Friday, December 14, 2018

What All New Right-Wing Authoritarian Movements Share: The Wish To Cancel Feminist Gains.



Peter Beinart has written a piece for the Atlantic Monthly on what ties together the various forms of right-wing authoritarianism we see rearing its ugly heads (it has many) all over the world.  He begins by noting the usual explanations for the rise of Trumpism, and argues that they fail to explain why similar authoritarian movements are cropping up in several countries:

The problem with both American-born story lines is that authoritarian nationalism is rising in a diverse set of countries. Some are mired in recession; others are booming. Some are consumed by fears of immigration; others are not. But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

Bolds are mine.

Beinart fails to include movements such as ISIS (a religious form of right-wing authoritarianism) which share in exactly the same goals, once we understand the resistance to feminist gains to be something that is judged from different starting points.

The ISIS jihadists want women put back to the least possible level of personal power, and that level is lower than what, say, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orb├ín, can currently achieve (by stopping the funding of gender studies in universities and by encouraging Hungarian women to have lots of children* ) or what is happening in Brazil or in Russia or in Poland or in the Philippines or now, it seems, even in Italy.  But all these movements share the attempt to shrink the sphere within which women are allowed to move, act and live.

And of course I agree with Beinart on what all the right-wing dictatorships share:  The urgency of women's re-subjugation.  After all, I have written the very same arguments on this blog more times than I can remember.  I even agree with one possible remedy to all this:  A fairer division of chores and power at home.  Beinart writes:

Over the long term, defeating the new authoritarians requires more than empowering women politically. It requires normalizing their empowerment so autocrats can’t turn women leaders and protesters into symbols of political perversity. And that requires confronting the underlying reason many men—and some women—view women’s political power as unnatural: because it subverts the hierarchy they see in the home.
Women can't fully participate in the public sphere if they are to bear the whole burden of childcare, cleaning, laundry, household management and the kind of emotional management of relationships and party-organizing work women have traditionally done with respect to the wider kin of both partners.  We need more equal sharing of those chores if we wish to see more equal sharing of work outside the home.

It might also be the case that seeing women in powerful public roles might work to dismantle the traditional hierarchies at home.

And Beinart is correct in the need to normalize the presence of women not only in the labor force in general, but also in positions of economic, social and political power.  That normalization may happen when the percentage of women in a field reaches some critical number, say, thirty**.  Below that, new female entrants (employees, graduate students, freshman politicians) are first viewed as women, and only after that as individuals with their own qualities.  Above that the sex of the person is no longer the first thing others notice.

Where I might disagree with him is in this:

I don't think the central role of women's re-subjugation is just an almost accidental consequence of women being fairly rare in public life and especially in positions of power or of the recent histories in various countries. 

The authoritarians don't want women in the public life, because women are viewed as a fertility resource in the authoritarians' plan for world conquest or similar slightly more modest plans, not as full human beings,  and because the authoritarians wish to keep women doing all the unpaid*** work women have traditionally done so that the society doesn't have to share in it or really pay for it.

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* The juxtaposition of these two is not an accident.  Women are to be steered back into the family and away from any uppity ideas feminism might awaken in them.

**  This estimate is based on an early book by Virginia Valian (Why So Slow).  More recent estimates may be different.

*** Depending on the country, women may also be expected to do low-paid work in  the labor market.

Work done at home is not, of course, truly unpaid because those who do it get at least bed and board, but there is no explicit contract about how care work at home should be remunerated.

Thus, the outcome depends not only on the kindness and fairness of the partners, but also on their relative power balance.  That, in turn, can be turned to the disadvantage of women by laws which fail to punish intimate partner violence or which make divorce difficult or which allow the noncustodial parent not to pay child support.  This is especially the case if work in the labor market is made harder for women to do, which leaves them vulnerable in bad marriages or other long-term relationships.

These are the kinds of changes right-wing authoritarians tend to support.  Note what happened to domestic violence laws in Putin's Russia, for one example.  Beinart's article gives more examples from several countries.

As a total aside, it's fascinating how decades of socialism or communism didn't do much for women's liberation.  This is pretty clear when one studies the "post-liberation" changes in Russia, Poland, Hungary and so on. 

My take on that is this:  Communism never really tried to change men's roles.  This gave the women in the system two very long work-days and never really challenged traditional gender norms at home or social sexism or misogyny,  partly, because the assumption was that women were already completely equal outside the home.