The Gender Politics of the Hard Right – a workshop to educate and build resistance
28 January 2023
Part I – Summary of the panel talks
Feminist Fightback’s open workshop aimed to explore the ways in which the hard right is using gender as a political weapon. We include in the ‘hard right’ groups ranging from right wing mainstream parties like the Conservative party in the UK to far right and fascist groups of variable strength and power anywhere. Our aim was to inform ourselves of the connections between attacks on trans rights, homophobia and reproductive rights and the nationalism, racism and xenophobia of the hard right. It was also to begin to build a coalition of feminist, queer, trans and other organisations to resist the rise of right-wing populism in our government, in our schools and on our streets.
This blog provides a short summary of the wide range of issues covered by our speakers who analysed and described how the hard right is using gender politics to build support through the control of women and attacks on gender non-conformity in the UK and internationally. These talks were followed by interactive sessions where we collectively mapped attacks on gender rights and reproductive justice and how they are being resisted.
What threat does the Hard Right pose to Reproductive Justice and what should our priorities in challenging it be? Feminist Fightback
This contribution explored the connections between the traditional racism of the hard right in Britain and its gender politics, especially reproductive justice, and considered how trans-exclusionary politics affects the struggle for reproductive justice.
Gender rights and reproductive justice can be invoked by right wing and populist organisations in different ways depending on specific historical situations. What such groups have in common is professed support for the so-called ‘traditional’ family, a stance which enables far right organisations to appear as “ordinary” and “decent”, and often conceals their racism, xenophobia and nationalism. Clear links exist between right-wing groups, Christian fundamentalists and anti-LGBTQ movements which have long opposed abortion as well as gay rights.
Sometimes, as in Germany in 2015, they claim to defend women’s rights in racist or nationalist terms, for example to mark “difference” between majority populations and migrants, while in practice, respect for such rights is non-existent. In the UK, government policies demonstrate similar contradictions. While restrictions on trans rights are professed ostensibly to protect women, at the same time, poor women and migrants are harmed by benefit restrictions and migration rules aimed at discouraging them from having large families.
Some trans-exclusionary feminists are also themselves undermining reproductive justice through links with hard right anti-abortion institutions which are also anti-gay, anti-trans, racist and anti-immigration. Any victory for the anti-trans movement at the expense of abortion and other gender rights also strengthens the hard right and makes it harder to achieve reproductive justice, especially for stigmatized and marginalised groups including people of colour, sex workers, migrants, and trans people.
The Drag Queen Story Hour protests and their relationship to the Hard Right’s Gender Politics. London Anti Fascist Assembly
Since last summer in the UK, right-wing protests have grown against Drag Queen Story Hours taking place in libraries and other public venues, and even managed to get a couple cancelled. The main group/ person behind the protests appears to be Patriotic Alternative and Francesca Deal.
Behind these hard right protests lies protectionism and misogyny. Their key message was ‘our women, our children’. A message based on entitlement, misogyny and homophobia and their terror of losing the traditional family as well as their fear of trans rights. They claim that drag queens will corrupt their children by teaching them that ‘daddy is bad’ because he’s a man. The more gender equality and sexual liberation increases in wider society, the more their sense of victimhood grows and the more radicalised they become.
The speaker argued that the Far Right don’t make distinctions between women, whether they are a feminist or ‘one of their own’, they are essentially chattels. Within Far Right groups there are strictly prescribed gender roles and they even joke about how they practice ‘White Sharia’. Despite the fact they have learnt the usefulness of using women as the ‘soft face’ of the Right, there still is very much a glass ceiling within the Hard Right and if a woman steps out of line they will not hesitate to discard and attack her. It is important to remember the contradiction inherent in the Far Right in relation to women and children: despite talking about protecting women, in reality they attack them and are one of the biggest threats against them.
Gender Critical Ideology and Feminist Identity Politics – Trans Safety Network
One of the reasons for the success of ‘gender critical’ ideology in the UK is because a sort of female identitarian politics has been proposed as a solution to very real material problems affecting women as a class. Feminists who have spent long years fighting for women’s rights are now seeing extreme cut-backs in funding and services and, instead of looking to the real culprits, they are using trans people as scapegoats. Women who used to be leftists or anarchist are being sucked into this ideology and associating with the hard Right. The power of these women needs to be taken seriously. They speak to people’s anxieties and what they have lost through austerity and their ideas are thus are able to get a foothold.
Within the Hard Right and so-called ‘Gender Critical’ movements, we are seeing an increasing politicisation and weaponisation of motherhood. This is because although under capitalism mothering is extremely hard, women in heteronormative relationships are afforded status and therefore some form of power through motherhood despite patriarchy. The hard right has weaponised motherhood as a marker of womanhood, and so appeals to women who lose out through austerity but can retain a sense of worth through motherhood. The hard right is playing to this – claiming that queer and trans people are trying to corrupt or exploit their children and undermine women’s roles as mothers.
In a way this is a failure of liberal feminism that depended on slogans that that glorified female identity rather than resistance. To counter this we need more than just awareness raising that ‘trans women are women’: trans and non-binary people also need an improvement in their material conditions, including access to housing and medical care.
It’s important to build a material counter-movement and to always keep in mind how racism, misogyny, borders and the anti-trans movement are all connected.
The Gender Politics of the Hindu supremacist movement in India – Peace in India
There are many similarities between what the previous speakers described and what is happening in India. The global hard right are good at networking and learning from each other. A key component of the Indian experience is the caste system. Narendra Modi’s ruling party imagines India as a Hindu nation based on Brahmanism. Brahmanism describes the role of women as sexless and subordinate, whose place is in the house. The place of women is intrinsic to the creation of the Hindu nationalist vision of India based on the image of ‘Mother India’. Feminist dissenters opposed to this system have taken up the slogan ‘We refuse to mother India’ in response.
An integral part of the Brahmanical patriarchal nation state is the silencing of women, in particular those of lower classes and castes and tribal women who are outside the caste system. This is done by disciplining ‘unruly’ women. Tribal women in India in particular are in the forefront of the fight for water, forests and other rights and thus are not only attacked from the Brahmanical patriarchy but also from neoliberal capitalism that wants them gone to be able to exploit the land unencumbered.
Sexual violence, in particular, has a long history of being used as a method of discipline. It has always been a part of the caste system but has become more aggressive under the current regime. The state uses sexual violence to discipline women, shown by the multiple cases of the police participating in it, and by the fact that in certain cases it is actually legal for the army to use it. The Indian Hard Right is also now using online sexual harassment as a method to keep women in their place.
The Gender Politics of the Hard Right in Poland
Poland gives us the perspective of another country under a Hard Right government. Like in India, the conservatives in Poland use a heroic self-sacrificing image of Mother Poland. On of the biggest issues in Poland at the moment is the practically non-existent right to abortion. The government has also tried to legalise violence against women and has attacked LGBTQ rights. Notably, the president has stated that LGBTQ people don’t exist, but are simply an ‘ideology’. All this has led to a rise of violence against women and the LGBTQ community that is largely ignored by the police.
An interesting particularity of the Polish experience is that the word ‘gender’ is imported, which affects the use of language to speak about the issue. Gender as a word has become in some parties synonymous with ‘monster’ and at times has become an umbrella term for everything the Far Right doesn’t like, or is linked to neo-liberalism. Another particularity is the importance of the Catholic Church in the country and the widespread propaganda of the debt the country owes the Catholic Pope for supposedly liberating the country from communism.
Part II – Mapping hard right attacks on gender and reproductive justice and resistance to them
This interactive session produced a rich and detailed set of issues involving threats and attacks from the hard right and resistance to them. These are listed here.
- Vigil to commemorate the legalisation of abortion by March 4 Life or similar in Parliament Square with another vigil coming up on 2/9/2023.
- Rethink Abortion Day in Birmingham planned by March 4 Life on 4/2/2023.
- Vigils and harassment outside abortion clinics have been held by Helpers of God’s Precious Infants outside abortion clinics across London including Woodford and Stratford.
- Propaganda ads online targeted at those who visit the planned parenthood website. These are run internationally including by a group called ‘Heartbeat International’.
- Women on Waves – a boat providing abortions in international waters.
- Counter protest outside the church starting point of Helpers of Gods Precious Infants organised by Feminist Fightback.
- Sister Supporter, accompanying people into abortion clinics.
- Abortion support network and Bluebird.
- Feminist Fightback disruption of ‘LifeFest’ by March 4 Life in Birmingham.
- Pro-choice social media activism.
- Media coverage of real life consequences of anti-choice laws being introduced.
- Informative pro-choice network.
- AJ Lowik’s work on trans access to abortion.
- Opposition to attacks on abortion by BPAS and the BMA.
- Attempts to block the gender recognition reform bill in Scotland by Tories and Christian anti-choice lobbying groups like CARE (Christian Action Research and Education), currently active in attacking both trans rights and reproductive justice.
- Repurposing of tactics from the anti-choice movement like attacks on medical practitioners, to attacks on trans rights and attacks on NHS gender identity services like the Tavistock by groups including the establishment (government, The Guardian newspaper). Intervening in healthcare is linked via a key person at the New Social Covenant Unit (dedicated to ‘promoting family values’ in government), Tory MP Danny Kruger who has been involved in attacking NHS trans healthcare and was on the board of a church offering gay conversion therapy.
- This was also linked to NHS service capture, another tactic taken from the anti-choice movement, in which conversion therapy and anti-abortion advocacy groups like Christian Medical Foundation, Gender Exploratory Therapists and Christian Concern organise to get onto NHS research panels and provide free anti-trans training, e.g. to GPs.
- Within NHS England, taking sexual health service provision out of control of local people has been facilitated by Integrated Care Boards, the new commissioning arrangements within the NHS.
- Feeding into the ranks of anti-trans hate groups are previously ‘apolitical’, usually suburban or atomized people recruited through ‘feeder issues’ like anti-vax and anti-LTN (low traffic neighbourhoods) groups, where they are brought into contact with the hard right and radicalised. Anti-vax activism is also linked to service capture within the NHS.
- The same people may be brought into online harassment of trans inclusive services for women co-ordinated by Tommy Robinson and gender critical mostly online groupings via Mumsnet and twitter. Inclusive services for women have received suspicious parcels sent by these groups, showing harassment can move offline. Mermaids helpline had to be shut due to a flood of abuse and this appeared to be co-ordinated with a complaint to the charity commission.
- Recruits are funnelled via groups like LGB alliance and key individuals like ‘Posie Parker’ who has explicitly aligned herself with fascists like Tommy Robinson and used a picture of a Barbie doll in a Nazi uniform on social media. A recent freedom of information request to OFCOM found the LGB alliance had a postal address at 55 Tufton Street, the address shared by a cluster of think tanks and lobbying groups behind the right wing of the Tory Party (Liz Truss, Austerity and Brexit aligned) like Taxpayers Alliance.
- Linked to the influence of the religious right in society, including via their influence within Tufton street based lobbying groups, is the inclusion of orthodox and fundamentalist clergy as unelected government advisors, exerting disproportionate influence on policy for the country. Opposition to Gay Marriage within the Anglican church was placed here.
- Attacks on drag queen story time by white nationalist group Patriotic Alternative (including former members of banned fascist group National Action) further demonstrate how anti-trans attacks are closely linked to the organised far right in Britain. On our map these were placed next to conspiracy theorists and ‘Liberal/Hippy women radicalised into eco-fascism’.
- Protest outside 10 Downing Street to oppose UK government position on the GRA.
- NHS Strikes
- Street community defense – visibly revealing lack of support.
Sex and Relationship Education
- Online misogynists and podcasters who spread rightwing ideas about sexuality to the young in a form of rightwing sex education disseminated online.
- Bus advertising has been seen in Spain disseminating to the public fundamentalist and essentialist ideas that there are only two sexes/genders – funding not known.
- Parent complaints against sex and relationship education in Tower Hamlets (and elsewhere) have been co-ordinated by a group called STOP RSE supported by groups within East London Mosque and Council of Mosques. Conservative MP Miriam Cates made a speech describing sex education as ‘graphic, extreme and inappropriate’ and a STOP RSE conference was held with planned keynote speaker Dr Kate Godfrey Fausset (Anti-LGBT psychologist) who failed to show at the last minute.
- Parents in Bethnal Green coming together and boards of governors advocating for Sex Ed.
- Section 28 film ‘Don’t Say Gay’ www.section28film.com
- Supporting Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools (SEEDS) picketed STOP RSE conference. – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brook, Terrence Higgins Trust, Stonewall
- Apps for teachers on internet/tiktok trends so we can be informed and targeted.
- Attack by online gender critical groups against a member of staff at the LSE gender studies department studying trans children’s rights, accusing them of paedophilia.
- A misogynist, racist and colonial network exists at Trinity College Cambridge around Professor Michael Hurley.
- Death threats were made to Sussex university UCU by supporters of Kathleen Stock, a Sussex anti-trans academic with strong legal support and links to the media. The idea of ‘cancel culture’ and discourses of being victimised in higher education are used by transphobic actors to situate themselves as oppressed victims.
- Hard right and conservative ideology on the offensive were linked to attacks on sex work, for example recent restrictions on street sex workers in Newham by Newham Labour Party.
- Fact checking volunteer online groups reporting and flagging abuse in an organised way.
- A one day workshop on anti-gender politics hosted by a university department.
In the final session of the day we looked towards the future as we discussed possible actions.
Conclusion and Follow-up
We will be holding follow-up sessions to make a final choice of group action to take forward and start organising details and practicalities.