Monday, August 06, 2018

Brothers Under The Skin. On ISIS And US Alt Right Movements.

 (Sarah Wasko, Media Matters)

The Proud Boys participated in Saturday's fascist demonstration in Portland Oregon, which made me have another look at the principles of such Alt Right movements as the Proud Boys:  Their contempt for women, their adulation of white nationalism/supremacy and their  love of physical violence.

If I replace the "white nationalism/supremacy" bit in the above sentence with "extremist Islam", that amended sentence would also neatly summarize the principles of ISIS.

Both types of movements have strong hate policies and rankings against "outsiders", both movements are willing to use violence, and both movements want to limit women's activity to reproduction, childcare and housekeeping*.  The Proud Boys, for example, say that they adulate housewives**.

Essentialist or religious arguments about women's proper roles as limited to the home are used in all such movements. The sexes tend to be segregated and men rank higher than women.

There are differences, too.  ISIS is a much larger movement and one explicitly based on religious tenets, while the various Alt Right movements are either right-wing Christian or secular,  and much smaller. Estimates about the number of, say,  active Proud Boys hover around six thousand.

ISIS has also been far more violent and far more misogynistic in its actions than, say,  the Proud Boys movement (perhaps because the latter has not had the power to act out its principles).  And in the imaginary global religious warfare the two movements would be on opposite sides.

It's that last difference which makes the similarities so very fascinating.  Why is it that retrograde right-wing movements almost always begin by firmly placing their foot on women's necks, even when they are on opposite sides in some war of ideas?  Why do they almost always exclude women from full membership in those movements?

Is it because fertility is the one warfare resource the wannabe patriarchs cannot directly control?  Mussolini and Hitler also urged women to stay at home and to have a large number of children:

Mussolini perceived women's primary role as primarily child bearers and men, warriors—once saying: "War is to man what maternity is to the woman".[227] In an effort to increase birthrates, the Italian Fascist government gave financial incentives to women who raised large families and initiated policies intended to reduce the number of women employed.[228] Italian Fascism called for women to be honoured as "reproducers of the nation" and the Italian Fascist government held ritual ceremonies to honour women's role within the Italian nation.[229] In 1934, Mussolini declared that employment of women was a "major aspect of the thorny problem of unemployment" and that for women, working was "incompatible with childbearing". Mussolini went on to say that the solution to unemployment for men was the "exodus of women from the work force".[230]
The German Nazi government strongly encouraged women to stay at home to bear children and keep house.[231] This policy was reinforced by bestowing the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more children. The unemployment rate was cut substantially, mostly through arms production and sending women home so that men could take their jobs. 

The very definition of ideal masculinity in the right-wing movements can also cause this:

The ideal man is a virile, violent and fit patriarch, and that ideal can be magnified and made sharper only by denying women any roles which are seen to infringe on male prerogatives.  This is because masculinity in those movements is defined as subtractive: It is what women should not be or what women cannot be***.

Thus, to increase the power and space for men, it's necessary to enlarge the sphere of masculinity and to shrink the sphere of femininity.  In the most extreme right-wing movements women are strictly limited to their reproductive roles and kept out of public spaces.

That prescription may sound particularly appealing during times when those men who already have right-wing values feel that their dominance is threatened, that they are slipping down the rungs of societal power ladders. This could explain the appeal of far right movements to some American white men**** with conservative views, given the changes that outsourcing,  globalization and recent immigration are causing in the society.

The same prescription may also sound appealing during times when some nation, such as Germany after the WWI Versailles Peace Treaty, suffers from collective feelings of public humiliation and desires a rematch, or when longer time periods of history can be interpreted as humiliating losses to external invaders and colonizers, as is the case in the Middle East vis-à-vis Western powers.  The former provided a fertile ground for fascism, the latter for Islamist extremism, including ISIS.

If my speculations are correct, they also explain why the current US Alt Right seems to have a considerable overlap with the various online misogynist movements.


*  In the case of the most extreme Alt Right movements, the tenets about women's proper roles are applied only to white women.  Women of color are treated as part of the "outsiders", the enemies,  who are to be excluded, deported or even eradicated.

In the case of ISIS, likewise, most of the tenets which limit women's lives to the home are applied to only  Sunni Muslim  women.  Women of other religious denominations are viewed as enemies to be fought and killed,  or as part of the resources of enemies,  to be captured and enslaved.

Note, also, that both types of movements strongly oppose gay and Lesbian rights, perhaps partly because gays and Lesbians do not fit into the hierarchical masculinity/femininity frame they use.

**  This is hilarious, given that many other misogynistic movements view housewives as parasites, spending the money hard-working men earn without contributing anything whatsoever to this world.

***  The "should not" part applies to any position of power in the public sphere and also to the leadership of the family unit.  Thus, as is the case in other contexts, too, separate here does not mean equal.

****  Women may join (in the ladies' auxiliary sense) these types of extremist movements because they share the same beliefs the men in them do.  These would be the Aunties in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale.  Or fascist women today and in the past.  Or racist white women in the US.  Or some of the women in extreme right-wing religious movements where girls are taught that they are inferior from early childhood onward. 

Others, such as some of the wives and daughters of ISIS militants, may have had no real agency.