Exploring Femonationalism

Molly Lindsey is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.

[NOTE: This message, while important, is certainly not new. This is a tiny look at a massive subject. The intersects of race and gender will not and cannot be understood from one authors research and perspective or another’s briefing of it.
For more relevant readings: https://women-politics.com/recommended-readings/].

Academic Sara R. Farris evaluates an incongruous assembly of right-wing policy-makers and feminists, questioning their common ground. Focusing on Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in her recent book In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, Farris argues that there is an apparent misuse and co-optation of feminist themes by xenophobic, anti-Islamic individuals and campaigns. The author labels this trend “femonationalism”. Farris believes this rise in so called femonationalism is a ruse for racist policy and rhetoric. Her book focuses on the appeal of women’s rights to stigmatize Muslim men and advance political-economic objectives.

The author points out a “convergence” of political figures and people in general (often from various political backgrounds and with different occupations and goals), all backing a similar story: white people (particularly white women), “saving”, women of color from men of color. Individuals who do not actually care about gender issues are posing, or working alongside, feminists, attacking Islam and framing it as a religion that subjugates women. There is an evident increase in political rhetoric involving women’s rights, but no specific policies to fight gender inequality.  In her book, Farris analyzes the ways in which Muslim men are placed in opposition of Western society. More specifically, the author identifies just how status quo campaigns and policies characterize these men as problematic and dangerous oppressors. Racist discourse that paints these men as the enemy, Farris argues, is often coupled with an urgent desire to “rescue” migrant (often Muslim) women. The case is quite simple: gender equality is used as a ploy to justify racism.

When examining this line of argumentation, it is imperative to outline two distinctions made by the scholar. One, Farris does not deny a rise in ISIS or, that many Muslim countries do not universally prioritize women’s rights. Two, she believes these nationalists utilizing feminism to attack Islam are a minority. She uses right-wing leaders such as Le Pen in France as an example. Farris also clarifies that these individuals exist on the opposite end of the spectrum as well. This is to say that anti-nationalists and non-conservatives are also guilty of isolating Islam as uniquely patriarchal, using anti-Islam representations in the name of feminism.

Western authorities provide a rhetoric that promotes female emancipation, but the actual integration of these women in deeply gendered. Muslim and non-Western migrant women are often left with low-paying, domestic jobs. Farris explains the economic implications of femonationalism, highlighting how non-western migrant women are pushed into low-paying, low-status jobs, often without benefits or contracts. “A job is better than no job”, this argument seems good enough for many. To this, Farris replies that having a job does not, by any standard, imply defenses from exploitation, or any guarantee of any protections whatsoever. A job does not imply fair treatment, equal rights, or opportunity.

Farris explains that it is not uncommon to hear discourse that frames migrant males as “job-stealers” and migrant females as “obedient passive victims of their own supposedly backward cultures”.  Non-western (non-white) women are used for economic and political purposes. However, this link between racism and feminism is not, by any means new. Countless pieces of literature from Black feminists in the 1960s and 1970s in United States highlight this struggle. These women attempted to denounce sexism in local communities, but feared their work would backfire, being co-opted by the white-feminist agenda and used to attack Black men. Imperialism and colonialism (past and present) function as crucial examples of this type of behavior. The unjustified claim that colonialists were bringing “civilization” to “uncivilized” places simply functioned as a ruse for attacks and brutality in the name of globalized hegemony. This rarely comes absent a depletion of natural resources from new regions, and a white, nationalistic agenda.

Scholar Sara Farris does not simply criticize; her work serves as a call to action.  Farris speaks and writes on London-based issues, educating people on how to take action. Farris urges grassroots action, looking to her own place of employment: the London School of Economics (LSE). Farris publicly supports the battle of women’s domestic labor organizations. More specifically, the cleaners at LSE, many of which are female migrant workers, who are fighting for rights and equality. While Farris’s examines the Netherlands, France, and Italy, these issues permeate all of Western society. Femonationalism functions as a framework for comprehending the ways in which non-Western migrant women are used by various groups to further their independent agendas. The evident co-option of political actors at the unfortunate expense of these women, serves as a reminder. While resisting racism and sexism, we must also be critical of our personal practices and who/what we are endorsing.








Picture credit: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/event/cosponsored-islamophobia-name-womens-rights-sara-farris


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