A common question often posed when it comes to the topic of right-wing women is whether these women are feminists. Before attempting an answer, it is worth to consider the assumptions behind this question.
Herein lies the stereotype or political fear - quite prevalent in the Greek case that is here presented -, which assumes that a woman who engages with politics and who has a political opinion, is probably a woman defending equality and women’s rights, a feminist. But what about women on the right? How do they view feminism? Are they feminists? What kind of political identity do they propose? Below I will refer to three key elements that lie at the core of the public identity performed and proposed by right-wing women in Greece. Before that, it is necessary to note that women of the right can be very different in their motives and in the activities in which they engage in their political groups (1). Here I focus on positions and images that prevail in public discourse of right-wing women, that is, on the collective identity they construct and stand up for in the political arena. Moreover, when I refer to right-wing women, I mean women of the broader far-right spectrum, whose views are positioned beyond liberalism, from the new alternative right to neo-Nazism, although radical right views can also be (and are more and more to be) found in the political center.
In May 2020 a video by a young woman youtuber of the Greek alt-right scene titled “Why I'm Not a Feminist” went viral, sparking an intense online controversy over the need for feminism today. Far-right women in Greece, as elsewhere, clearly oppose to feminism, to feminist arguments and to feminist demands. But why; Are they against women's rights? Against their own rights (if for a moment we think of feminism in the narrowest sense of defending women's rights)? Two remarks are important here. First, although right-wing women refer to rights in their public positionings, they do not understand rights in general and women’s rights, in particular in the same way that feminism and especially contemporary, intersectional feminism does. Second, there is actually no fixed definition of feminism - feminism should not be considered as an abstract concept beyond its historical and geo-political situatedness, but as a concept unavoidably related to the development of feminist (as well as anti-feminist) movement(s). Thus, taking into account the historicity of feminism and its consequent relativity, as well as the political and social antagonisms that compete to define its meaning and content, should not be ignored.
With that said, it should be no surprise that right-wing women embrace historical moments or aspects of feminism that are convenient and match other ideological elements of the political narratives and spaces in which they participate. Thereby they can claim an alternative women’s voice or even define “correct” feminism, rejecting current feminist demands as (supposedly) moving beyond any rationality, “true” needs of contemporary people, even the “will” of women – e.g. the desire to become a mother, which is represented as a feminist taboo in right circles. Characteristically, Evgenia Christou, formerly head of Golden Dawn Women's Front, in an interview to Greek nationalist newspaper “Stohos” back in 2014, referred to several historical moments of feminist movement that can been criticized for racist, classist, even sexist positions, in order to argue against feminist flawedness. At the same time, as alternative to feminism, she proposed a model of womanhood based on motherhood, presenting her own experience of becoming a mother as her ultimate personal fulfilment – according to her words, against any other achievement of hers until then and against common feminist sentiment. Apart from such an approach of total rejection of feminism, there is also the argument that in the past feminism may have fought for women’s rights, and even accomplished some achievements, but feminist critique and demands are no longer valid today. For example, women administrators of the disguised ultra-nationalist facebook page named “Lady-ism” have already from the beginning of their activity on social media in 2017 clearly stated that it is modern feminism what they oppose and that feminism actually lost its way after the first wave, when it abandoned its reference to women’s feminine nature, to “femininity”, as they claim.
Such an approach offers far-right women a framework that does not question the right to work, education or political rights, that is some of the demands of the first western feminist movements in the 19th and early 20th century – rights which meanwhile are acquired and socially established, despite shortcomings and continuing inequalities. It also provides a framework for them to oppose current feminist demands, which seek to deepen these rights, to correct their flaws, to extend them by including new topics and social groups that have remained excluded, and to raise issues of sexuality, class, religion, race, age, ableness. In fact, right-wing women do not care and do not fight for women's rights today. Their discourse refers abstractly to support of motherhood, of mothers of many children or even women’s right to (compulsory) military service. For them, women’s rights accord with the rights of the “nation” and the “white race” - interestingly dominant versions and narratives of first wave feminism, which they sometimes acclaim, often anchored to the narratives of nation and race (2). Rights references by far-right women are often racist, promoting nationalism, heteronormativity, and even gender segregation – women’s ultimate place is the home and men’s place the public sphere. Women of the far right are claiming political space and social change, but not for the sake of their gender as for the sake of the national/racial community to which they declare devotion. Their political discourse often concerns broader “national” issues and is not necessarily narrowed to gender issues. That said, in terms of gender, they construct a feminine identity that favors two basic elements, inspired by the dominant Greek national(ist) narrative - two elements away from (what they depict as) feminism: motherhood and militancy.
Mothers (of the nation)
Right-wing women glorify motherhood. However, they do not refer to recorded needs of real mothers in the country, but only vaguely social “recognition” of motherhood as well as the need for state support of women who/to have children. Their proposals are not based on needs described by women themselves, but on the vision of a large and powerful nation, which (those accepted as) women - mothers or potential mothers -, should serve. Especially in Golden Dawn - which has been inspired by strategies of historical German national socialism and historical Greek interwar fascism regarding the politicization and participation of women and mothers in the movement -, women often mobilize or are called upon to mobilize as mothers, but political affiliations remain usually hidden under the disguise of “concerned” or “indignant citizens”. Thus, in a period of mobilizations against immigrants in poor neighborhoods in the center of Athens, like Agios Panteleimonas, which took place in the beginning of 2010 and was led by Golden Dawn, women were called upon to join the party struggle. Not only were they called upon as women lacking security in the streets and squares of the city, but also as mothers, for the sake of their children and their future in Greece. In September 2020, amidst the corona pandemic, a former candidate with Golden Dawn in Thessaloniki, the capital of Northern Greece, led the movement against the use of masks at schools “for the sake of children’s health”, as a concerned, non-partisan mother. The invocation of motherhood, however, may have contradictory political results, which though have not been explored. On the one hand, it may contribute to a more friendly face of the far right towards women and the broader public, especially if we consider the strength of the value of motherhood in Greek society. On the other hand, the burdens of reproductive and care work that many women bear, either as mothers or non-mothers in their families, are so many, that it seems that with only a few nice words on “recognition”, women are not easily persuaded by the far right.
At the same time, the right praises women as fighters, as the men's ally in the war and in “national struggles”. The model of the female fighter and “heroine of the nation” is honored, however, not only in ultra-nationalist contexts, but also in the broader Greek national narrative. From ancient Spartan women, depicted as strong, combative mothers of men-soldiers, to women warriors of the Greek independence war in the 19th century and to women who assisted the Greek army against the attack of fascist Italy in 1940-41 on Pindus mountains in Northern Greece, women hold a symbolic position as heroic fighters in the Greek national myth. Greek right-wing women appropriate these historical figures nowadays expressing admiration or portraying themselves as worthy successors to a national tradition that wants women to be strong, courageous and even familiar with the use of weapons and violence – a field usually attributed to men. Thus, returning to the example of Golden Dawn, not only female warriors of mythical and historical past are exalted as role models for the present. Women members have been trained to guns, as material from Golden Dawn trial reveals, while high-rank women, like ex MP Eleni Zaroulia, have often taken a stand in favor of mandatory military service of women in the Greek army, explaining, however, that women’s roles should be secondary and assistant to those of men. Although the image of militant, armed women may contradict the conservative gender roles scheme that prevail in the far-right, it seems that at the same time it is also welcome, especially since the warfare rhetoric and sentiment have lately risen in the country regarding anti-migration as well as tense relations with neighboring countries North Macedonia and Turkey. Furthermore, recent pictures of Armenian women fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh war have been widely circulating and applauded in Greek far-right media – by both women and men.
Definitely, right-wing women do not introduce themselves in public as feminists – a term that carries particularly negative connotations in Greece anyway. This though does not mean that they present an identity only in negative terms – they do not just reject feminism. On the contrary, they propose an alternative political identity for women, which introduces new (or, from another point of view, old) answers to the question of what a “woman” is or should be, shifting the discourse on femininity and gender to more conservative, nationalist and racist paths. This political identity draws from the glory of the national collective narrative, which honors women as mothers and at the same time as warriors for the good of the nation, for its survival and continuation. This probably makes far-right discourse much more familiar to the public than usually admitted.
(1) Kathleen Blee (2018). Understanding racist activism. Theory, Methods and Research. Routledge.
(2) Christine Bolt (2004). Sisterhood Questioned? Race, class and internationalism in the American and British women’s movements, c. 1880s–1970s. Routledge.