KEYWORDS: Homonationalism, Femonationalism, AfD, Front National, Marine Le Pen, Natalism, Right-Wing Populism, Europe, France, Germany, Feminism, Equality, Intersectionality
The Success and Dangers of Faux-Feminism and Homonationalism: Right-wing Parties in France and Germany and their Rhetoric on Women’s and LGBTQ* Rights
Following the 2017 federal elections in Germany and France,1 the issues of gender equality as well as women’s and LGBTQI* rights in the European Union rose to prominence again. Both countries saw a resurgence of right-wing parties, such as the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany (hereinafter AfD), and Marine Le Pen’s Front National or FN in France2. In an attempt to compare and contrast these movements and their agendas on women’s and LGBTQI* rights, as well as the striking rhetoric used to ‘promote’ both, it remains key to consider the differences as well as the similarities. The AfD is, according to Open Democracy, “the most explicitly anti-feminist party” since it wants to uphold (or rather: reinstate) the ‘traditional’ “nuclear heteronormative family [as it] is the only model that can reverse the country’s declining birth rate, and having children is hence more of an act for the ‘fatherland’ than the result of a personal decision”3. While the Front National does not explicitly attempt to roll back female liberation from the constraints of the domestic sphere, it often positions its ‘feminist’ fight only in opposition to “l’islamisation” 4 (p.4). Thus, the ‘feminism’ of Marine LePen, her party, and her followers boils down to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. These patterns have a long tradition in nationalist politics: Under fascist rule in Germany, “the government attempted to increase births to Aryan women by restricting abortion and providing financial incentives for childbearing while subjecting numerous minority women to forced sterilization”5 (p. 34).
In France, too, “[m]any within [the] FN want to stop the reimbursement of abortion by the state. Inside FN there is a very traditional current led by Marion Maréchal Le Pen […] very near the traditional Catholic church, which is against family planning and for the traditional nuclear family”3. This focus on natalism as a ‘cultural force’ against outsiders has prompted many French feminists to oppose this rhetoric, since they “they believe the possible gains in terms of family allowances or parental leaves are not worth the possible losses in terms of social and reproductive rights”5 (p.48). The Front National also promotes “large (nuclear) families [and] ‘natalism’ – a policy that views childbirth and parenthood as desirable for society”3. This, however, is only expressed in support of “’French’ families […] exclude[ing] [families outside this ‘definition’] from their generous family policies”3. Criticism of LePen’s alleged feminist policies arise also from those who say that “[s]he is only a feminist when it comes to her type of woman – white, French, Catholic-raised upper middle class”, which also alludes to her xenophobic and Islamophobic statements6. Marine LePen and the Front National are only concerned with women’s rights when they are endangered by ‘foreigners’, they do not attempt to challenge the status quo in terms of gender equality6. Thus, the Front National’s branch of ‘feminism’ shares some widely criticized traits with White Feminism. The latter, which is sometimes also referred to as ‘mainstream feminism’, has faced criticism for “prioritizing the experiences and voices of cisgender, straight, white women over women of color, queer women and those who fall outside this narrow identity”7.
Another concept that comes into play is seizing the momentum of ‘homonationalism’, as coined by Jasbir K. Puar8. Puar examines the dynamics in the United States after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and claims that “the war on terror has rehabilitated some – clearly not all or most – lesbians, gays, and queers to US national citizenship within a spatial-temporal domain I am invoking as ‘homo-nationalism’, short for ‘homonormative nationalism’”8 (p. 68). Even though she specifically refers to dynamics in the United States, similar developments can be traced in France and Germany. The concept of homonationalism “is increasingly used by far-right parties […] which tend to take advantage of gay issues to convey a picture of a nation under threat (usually from mass immigration, a multicultural society or Muslims in particular)”9. Partially, this strategy of portraying Western European countries as being in favour of homosexual people and making this “proof of the alleged superiority of the West over Islam, which is portrayed as backward”10 (my translation) has been successful. In the French regional elections of 2016, for example, 32% of same-sex couples voted for the Front National10. For a big slice of the electorate, the pressing questions concern issues like immigration, the economy, and unemployment, whereas LGBTQI* rights are not amongst the top priorities11. Le Pen and the French right are well aware of this and have tried hard – and succeeded – to pull the FN into the mainstream12.
Feminism, empowerment, and equality, however, play only a role in opposition to “’harassment by foreigners – strangers, migrants, Muslim men,’ says Ms. Wodak”, a professor at Lancaster University12. She then adds that “they never spoke out against sexual harassment before”12. In France, right-wing populist feminism, then, emerges as a propaganda tool that does not seek internal change and true amelioration of women’s and LGBTQI* people’s rights, but exploits allegedly feminist rhetoric to establish a notion of a well-functioning (and inherently French) status quo that needs to be defended against ‘intruders’, ‘outsiders’, and ‘others’. Swedish scholars point to the significant
connection between […] femonationalism and homonationalism, meaning the hijacking of feminism and the Western gender equality […]. Le Pen has for example quoted feminist giant Simone de Beauvoir, she often tries to portray herself as a ‘modern mother’ and claims to be the only politician who is fighting for the rights of women against Islamism.
– It’s partly the same idea, although the backgrounds differ. Homonationalism wants to “save the gay” from what’s regarded as a Muslim threat. The story about “saving women” from “the other” has an even longer colonialist history9.
Even though the AfD is far from quoting Simone de Beauvoir and portrays itself regularly as decidedly – and proudly – antifeminist, they, too, draw their ‘feminist’, ‘inclusive’, LGBTQI* policies primarily from a very specific – and racist – narrative. The AfD massively capitalizes on a successful branding of “a constructed dichotomy of ‘Western’ (Christian-occidental) and ‘Islamic’ culture who oppose each other as static entities and are incompatible. Traditionally, […] the West [is seen as] emancipatory, enlightened, democracy-prone and progressive whereas ‘ Islam‘ is seen as regressive, sexist, static, irrational and prone to violence“13 (my translation). To brand itself as a defender of ‘occidental’ values, the AfD, in tune with the FN rhetoric, has issued a campaign poster that showcased a gay couple next to a text that declared: “My partner and I are not keen on getting to know Muslim immigrants for whom our love is a cardinal sin”14 (my translation). Here, the gay couple is only granted a voice in connection to “Islamophobia, fear of and hatred against Muslims, refugees, ‘foreigners’”14 (my translation). Thus, it is not far-fetched to say that “the anti-immigrant rhetoric of these parties is gendered”15 (p.14) and that clear rhetoric patterns are detectable.
In addition to the Islamophobic ‘feminism’, the party also features an interesting paranoia that deems ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ itself (and subsequently all the promoters thereof) a destructive force16. One of their main concerns in that regard is that “toddlers [will be confronted] with sexual methods and practices” if kindergartens and schools were to consider gender aspects and promote non-heteronormative families16 (my translation). The vocabulary of the AfD reveals that concerns emerge about a debate that many people within the party and their followers cannot or do not want to understand. The ‘erosion of traditional family values’ indicates deep-seated fears regarding the challenging of social, patriarchal hierarchies. Fears of female empowerment and the consequent ‘abandoning’ of childbearing is also reflected in their refusal to promote women’s employment, to support any female quota, and the claim that children’s upbringing is primarily their mothers’ job and should not be in the hands of the state17. Pro-natalist policies seem to have a tradition in ‘modern’ Europe. Indeed,they were already one of the most important political claims in the 2004 multi-national right-wing coalition in the European parliament, which sought to “support the abundance of children of European people within the traditional family”18 (my translation).
Feminism and right-wing populism in Europe, despite different re-branding attempts, do not go well together. Firstly, they reproduce many of the traps and mistakes of White Feminism in ignoring the claims and needs of women of colour, non-cis, non-binary, disabled, and/or poor women. Thus, the FN’s ‘feminism’ primarily caters to white, middle- or upper-class women who are clearly still discriminated against, albeit on completely different levels and with very different needs than millions of far less privileged women. Scanning the party programmes of the AfD, and the FN for truly progressive goals for equality and empowerment policies, then, is a futile effort. Women (and in some cases LGBTQI* people) are not to be empowered, if anything, they are to be protected from themselves – or rather from their own choices and attempts to gain a more vocal and independent standing – and from immigrants. That those not even subtly tarnished efforts and goals nevertheless speak to a great many people once more illustrates that real feminism as well as Gender Mainstreaming are as important as ever to counter racism, sexism, and age-old power structures in an attempt to promote participation by all people in both Germany and France..
 Support for LGBTQI* rights, here, is rather unlikely, since the AfD has issued statements of ‘support’ towards homosexual people, but to this point has not in any way supported trans- or intersexual or otherwise non-binary people.
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Author: Hedwig Lieback
Release Date: 22 June 2017