Words are, as ever, but the meanest of replies to the enormous significance of a tragedy like that which befell three innocent people in Kansas this week. Not only for the crime itself, but also for the miles-deep social cancer that it is a spasmodic symptom of. We are reminded, of course, that anti-Semitism remains thrumming beneath the pulse of our society, and it is terrifyingly far from the ash-heap of history.
As I think of my Jewish loved ones, I also think of how my own fate as a Latina trans woman is inextricably yoked to theirs, and how Frazier Glenn Miller’s bullets could easily have targeted me instead.
These are not idle musings, for it is the dimensions of those ties that bind me to—in this case—my Jewish sisters, brothers, and siblings that are often elided in much popular coverage of tragedies like this. For Miller’s anti-Semitism was inextricable from his misogyny and anti-feminism, which was intimately bound up with his version of Nazism.
Consider this excerpt from a chapter of his manifesto, entitled “White Women”:
“Our women have become whores for the world, thanks to Jewish created “popular culture” and Jewish corrupted judges, and politicians, who over the decades, have thrown out all laws designed by our forefathers to insure racial survival and the White man’s authority over his women, children, country, and destiny. [...]
The so-called Women’s Rights Movement would never have come about without the Jews. The original movers of this anti-White conspiracy were Gloria Steinem, Belia Abzug, and Betty Freidan, all Jews. Gullible White women believe these Jews have their interests at heart, but in reality, these fanatical, Aryan-hating pied-piper bitches are working to further the Jewish agenda.”
This is a pattern so common as to be definitional of the far-right tendency in modern society.
The anti-Semitism inherent in that manifesto is not only alive and well in our society, but it is also often inflected by gender politics, as this comment directed at feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates: “You’re a Bolshevik feminist jewess that hates white people… and you expect to be taken seriously when you’re “critique-ing” video games? Fucking ovendodger.” Sarkeesian is not Jewish, but then neither were any of the three people Miller murdered in the name of his violent anti-Semitism.
Yet these connections, so self-evident in manifestos like Miller’s, or the comment I just cited, are often left unregarded in spite of their significance.
Dying for Gender
Anders Bering Breivik, who murdered 77 people– mostly schoolchildren– in Norway who were attending a summer camp for the centre left-Labour Party, was widely reported on as a right wing extremist who saw himself as a knight-templar fighting what he saw as the destructive tide of Muslim immigration. His Islamophobia and perverse Christian extremism was made clear.
Less evident in the press analysis and think-pieces on this profound act of terrorism, however, was how central misogyny was to Breivik’s ideology, and the fact that in his impenetrably verbose manifestos were tracts of verbiage almost indistinguishable from what one finds on one of the more extreme Men’s Rights Activist group blogs.
It is, by now, increasingly well understood that our popular conception of “terrorism” remains fixated on the Islamic extremist variety, while remaining exceptionally shy about categorizing, say, Wade Michael Page, the neo-Nazi who killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as part of an ongoing domestic terrorist problem.
Yet if the press is shy about discussing these spasms of white supremacism, it’s positively mute on the sexism that wraps around it like a second helix. It is easy to oppose, with full-throated fury, a terrorist threat that can be constructed as foreign and alien; harder is to deal maturely with extremism that arises from all-too-commonplace ideas in one’s own society.
Misogyny, and the politics of gender backlash that blossomed like a rash on the American political landscape 35 years ago, are not orthogonal to these men’s orgiastic expressions of violence, but eminently central to them. Their sense of emasculation is tied to the fact that they see modernity as encroaching on a gender order that they identify with white supremacy and that ensured their own hegemony as men per se—for your average Stormfronter, white supremacy and traditionalist Christian patriarchy in the home are two sides of the same socio-political coin; one supports the other, each being an ideal chipped away at by the inexorable march of civil rights.
Sociologist Michael Kimmel puts it rather aptly when he describes how these men “consider themselves Christian Crusaders for Aryan Manhood, vowing its rescue from a feminizing welfare state.” For them, the existential threat posed by social progress is both gendered and raced, which is what lends fire to their soldier-under-siege mentality, for they believe “only ‘real’ white men can rescue the American Eden or the bucolic Norwegian countryside from a feminized, multicultural, androgynous immigrant-inspired melting pot.”
To be a soldier in that “war” means killing, or lending moral licence to murder, at the very least. A fellow-traveller of Breivik’s in Norway, a young MRA blogger named Eivind Berge, was arrested for making death threats against police and prosecutors, naming one state lawyer in an online rant:
“To feminist prosecutor Anne Cathrine Aga I have the following message: The Men’s Movement is watching you, bitch, and we are seething with hatred against you personally and the police state you represent…
So the feminist prosecutors referred to above ought to wipe that smug look off their faces before it is too late. Clearly seventy-seven body bags wasn’t enough, but I am fairly confident that you will be sorry one day.”
For these men, this paranoid and militaristic vision is the evil twin of intersectionality. They understand that there are deep and abiding links between a variety of civil rights and liberation movements, and respond to them as a unified threat to the body of the mythic white nation they hold dear. In this conception, Feminism is of a piece with anti-racism, which is tied to socialist and left-economic politics, which is bound up with immigrant organizing, which is all tied to LGBTQ liberation. Their racism cannot be discussed without their sexism, and vice versa.
This sense of grievance, manifesting through a persecution complex that runs like a blood-red streak through their online writing, can become frighteningly violent, as we were tragically reminded this past week in Kansas. Sometimes the terroristic impulse explodes at women explicitly, as in Montreal when Marc Lepine targeted “feminist” women who were students at an engineering school (killing 14 and wounding 10), or with George Sodini who took out his rage at being unable to get a date on a women’s gym (killing 3 and wounding 9). The men’s rights activist fringe, a small but vocal outpost of reactionary backlash politics, has more than a few adherents who think of mass murderers like Anders Bering Breivik as a tragic hero more undone by “matriarchy” than by his own prejudices. His white supremacy was no obstacle to the praise of some among their number.
Reproducing the White Right
Not everyone listed here is a card carrying neo-Nazi, of course, but the ethics of rightist terrorism have common manifestations across these various incidents; it is tunnel vision with only violence and terrorism at its end. As I have often said, to scratch a racist or an Islamophobe is to find a misogynist. That applies to most prejudices one cares to pair, to be quite certain, for these views do hang together and are sired by a similarly bleak and inhumane worldview. If one can dehumanize Jews, what would stop them from dehumanizing women, blacks, Muslims, or queer people?
As a society, we must have an open discussion about this, and recognize that a gendered order is the steel of right-wing superstructure, the scaffolding that holds up its racist politics. Consider the way that Breivik seamlessly blends a Handmaid’s Tale gender ethic with his committed belief that Norway must be protected from some mythic Muslim horde. He believes that white women are being “out bred,” particularly by non-white Muslims, and blames the march of women’s rights for this “problem,” his solution being to not only ban abortion and contraception, but:
Discourage women in general to strive for full time careers. This will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate by up to 0,1-0,2 points.
Women should not be encouraged by society/media to take anything above a bachelor’s degree but should not be prevented from taking a master or PhD. Males on the other hand should obviously continue to be encouraged to take higher education – bachelor, master and PhD. …
This vision is not a trifling aside; it is what makes up the racially charged politics of his manifesto. The nightmare vision of men like Breivik, Page, and Miller is a racist one that also depends quite strongly on preserving the patriarchal gender order of Western society.
They are not wrong—scholars have long documented the links between gender hierarchies and racial orders, and the dawn of intersectional gender equity is undoing their perverse paradise of racial purity—but we should have the courage to say so, making the link between the politics of gendered backlash and the development of a right-wing militancy that has been entirely contemporaneous with it.