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WHEN Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote “We Should All Be Feminists” in 2014, I don’t imagine she envisaged neonazis being among those who heard her cri de coeur.
Yet the pre-publicity for a far-right Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) march last month claimed its purpose was — as well as to complain in the usual nebulous fashion about Muslims — to mark “100 years since the suffragists.”
I like to think that among the ranks of anti-fascists who ensured their march did not go to plan, were enraged women’s historians, shouting: “It’s the centenary of PARTIAL ENFRANCHISEMENT you idiots — also SUFFRAGISTS ARE NOT THE SAME AS SUFFRAGETTES!”
Earlier in the year, too, Tommy Robinson’s fluffer-in-chief, Ukip’s Gerard Bannon, likened Robinson to a suffragette, fighting for “a great cause,” as anti-fascist Sylvia Pankhurst span in her grave.
Part of the culture war being waged by the far right is this attempt to muddy the waters by faking progressive positions. Claiming to be feminists is audacious even by their standards, however.
As we saw in last week’s Star exposé, Robinson has had some success with his anti-paedophile “protector of women and girls” shtick, despite his conviction for a violent offence arising from a public altercation with his now-wife, and the convicted paedophiles within far-right ranks.
He has also been implicated by Antifascist Action in the targeted harassment of one of its activists, Edel Carroll, known as Lola, who sadly died this summer.
Carroll was harassed, “doxxed” and threatened both online and in real life by far-right extremists, and at one point subjected to a brutal and cowardly physical attack, for which an EDL organiser went to prison.
All the online threats to Lola I have been shown involve the most brutal and obscenely detailed rape threats, to her and her children (one of the perpetrators was subsequently sentenced for sex with a minor in an unconnected case).
The reality is that misogyny is not only a horror in itself, but always present where fascism exists. This must not go unchallenged by the left, any more than far-right racism would.
Misogynistic ideology is not only flourishing but, evidence suggests, now serving as an entry into fascism by disaffected young men.
Feminism has become the new target as it gains mainstream ground. Christopher Vials, expert in US fascism and author of Haunted by Hitler: Liberals, the Left and the Fight against Fascism in the US, says that today’s neofascists “talk about women and female agency, and often about threats to gender identity represented by the LGBT movement, much more than men like Hitler or Mussolini. They actively and persistently rail against ‘feminists’ in ways that you rarely saw in the pre-WWII period.”
The narrative of white men as the “true victims” in modern society has gathered pace with the help of online media, not to mention the words of Donald Trump, who recently pronounced the climate created by the #MeToo campaign “very scary” for young men.
US psychology professor Clara Wilkins, whose specialism is reverse discrimination, observes: “There’s this perception of a zero-sum relationship; men and women are in competition, so if things are better for women, things are worse for men.”
We know, and research confirms, that some white people apply exactly the same thinking to minority groups.
So feminists are the new black when it comes to targets for what writer Charles Blow called, in a recent New York Times piece, “White male victimisation syndrome.”
The male “fightback” against feminism began when feminism did, but has gathered pace in recent years.
In 2005 journalist Neil Strauss uncovered a whole community of so called “pick-up artists” (PUAs), men who felt they weren’t getting the sexual success they deserved, so adopted psychological tricks to “get” women.
It began much earlier. In the 1980s writer Ross Jeffries held workshops in using neurolinguistic programming techniques to seduce women.
The community flourished online and the language became ever more overtly misogynistic: the concept of “negging” developed, which involves subtly insulting a woman’s appearance or intelligence to weaken her confidence and render her more vulnerable to seduction.
Then Reddit users brought us the concept of the “red pill.” In the film The Matrix, to swallow the red pill is to awaken to dark truths about their world; to the Reddit believers, these “truths” are that feminism is toxic, misogyny and sexism don’t actually exist, and that, yes, men are the true victims.
The most extreme red pillers believe that women want to be raped. Unsurprisingly, alt-right’s Milo Yiannopoulous (“Feminism is cancer”) became a Reddit fixture. Researching the movement, British journalist Amelia Tait found the alt-right used red pill groups as a recruiting ground for men whom they then attempted to radicalise.
It seems they had some success. With the advent of the “incel,” we saw men openly combine hatred of their own with racism — and take it to murderous extremes.
Incels believe they are “involuntarily celibate” because women are unfairly withholding sex from them. They specifically feel entitled to sex with women they perceive as the most attractive — “Stacys” — and resent both them and the “Chads” — romantically successful men — they date. When these are men of colour, the hatred steps up a gear.
This all seemed pitiful until it turned deadly. In 2014 Elliot Rodger, a Santa Barbara student who considered himself an incel, killed six people.
Of mixed race, Rodger boasted about being “half-white” and railed against interracial relationships on social media.
In his “manifesto” published online, he styled himself the “ideal magnificent gentleman” for whom women’s lack of desire was incomprehensible.
His “day of retribution” was, he said, revenge on the society that had “denied” him sex and love.
Rodger specifically targeted a sorority whose members he had deemed the “hottest” at his college, “the kind of girls I’ve always desired but was never able to have.”
On May 23 2014 in Isla Vista, California, Rodger shot and killed Katherine Cooper, 22, and Veronika Weiss, 19, outside that sorority house. He had previously stabbed to death three young men, two of whom were his flatmates: Cheng Yuan Hong, Weihan Wang and George Chen.
Rodgers injured 14 when he travelled around firing at random from his car, finally shooting dead Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20, and then himself.
In the final section of his manifesto, Rodger declared: “I am the true victim in all of this. I am the good guy.”
Astonishingly, plenty of men were ready to agree. Rodger was hailed as a hero by Alek Minassian, another self-professed incel who repeatedly drove a van into a crowd of people in Toronto in April this year. The 25-year-old tech expert killed 10 and injured 15 others.
Scott Paul Beierle, who murdered two women in a yoga studio in Florida this year on November 2, and had two arrests for sexual battery, also cited Rodger as an inspiration and posted online videos in which he called women of colour disgusting, and suggested planting land mines to stop people trying to cross the US-Mexican border.
Aside from a few “thoughts and prayers” in the direction of the victims of Minassian, the one non-US killer, Donald Trump has made no condemnation of these men; and there can be no doubt his presidency has emboldened those like them: he is, as Charles Blow says, the poster boy for “white men who feel they are losing ground.”
It’s no surprise to learn that domestic abuse advisers have seen a link with far-right beliefs.
Running courses for the Freedom Programme, designed to empower and support women living with abuse, adviser Lou Harrison discovered: “If you have fascists in your town, female partners will be at huge risk of domestic violence.
“These people are wedded to violence, and the mental health impact on children is huge. This can be seen in the school system, where [children may] display racist abuse towards other children, whilst also struggling with the abuse they live with and the isolation they feel at school.”
Christopher Vials has traced the roots of today’s far-right misogyny back to the battlefields of WWI.
Hitler and Mussolini, like many of their early supporters, “found themselves” in the male brotherhood of combat during World War I, and articulated fascism’s aim as extending military organisation — and virtue — across the whole of society.
“This was an all-male world in which women had no place. Tellingly, in Mein Kampf, Hitler talks about how letters from women at home were one of the main things that disrupted unity at the front, thus casting women as sheer disruption to the ‘character building’ of combat.”
In Mein Kampf, Vials points out, Hitler even floated the idea of extending women’s role as the producers of Aryan children for the Reich to the extreme of making female citizenship wholly contingent on marriage.
These views extended into the nazis persecution of gay men.
“Male homosexuals were hunted and persecuted … because they were seen to threaten the male vigor necessary for race war, while lesbians, while also persecuted, were not seen to be as much of a threat as gay men.”
Vials draw links between this violent male world and post-war fascist movements, up to the present: “They [still] carry a high degree of male violence, either of the rhetorical kind (strong words from a “leader of action) or of the literal kind (male bonding through street violence). In the US, the alt-right … circulate online videos showing their all-male cadres beating up Antifa leftists at demonstrations, building internal unity in the process.”
What unites the right across all its disparate strands is what Vials calls the “radical belief in inequality” allied to a belief in a glorious past which must be reclaimed: America or Britain must be “made great again.”
“If you add these things together, we get something like this: humans are fundamentally unequal, with different capacities, [but] modern times have upset these ‘natural hierarchies’ — traditional institutions that once recognised this biological reality. Therefore, modern institutions and feminist thought are upsetting the ‘natural’ heterosexual, patriarchal family.”
Vials cites Julius Evola, of whom Steve Bannon is a fan “probably for this reason,” as one of the most openly misogynistic post-war fascists.
Vials too draws a clear line from this to “incel” murders, and notes that shortly after the Beierle outrage US neonazi website Stormfront put out a piece on Beierle that basically reaffirmed the shooter’s own position — a feminist society that has left no viable place for men is going to be a place where men shoot women.
For all the perceived “triumphs” of feminism, Sabby Dhalu, joint secretary of broad-based UK organisation Stand Up To Racism, reminds us that women as well as people of colour have suffered hugely and disproportionately from a right-wing austerity agenda.
In Britain “for the poorest 33 per cent of white women, cuts to tax credits have reduced their annual income by over 11 per cent. This increases to 14 per cent for African and Caribbean women and a staggering more than 19 per cent for Asian women. The pattern repeats across Europe and the US, and in a vicious circle,” says Dhalu, “the continuing economic crisis is the underlying cause of the biggest rise in support for fascism and racism since fascism’s rise to power in the 1930s.”
It’s important to remember, though, that women have never been mere passive victims of fascism but in the forefront of fighting it.
In Spain, Dolores Ibarruri gave us the phrase “No Pasaran” (They shall not pass); women like Sarah Wesker and Beatty Orwell were active in 1930s British anti-fascism and at the iconic Battle of Cable Street.
As Labour historian Terry McCarthy told me recently, women were active too in the anti-fascist resistance movement the 43 group (generally discussed as all-male — McCarthy knows this first hand, because his Aunt Lil, a tremendous East End matriarch, and her female friends were among them.)
Dhalu too fought back against racists at a young age. She told me: “When I was nine, members of the NF were threatening to hit my sisters and me with a plank of wood in a playground because we refused to get off the swings. I must have instinctively known the art of the ‘sit-in,’ because we didn’t give in; they soon left. I’m proud of my very first victory against fascists!”
Far from being intimidated, Dhalu became an active anti-racist at a young age, and began working for the National Assembly against Racism in 2001, as then BNP leader Nick Griffin polled over 16 per cent in the Oldham West and Royton constituency.
She believes the contribution of women will always be crucial to the struggle against fascism: “Women and black people constitute the majority of humanity yet are some of the most oppressed people in the world. The struggle for women’s liberation goes hand in hand with the struggle against racism and fascism. The unity of our struggles is the key to our liberation.”
Vials agrees, and urges everyone to join the struggle in any way they can: “Anti-fascism always does well with broad-based coalitions, and it should never be seen as mere street fighting, as necessary as that may be at times.
“Anti-fascists also do important cultural work like journalism, literature and film to raise awareness of the fascist threat, and they also do more traditional kinds of political work like demonstrations, leafleting, and even lobbying to undermine the resurgence of fascism.”
Join demonstrators tomorrow for the National Unity Demonstration Against Racism & Fascism at noon, BBC, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.
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