of the Family and introduce “an organic law protecting the natural family, which shall be recognised as an institution that came before the state”. The party, which is making calls to abolish laws which protect abortion and gay marriage, and repeal gender measures, has declared “war to women” and seeks to turn them “into slaves at the service of men”, according to a manifesto signed by hundreds of feminist associations.

This hatred for feminists – which could arguably be linked to the recent rise of strongman-style leaders worldwide – was echoed by crowds at Bolsonaro rallies who chanted they would feed feminists dog food. And then you have world leaders like Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who has been called the “Donald Trump of the east”, “joking” to Filipino soldiers in 2017 that because he had declared martial law on the island of Mindanao, they could each rape up to three women with impunity.

I could keep going but you probably get the point. The far right is both belligerently and systematically attacking women’s rights. And while the far right spectrum is in no way a unified, monolithic global movement, parallels and patterns need to be drawn between the growing number of raging rabble-rousers who are managing to permeate the corridors of power.

When you think about the proliferation of the far right, it is tempting to picture a balding man in his forties sat in the basement, receding from real life like his hairline recedes from his head, using his mum’s iPad to abuse female politicians or even female journalists such as myself from behind the safety of his Twitter avatar. (For the record, every 30 seconds, a woman is abused or harassed on Twitter, according to a report from Amnesty.) But it is actually men in suits, rather than tracksuits, inside global governments, who are setting the most damaging cogs in motion. While they are in power, women will never truly be free.

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