Whenever women have raised their voices and demanded equity in our society, or whenever oppressive gender relations have been threatened, a vicious backlash or counterattack inevitably follows. Sometimes under the cover of religion, other times justified by appealing to culture, tradition, or science, male supremacy and misogyny are central and alarmingly consistent features defining the politics of the global far right. What is it about the worldview and overarching political project of the far right that makes the thought of gender equality and an end to traditional gender roles and hierarchies such a threatening prospect? And how has the crusade against “gender ideology” galvanized far-right politics around the globe?
In this special series of The Marc Steiner Show, co-hosted by Marc Steiner and Bill Fletcher Jr., we will examine the rise of the right in the US and beyond, we will explore the different tendencies and motivations fueling today’s surge in far-right politics, and we will engage with a range of critical voices who can help us understand how we got here and what we can do about it. In Episode Three of “Rise of the Right,” Marc and Bill are joined by Judith Butler and Alex DiBranco to discuss how, beyond the surface-level individual displays of misogyny among individual members of the far right, gender politics are a definitive feature of far-right ideologies and social movements.
Judith Butler is a world-renowned philosopher and gender theorist whose books have been translated into over 27 languages. They are the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of numerous books, including Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity; Undoing Gender; Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism; and Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?
Alex DiBranco is executive director of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism. Her writings on male supremacism and incel terrorism have appeared in the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism Journal and The Public Eye quarterly, and her commentary has been featured in a range of outlets, including NPR, The New Republic, the Chicago Tribune, ThinkProgress, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has also provided trainings and advice on male supremacist ideology for social justice organizations such as Western States Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and SURJ.
Pre-Production: Dwayne Gladden, Stephen Frank, Kayla Rivara, Maximillian Alvarez, Jocelyn Dombroski
Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Post-Production: Stephen Frank
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. And I’m here with my co-host and co-creator of this series on the right, Bill Fletcher Jr., noted author of fiction, non-fiction. Labor activist. Good to have you with us, man. I could go on for days but I won’t.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: That’s okay. I accept the compliment.
Marc Steiner: And we have these five installers we’re doing on the rise of the right. This is a special multipart series here on The Steiner Show at The Real News. And we’re going to take a really deep look, as we have been, at the far right. Where it came from, what its different factions are fighting for, what it would mean for our world and our democracy if they succeed, and as importantly, most importantly perhaps, is how we fight back.
Now, our first few episodes, we began with January the 6th, the insurrection of the US Capitol, and then zoomed out to explore the broader political context in the rise of the contemporary far right. It’s taking place now here in this country, the United States, Canada, across the globe. Then we zoomed out a little or more and examined the historical relationship that far right politics in this country has when it comes to white supremacy, settler colonialism, annexation, racism, and more. And we explored what that relationship looks like for today’s far right. And today we shift gears and look at a central pillar of the ideologies and social groups that comprise the far right: male supremacy, misogyny, in all of its contradictions and its [inaudible], are central.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: At every moment when women have raised their voices and demanded equity in our society or when oppressive gender relations have been threatened, a vicious backlash or counter attack inevitably follows. Sometimes under the cover of religion, other times referencing culture, and still other times simply suggesting that tradition is being broken. The demands for freedom by women and those following a different gender path have faced vicious repression.
Marc Steiner: So answering the question here, why is it that male supremacy and misogyny are so central to the politics of the global far right? We’re now talking about groups like Al-Qaeda, Daesh, conservative Christian evangelical groups, the super Orthodox in the Jewish community. We see it here in the United States, where our judiciary is now being stocked with right-wing appointees who are paving the way for a renewed attack on reproductive rights and women’s bodily autonomy, to the brazen misogyny displayed by Donald Trump and his political allies, which even prompted one of the largest mass demonstrations after his inauguration.
So, why are people supporting that? Today, we want to explore the relationship between the far right and male supremacy. What is it about the overarching project of the far right and their view of how the world should be ordered that makes the thought of gender equality and an end to gender roles and hierarchies such a threat to them and to society? And if we can understand the far right’s gender politics, we can better understand its makeup and its goals. My guest today will help us do all that. It’s only by taking this topic seriously that we address the uncomfortable but necessary question: Why is it that the far right movements that are openly supportive of male supremacy can attract large numbers of women, and what are they about to do to change society and push us backwards?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Now, to help us with this discussion, we’re honored to have with us Alex DiBranco, executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism. And Judith Butler is the Maxine Elliot professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. And we want to welcome you both to the program. Thank you for joining us.
Alex DiBranco: Thank you.
Judith Butler: Thank you.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: I’d like to start with this question that comes from the title of a recent piece that you wrote, Judith, which is why is the idea of gender provoking a global backlash? And what does this have to do with the emergence, on a planetary scale, of this right-wing authoritarianism?
Judith Butler: Well, thank you very much. It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s probably important to note that the anti-gender ideology movement is now a global movement which is well funded and makes use of all sorts of internet instruments to connect different countries and regions with one another. It began, in my understanding, when the Vatican, its Family Council published a paper that warned about the idea of gender. Gender was understood to be the idea that you could choose whatever gender you want, or it was understood to be an attack on biologically given differences between males and females. Understood by the Vatican, of course, as divinely ordained.
And they were worried that this organization of the family, the heterosexual, heteronormative family, would be destroyed by this idea of gender. And in the last several years, the panic has grown. And the current Pope, despite his occasional progressive policies and public sentiments, has also claimed that gender is a diabolical ideology, that it is a destructive force. It has the power to destroy man, civilization, and the family as we know it. And this is of course an enormous power given to this idea of gender.
By gender they mean – And we can talk a little bit about what we mean – But by gender they mean the idea that sexual relations, household relations are socially changeable, that there are different kinds of social arrangements that we might call family or kinship. That we’re not all in heteronormative marriages that are procreative, but we might be in heterosexual marriages that are non-procreative, or we may be in heterosexual marriages that are porous or non-monogamous. It’s not that heterosexuality is the problem, it’s heteronormativity which is the problem. That’s an idea that the only way to be a man is to be linked to a woman through marriage, and to procreate, and that this is divinely ordained, and that this is a proper, natural, timeless social unit.
So the more that women gained rights to equal pay, the more women gained reproductive freedom, the more often legislation emerged that allowed for single parent adoption or lesbian or gay adoption, the more we got gay marriage and also trans rights including the right of access to appropriate healthcare and the right to change legal status, as all of these legislative and political policy movements started making great gains throughout the world, the anti-gender ideology movement emerged as a reaction to legislative advances. Now, some say that it’s a backlash in the sense that Susan Faludi has outlined for us, and others say no, it’s a restoration project. That what’s being restored is in fact masculine supremacy, patriarchy, and that that’s necessary for all kinds of reasons. And we can talk about those. My guess is that Alex can talk about it even more fully than I can.
But maybe we should think of this huge movement, which is now trying to control what we teach in school, or roll back basic rights for women. We see it in Texas, but we’re also seeing it throughout Eastern Europe. We also, by the way, are seeing it in Russia, which has a huge movement, a right-wing movement trying to defend traditional family values. These are not always the same depending on the region, but I think we can say that this is an effort to restore patriarchal power that takes aim at women, trans people, trans youth, restricting their movements, restricting their rights. Gay and lesbian people, people who are differently gendered, and alternative family formations, alternative kinship formations, including adoption rights and marriage rights. This is huge. And I think it has to be contextualized economically, but it can’t be fully explained through economics alone.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Alex, on this same question, did you want to add anything on that? And I’m also interested in picking up on this issue of religion. Because Judith pointed out this issue about the Vatican. And then we must have been thinking along similar lines, Judith, because I was thinking about Putin and his way of framing Russian Orthodox theology, and this absolute and blatant attack on gays and lesbians within Russia. So I’d like it if you, Alex, could elaborate on any of this.
Alex DiBranco: Yeah. I completely agree with what Judith laid out. And I think it’s important when we discuss things like the rise of the far right around male supremacism to remember that our societies for centuries have been fundamentally male supremacist. It’s only been about a century since, in the United States, women received the right to vote. And so, white supremacism, male supremacism, and Christian supremacism for the United States specifically, are at the core, in a lot of ways, of how our country has grown up. And so, the movements that use these kinds of male supremacists, misogynists, conspiracist thinking about feminists that has also developed a lot in the past couple of decades, are working within the loss of what for a long time was mostly uncontested, cisgender white men’s Christian power. In the same way that we’ve seen things like the Ku Klux Klan in response to advances for racial justice in this country.
And so these kinds of movements get their fuel in part from the fact that even as we’ve advanced as a society, these belief systems are at the core of how we’re formed and continue to be contested within educational systems, contestations and about how to teach slavery, contestations about how to teach sexuality education. Now, the uproar about what they call critical race theory, which in reality they just mean any kind of teachings about racial justice in schools. And so, we’re looking at movements that are, yes, on the far right, but also part of how they’re able to attract so much support is the extent to which these are fundamental parts of the development of our society that only recently we’ve really made significant changes to, towards the advancement of gender and racial and other forms of social justice.
Marc Steiner: So, I’m curious where both of you think this takes us and why it’s really here at the moment. When I think about the trajectory of… Whether it’s from the women’s right to vote in this country, to Roe v. Wade, to what happened with the Stonewall rebellion, to things that fundamentally began to change the way this society in the United States and the world look at women’s rights, but also look at gender as a whole.
And it became a system that was extremely threatening to a huge body of human beings on the planet, men and women. We were talking earlier, before we went on the air together, we talked about Christian nationalism and I called it monotheistic nationalism. And then I started thinking, well, it goes beyond the monotheistic nationalism, it goes to the heart of Hindu nationalism, it goes to the heart of a lot of religious systems that have an ordered way of looking at the universe. And that ordered way, over the last 70 years, has been turned upside down. And we find ourselves in real conflict over that. So, I’m just curious what you both think about where that leads us now and how you see things unfolding in terms of that struggle around that. This time let me start with Alex, and we’ll slide over to Judith.
Alex DiBranco: Bringing up Hindu nationalism is a really excellent point, because we can get focused in a kind of Christian framework when we think about religious organizing and supremacism in the United States. And in our world where we have the internet and a lot of these movements are transnational and they learn from one another, India is actually one of the places where there’s what they usually call the fathers’ rights movement, which is essentially the movement against laws that were created to restrict dowry abuse, the abuse of wives by their husbands in order to try to extract a bigger dowry from their families. And the kind of rhetoric that they use is about the idea of women making false accusations, women as liars, and also the essential idea that women really shouldn’t be able to speak up, that cisgender men are entitled to their bodies.
And the movements in the United States around so-called men’s rights, and in Canada, offshoots in UK, have looked at India and their successes in the courts as a model for what they want to achieve here in terms of rolling back some of the legislation that protects women against sexual violence and other forms of violence. So, we definitely see the ways that this is playing out around opposition to so-called gender ideology. We saw during Trump’s presidency that in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was one of the people at the forefront of this. Places in Europe that we have these far right ideologies that learn from and feed off of each other, that is part of their contemporary growth. And then we also have manifestations to fit the culture and society that they’re in.
And so, one of the things, actually, that Donald Trump did was take forms of misogynist Christian supremacism that people like his vice president, Mike Pence, core Christian right kind of guy. Donald Trump has a more secular kind of symbolism, and a lot of men who were not deeply within the Christian right to begin with were drawn to that. And so, there will be other kinds of belief systems that are influenced by what has traditionally been the way that some of the conservative aspects of religion have taught about gender, but then they use these pseudo-scientific belief systems to say men and women are essentially different, trans people don’t exist.
And so, you see more secular countries, you see secular parts of the United States, you see even atheists joining in and allying around the framework of male supremacism, building bridges, acting as a glue so that you can have a group like The Red Pill, which is one of the misogynist groups that was started online by a then New Hampshire Republican state representative, it turned out, who is an atheist; with traditional Christian right groups; with Christian nationalist groups that have a history of violence in this country, especially around abortion. These kinds of intersections are one of the things to look at going forward, and how they shape themselves to the current context.
Marc Steiner: Judith, jump in.
Judith Butler: Yes. I think it’s important to note that the anti-feminism, the anti-queer, gay, lesbian, trans movement, it takes different forms. Sometimes it can be religious fundamentalism, sometimes it can be hyper-secularism. So for instance, in Germany and France, there are two very strong anti-gender, anti-feminist movements that understand themselves as scientific. And they object to the idea that gender is socially constructed. Okay, what’s meant by that? Well, they want to claim that your biological role in life is set by your biology and that you can think about women’s biology in relationship to the kinds of tasks they’re supposed to perform. And they go back to a pre-feminist idea that if you’re female and you’re born with reproductive capacity, you will use that capacity to reproduce children within a particular social form.
And they say that’s natural. They don’t say it’s religious, they say it’s scientific and that we need to see that these basic differences between us, which are factual, imply that we occupy different social roles. In their idea, social construction means, oh, you get to do anything you want. You get to make yourself into any gender, you get to sleep with whoever you want, you get to marry people of your own sex. It’s all chaos, it’s all radical disorder. And they don’t understand that their view is itself a socially specific one. Not everybody shares their views. If you go across culture and history, it’s like no, there are different ways of understanding perceived differences among bodies, or different ways of socially assigning roles or even socially assigning sex. But that multiplicity is not of interest to them.
Now, I think it’s kind of important to say that a lot of times, feminism and gay lesbian rights, trans rights, the rights of intersex people, the rights of differently gendered people who are maybe not trans, all of this, for them, strikes at the heart of the family. And the family secures the nation in a certain way. Now, some people are religious in their defense of the family, or at least they seek recourse to religious authorities to show why they think the family should be heterosexual and reproductive.
But others will say that we’re exercising freedom in ways that are completely unacceptable. And the current Pope has said that, that we are trying to create new social forms but God alone creates social forms. And we’re stealing the power of God by seeking to establish gay marriage as an international legal norm, or women’s rights to choose, women’s access to reproductive technology. We are designing issues of reproduction and marriage that should be divinely ordained or divinely decided. I think it’s worth saying here that the animus against many of these progressive gender movements is also fed by economic insecurity in a sense, that these ideas are coming from the West, that they are destructive, that they explain the kind of anxiety people have about their futures, about precarious work, about climate destruction.
In other words, it becomes a kind of magnetized term, gender, or feminism, or queer, or gay, or trans. They all become electrified with anxiety about people’s economic futures. And they think these Western imports or these elite impositions from above are just stabilizing their lives. And maybe misnaming radically, and I think they are, the sources of their destabilization, why they feel so destabilized in contemporary economies.
Now I would just add to this that authoritarians like Erdogan or Bolsonaro are using these kinds – And Trump surely did this, are using these kinds of issues to deflect from the fact that they have destroyed social services, that they’ve accepted neoliberal economics, that they no longer operate with the idea that we should have, all of us, access to healthcare, secure housing, access to free education – Or at least affordable education, depending on you come down on that debate. That basic social services should be provided by good government, and by, ideally, socialist governments that would secure universal enfranchisement to these basic rights. So, they are also decimating social services at the same time that they’re claiming that family and church are the places to go in order to get your social services. So it’s functional, it’s a functional deflection for an authoritarian regime. And we see this repeated time and again.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Well, I want to just ask, if you look at most right-wing populist and neo-fascist movements around the world, racism and male supremacy seem to be central to their identity, their construction. How do you both look at the relationship between these two forms of oppression and social construction and the contradictions as well as the overlaps in the building of this global far right? Whoever would like to start first.
Judith Butler: Well, maybe it’s important to say that social construction, what it basically means is that, hey, things can change, they have changed, and they probably will change again. We thought we knew what a woman was, it turns out we see it in sports, we see it in business, we see it in education, women achieve more than anyone ever thought they could. They’re occupying roles, they don’t have to reproduce to still be women. If they want to be women, there’s some trans women who will not be reproducing, that doesn’t make them any less women. All of these changes are deeply destabilizing for some people who want to know that their way of life is eternal and necessary, and that everybody is sharing it or should be sharing it. It’s not enough that I get to have a traditional way of life I want, everyone should have it. It should be universalized. It should be either a law of culture, or a law of nature, or a divine law.
So, I think we have to understand that there is instability for many people. Transphobia, anti-feminism is everywhere. It’s in the elite institutions in which I’ve taught. You don’t have to be a die hard fundamentalist to believe that women ought not to occupy certain positions, or to believe that they are restricted by their hormones or some such thing. There’s plenty of transphobia and homophobia and anti-feminism where I live in the bubble of the higher education system. So even among educated elites, we find very strong gut responses like, no, feminism has gone too far. Gay and lesbian rights have gone too far, or, there shouldn’t be trans rights. There are no trans people. Trans is a fiction and a lie and an ideology itself.
So, we are seeing well-educated people across the board having massive anxiety. So it seems to me we can ask two different kinds of questions. Like what is going on socially, historically, economically such that gender has become this flashpoint? Is it a displacement? Or we could also ask a different question: why gender? Why is gender attracting this anxiety rather than something else? And we can say the same about critical race theory. What’s going on that critical race theory, this interesting school of legal scholars that thought to revise approaches to racial injustice and inequality in the law, is now a stand-in for anxiety about the very idea that racism pervades this country and so many countries in the world. We have to think about why anxiety corrects as it does and where it does.
So, and I think social construction is another [inaudible], when people oppose social construction from these right-wing movements, they are objecting to social changes they do not want to see and that threaten them in some way. It’s not a philosophical debate about social construction. They may well be essentialists, because they think gender should be a certain way and stay that way. But they don’t have to be in women’s studies 101 and learn the difference between essentialism and social construction to be quite active in these debates publicly, or to be enlivening those debates in a public way.
Marc Steiner: Alex?
Alex DiBranco: Yeah. On the issue of intersection, when we’re looking at, we’ll say the West, we’re looking at a place in which the status quo that we had was cisgender white men’s dominance. And so, white supremacy and male supremacy are deeply intertwined, because what we were looking at was an intertwined system of, these were the people who enjoyed disproportionate power and control over whoever the others were. And whiteness is a construct that changes. There’s a period where… Part of my family is from Italy originally. When they first came, they weren’t actually really considered white. White in the United States was white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. So actually, whiteness itself is a slightly changing construct that sometimes accepts more people to make sure that it can stay in power.
And it’s one of the reasons, actually, that in the present day, we hear from a lot of these, especially Christian white male supremacist ideologies, the concern about demographic winter. The idea that we are coming to a point in the United States where we will be a so-called minority-majority country.We will have more people of color than white people. And for various reasons, there’s no group currently that they want to accept into a broader definition of whiteness, and so they’re feeling up against the constraints of their power. And so, these intersections are about who had power, who had dominance, who was in a position of superiority, and how do they maintain that?
And the intersection is really important, but definitely most of the time what we see is these intersecting movements where white and male supremacism are so deeply intertwined, but they’re not always intertwined, or they’re intertwined in unexpected ways. So when we look at a group like the Proud Boys, which I think in the United States is a name that a lot of people recognize after January 6 and their support for Trump. The Proud Boys is an organization that explicitly bans women and trans men, they’re a cisgender men only organization. And they use misogyny and appeals to cisgender men being able to restore a position of power for themselves to attract men of color into their movement.
And so we see, in the same way, I think there’s some questions about why we see women in far right movements. Well, we see white women primarily. And so, in the same way that racism is used to attract white women into supremacist and far right movements, the appeal to… We might say that they can be superior to some segment of society. And so the way we see misogyny playing out in groups like the Proud Boys that have decided that maybe they’re better off, at least in the short term, trying to ally with men of color and cutting women out of the equation, making feminists the enemy, the elites who are pulling the strings.
And so, we also need to recognize, because there’s a tendency sometimes to see the far right as monolithic when we look at it from social justice perspectives, that there are changes that happen. And one of the unique things about the movements of the past couple of decades is this shift where women’s rights in particular, and the feminist movement has developed significantly from the ’70s and then especially from the ’90s forward. And that’s where we start to see the growth of movements that are more specifically core around male supremacism rather than white supremacism, in thinking that maybe they’ll find their allies elsewhere.
And we also haven’t mentioned antisemitism, which I want to flag. When we’re talking about white supremacist and white nationalist movements, we’re pretty much always talking about movements that are also, at their core, antisemitic. And that being a big part as well of how they organize and who their sense of elites are pretty consistently, to add that in there. And then they have learned, and they have taken those frameworks around the idea of Jewish elites globally pulling the strings. And in the last two decades, we see same conspiracist framework talking about feminists. And Hillary Rodham Clinton, first as first lady in the ’90s and then when she ran against Trump in 2016, has been one of the people who’s been at the core of anti-feminist conspiracy theories. And I think one of the reasons why, from the 2016 election forward, that those kinds of conspiracy theories had become a lot more significant again.
And so, we see some of these differences, but also when we look at voting patterns and cisgender white men’s voting patterns over the last decades versus others, the communities that are not voting for far right extremists are Black women. When we look at the percentage numbers, that people are drawn into these movements because of different aspects of privilege that they have. And when we think about intersectionality and the people who, on the whole, just didn’t have any access in any of their identities to parts of privilege and power, those are the core, Black women are the core of those who are almost never drawn into these kinds of movements. That there will be a few anomalies that movements always try to… Within supremacism and authoritarianism, they like women, they like people of color as figureheads for their movements. It gives them more reach. It gives them more palatability. Within the anti-abortion movement, this has been a big tactic. So if they get them, they’ll put them in front of the spotlight a lot.
But you have this core part of, people are drawn to these movements because of having some connection to power around one of their identities, and the movement appeals to that identity. Where they can say, this is the status quo that we will restore. A status quo that in some ways is real and in some ways sometimes imagined in how perfect and ideal for their purposes they once thought it was.
Marc Steiner: So, when I look at what’s going on at the moment, and we mentioned Texas earlier in this conversation – Someone did, I forget who that was, but we mentioned Texas. And what’s happening in Texas at the moment, between limiting the right of women to have an abortion and criminalizing it again. Where we’re seeing this major push to criminalize parents of transgender and other children, and literally criminalizing it, saying that we can take your children away, we can prosecute you for what you’re doing. You’re seeing what the power of the right can do legally when they assume power. And this is just the beginning.
So, I want to take for a moment, as simply as we can, from all the complexity that we’ve just outlined, to talk about what is to be done and where we go. What does this mean for how you build a movement that opposes this, that says there’s a different way, that speaks to the heterogeneity of America, that speaks to what we’ve fought for since the ’30s through the early ’70s? That changed the nature of society, which is part of why we have this reaction, because of the massive change, at least socially, that took place while we were drifting backwards economically. So, what do you all think? Bill should jump in on this too with what he thinks. But what do we all think about what this means about how you build a movement, what does that look like? How do you combat this? How do you stop it?
Judith Butler: Yeah, I think you stop it with the largest alliance possible. In other words, there are great feminist organizations, and we should all be supporting them. And many people I know, myself included, now are making regular contributions to sustain organizations like Planned Parenthood that are being criminalized and bombed and closing down all over the place. So we need the largest possible alliance. And that means that we argue, we make our case not just on the basis of this or that identity, but on basic goals of equality and freedom and justice that we all affirm, so that everybody can be part of the movement for reproductive justice and reproductive freedom.
I think as Alex pointed out, the women who are most hard hit by the Texas anti-abortion law are young, are poor, are women of color. And they’re forced to migrate to neighboring states in order to get basic healthcare, and they’re being put under enormous duress, their basic rights are being undermined. Now, who should care about this? Well, everyone should care about this. Because it’s a question of class, it’s a question of race, it’s a question of gender, but it’s also a question of what should states be allowed to do? It’s an amassing of authoritarian power through certain kinds of moral arguments about what should and should not be women’s freedom, what should and should not be the structure of the family.
So we need to take that power away, I think, from states that seek to make a mockery of established constitutional law and seek to restrict freedoms of this kind. I would also say that in Texas, it’s clear that there’s a family values discourse. And family values, when we hear that, or we hear traditional values, we’re also talking about masculine supremacy. Because the traditional form is one in which men have control over the bodies of women. They decide the reproductive rights of women. They decide who will become pregnant and who will not. And those rights over women’s bodies, that’s something that comes up in the campaign against violence against women. If you see the ethnographic literature, men asked why they beat a woman, well, they do believe it is their right. Why they rape, well, they do believe it is their right. Where are they getting that sense, that this is their natural right or their social right, for that matter? What makes them think that a woman’s body is theirs to do with as they please?
And limiting reproductive rights is on a spectrum with rape and with battery, and I think we need to understand that one reason we oppose masculine domination of this kind is that it demeans, degrades, and disempowers women, and as subjects who should be able to exercise freedom to pursue and be granted equality, and to be treated in a just way in this world. So, everybody with progressive values should be behind this. This is not an issue, a single issue, or it’s not an identity issue. This is a massive issue of justice, equality, and freedom for our time.
Marc Steiner: Alex, please.
Alex DiBranco: Yeah. I would say also when we are looking at something like Judith ended on this isn’t just an issue or an identity issue. And I think that one of the things that is really important is that the same groups on the right who are doing things like opposing abortion, which sometimes the Democratic Party decides, oh, the way that we get a bigger tent is by throwing reproductive rights under the bus and moving towards the center. Not recognizing that this kind of autonomy is at the core of social justice priorities, but also of authoritarian priorities. To end this kind of autonomy is core to the project they’re putting together. And it’s the same groups, in a lot of cases, you will see the groups who are involved with legal battles to roll back abortion rights are the same ones who are trying to restrict rights for trans kids, are the same ones who are now working on opposing what they call critical race theory. And that, again, is just any kind of teaching of racial justice education.
Judith Butler: That’s right, that’s right.
Alex DiBranco: And they work from the same playbooks. The playbook now that we see as the anti-CRT [critical race theory] playbook, they’re using the same techniques that have been used for half a century to oppose comprehensive sexuality education, which was seen as a communist plot, part of how communists were trying to undermine the Christian moral integrity of the United States, those godless communists, that this was their in point. And abstinence only education was created because they couldn’t get sex education out of schools altogether, they were unsuccessful. So they said, okay, we’ll create our version. We have a generation of youth who have gone through abstinence-only education which doesn’t teach consent properly, which doesn’t teach women’s bodily autonomy, which doesn’t teach support for LGBTQ people, that explicitly teaches a lot of problematic gender stereotypes.
And there have been battles in school cohorts, in local levels, in textbook curricula, around comprehensive sex education. And in more recent years, extending that, those same groups, to opposing laws that protect trans children. And now they’re deploying the same playbook around critical race theory. And some of those movements, some of those oppositions, the Kanawha textbook controversy, which was an opposition in the 1970s to having textbooks that basically talked at all about people who weren’t white men. That was pretty much the central concern. There was violence, there have been bombings. There are histories of bombings around desegregating education. These are all the same groups and the same tendencies.
And so in our movements it’s really important that we recognize, in the contemporary and historical perspective, that most of this isn’t new. That they are taking different aspects, like definitely misogyny is a more core motivator today, but they’re using projects that they’ve used for a long period of time. And that when we treat them as separate issues and don’t ally across different movements, we give them more power because we’re not actually fighting on the same kind of playing field. We’re trying to go after one little thing and we’re not seeing the whole big picture. And then the other thing that I would add to end on, is part of my work is that I look at the building of rightist infrastructure over that past half century. And so, we’re also behind in social movements on certain things. We had a lot of successes kind of up until the 1970s, and then there was a fair amount of fragmentation around things like sexism and homophobia in leftist movements.
And so as we kind of developed, we also had these fragmentations. And at the same time, the new rightist movements looked back at the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and leftist movements during that time and said, we’re going to model what we do off of what they do. And so, they steadily worked to build networks, to build think tanks, to build state-based organizations, to connect to the grassroots, to the so-called elite infrastructure. So there’s a feedback mechanism between the lobbying groups and the think tanks and the people on the ground. And they respected the power of local school boards and state governments, which the Democratic Party has really had this focus on. If we have a Democrat in the presidency, then donations to social justice groups drop off significantly. The right, when they have a Republican in the presidency, they say, he’s not good enough, we still want better than this. And so they build at those other levels.
And so now, when we’re in a situation where we have a lot of problems with gerrymandering and voter suppression that make it hard to take power back, originally they took that power over state governments through democratic organizing mechanisms, which actually groups that want authoritarian end goals are actually often very, very good at using democratic and grassroots processes in the meantime despite their end goal. And so now we’re in this situation where certainly we are behind and we have more obstacles than we would have previously because of the power that they’ve built. But there are a lot of areas to invest in and start to see this as a field, an interlocking field that needs to be responded to in the same kind of intersectional way.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Before we wrap up, I want to pick up on something that you both mentioned, but I’d like to go a little deeper. I was really struck by two things. One, in France, the rise of Marine Le Pen as the leader of the Front Nationale, premier right-wing populist organization there, and an organization that is not known to be advancing the interests of women or the interests of the gender oppressed. I was also struck during the 2016 campaign, when Trump allegations and evidence of misogyny was all over the place. And I’m not just talking about that, what was it, Access TV interview or tape that was found.
Marc Steiner: On the bus?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: On the bus. But despite that, the percentage of white women that supported him, to me, was sort of astounding. And that it increased in the next, as a percentage in the next election. And I’m just curious, briefly again, how do you contextualize that? How can our listeners better understand both of these phenomena, which are just examples of other forms of, other peculiarities you see in right-wing populist movements and formations?
Judith Butler: Well, I don’t think we should be surprised anymore that there are right-wing women and that they feel very strongly about right-wing politics and right-wing nationalism. Marine Le Pen received money from a Russian bank, clearly somehow linked to Putin, for one of her national rallies. So, she’s playing power politics, and she also sees that he has a socially conservative agenda. And she’s acting in the same way that Bolsonaro does, or Orban, or Erdogan, who opposes Putin but also has his own connection with him. So I don’t think we should be surprised. I think in her view, women who are complaining about harassment or being treated badly are not strong enough. They haven’t yet seen that they’re capable of political power. They see the left as whining, as focused on small insults and problems of these kinds. And when she defends traditional values or family values, she’s defending women at home, women in the workplace both, even women in politics. But what she’s really defending is French nationalism, white supremacy, and also masculine supremacy.
It works for her, she doesn’t have a problem with that. She’s not objecting to that. That holds the family structure together. And to the degree that it does, it also holds French culture together and saves it from the immigrants on the one hand, and nefarious influences from other European countries or the United States on the other hand. So, we have to remember that nationalism is always dependent on the family, and she’s a nationalist. So she’s going to be for the conservative family, she’s going to be anti-feminist, transphobic, she’s going to be anti-gay. That is what women should be doing, in her view. And she derives a lot from that. So her idea of an equality, a feminist equality, or a feminist justice that would destabilize those institutions, like the family, like marriage, like sex assignment, would be anti-French. And it would land her in a position where she was accepting broader values from other places, or from the left wing of her own party. And that would undermine her political constituency. So… I don’t know, I’m just not surprised.
Marc Steiner: Good analysis. Alex?
Alex DiBranco: Yeah. Taking the question about Trump, Elizabeth Yates, a researcher, did a study on two party women, and asked them this question about how they felt about Trump’s comments. And this goes back, I think, to my point about abstinence only education and the influence in schools. Because they basically, Trump said like, oh, this was locker room talk. They actually believed that. They said, this is just how men are. So I don’t really like it all that much, but they’re all like this. Because that is what they teach in things like abstinence only programming. And so you have the appeals, based on racism, based on nationalism, often based on Christianity in the United States. And then you also have the fact that male supremacism is an ideology in addition to us having this structure of cisgender men’s dominance.
And so, women are brought into that ideology. Phyllis Schlafly is a really great example, her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, people can watch the TV mini series that was created about her. And so, they work within what they have learned, the ideologies that they have learned. And so there are parts that appeal to them, and they are also parts that are, this is just how things are. They were never taught that they should expect sexual autonomy, and consent, and respect, and to be valued in these kinds of ways. So, the fact that Trump happened to be caught on video saying these things, or his other kinds of interactions with women, were just what they expected.
And so, we can intervene in this by giving people a different kind of set of expectations, by teaching girls from a young age that this isn’t what they should expect, so they don’t grow up to be women and adult voters who just think, well, this is just the way things are, and work within those ideological systems that they’ve been taught around for years, and that frame then their belief systems, and their worldview, their way of understanding what the world is like and what their place within it is.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Thank you very, very much. Did you want to…
Marc Steiner: No, this has been a great conversation. And I think that it’s something that deserves even greater probing in conversations across the country with everyone, and in movements across the country, because it’s a very complex subject. And one that is fundamental to the victory of the right. It’s also fundamental to the victory of the folks who are not the right, whoever those folks are. And I think that, so this has been a really important discussion. I appreciate the work both of you do, Judith Butler and Alex DiBranco, it’s good to have you both with us here at The Real News.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: And thank you very, very much for joining us, again. I want to join in what Marc just raised, and I want to thank you, the listeners and viewers of this program, and hope that you got as much out of it as the two of us certainly did. This has been really an amazing discussion.
Marc Steiner: It has been. And I also want to thank, while we’re here together, Kayla Rivara, Dwayne Gladden, Stephen Frank, and the folks here at The Real News who are making this series possible. Doing all the work that gets it out there, and thanking them. And reminding all of you to please write to us here at [email protected]. And I’ll be sharing with Bill, and we’ll write you back, your thoughts, and where we should take these conversations going forth. What’s happening in your own communities, we really want to hear about that. So I want to thank you all for listening and joining us today. And I’m Marc Steiner here for Bill Fletcher, Jr. Thank you all for joining us. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.
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