The war against women: Germany’s fight against anti-feminism and the Far-Right
Illustration credit: Cveta Gotovats

For the past 15 years, Germans have been used to one face on the political scene. Angela Merkel, member of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), has been chancellor since 2005. She has spent four consecutive terms cultivating a somewhat reliable image, and it is no surprise that Germany has maintained political stability because of this.

Yet, 2021 will be the year when everything will change for German politics. Angela Merkel’s firm stance on not seeking a 5th term means that crucial decisions need to be made over who is capable of following such a politically powerful and influential woman. How exactly the country will change remains unclear. Regardless, Germans need to start getting used to seeing a different face other than that of their “Mutti”. 

Germany’s changing political attitudes

The CDU has maintained its hold over the federal government for more than a decade, but changing political attitudes in German society, such as a surge in support for the Green party, suggest that more than just the chancellorship is up for grabs. Germany would also see significant governmental changes if a new party were to take centre-stage. Merkel’s exit has opened an incredibly dangerous playing field for other parties in the Bundestag to capitalise on discontent and a desire for change. With the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being positioned as the main opposition party in the Bundestag, politicians and Germans have been forced to ask themselves: what would a right-wing takeover mean for modern-day Germany?

Founded in 2013, the AfD has spent much of the past seven years profiting from Merkel’s “Willkommenskultur” (Welcoming Culture) towards refugees. Following the migrant crisis in 2015, support for the AfD soared, achieving as high as 24% of the vote in 2016 state elections. It still seems unlikely that the AfD will take over the chancellorship any time soon, but that does not mean there isn’t cause for concern.

Political focus is often placed on the party’s controversial views on immigration, race and population, with many politicians failing to acknowledge the nuanced relationship between far-right populism and anti-feminism. A new Germany governed by the AfD would surely signify the undoing of social and legal progress made for and by women.

AfD: the far-right ideology and anti-feminism

Many may balk at the idea of the AfD as an anti-feminist party, especially considering that its leader in the Bundestag is a queer woman – Alice Weidel. Indeed, many far-right politicians in Germany, and across Europe, are women. But this does not confirm far-right parties as typically being in support of feminism. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite.

Female German politicians are very often the direct victims of misogynist ideologies originating from populism. Anne Helm, head of the socialist Left Party’s parliament group in Berlin’s legislature, has claimed receiving multiple threatening emails from anonymous far-right extremists. The sender claims to be part of the NSU 2.0 (National Socialist Underground), a right-wing terrorist network that has emerged from the original NSU. Seda Basay-Yildiz, a German lawyer who represented the first victim of the NSU, has also been at the receiving end of threatening emails.

The way in which liberal women are targeted by far-right groups is telling of the anti-feminist motives that define populist policies. After all, both anti-feminism and far-right extremism reject liberalism and push for the removal of constitutional and human rights.

Involuntary celibacy and other risks of anti-feminism

Central to far-right ideologies is the idea that anti-feminism upholds the glorified image of violent, heroic men defending their women and children. Female autonomy and sexual liberation are presented as genuine threats to traditional gender-based structures. Successful and independent women, such as Anne Helm, prevent men from living up to this far-right narrative.

This explains why involuntary celibacy (incel for short) is often associated with the Far Right. According to Henning von Bargen of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, involuntary celibacy is the belief that “young men are entitled to women and their bodies… [because] women are withholding sex from them”. Men are subsequently made to associate feminism with negative experiences, seeing the movement not as a step closer towards gender equality, but as a misleading illusion to assert control over men.

Stephan B, perpetrator of the October 2019 synagogue attack in Halle, represents the inseparability of gender and immigration politics in far-right parties. He listened to misogynistic music and railed against feminism as the main cause behind a declining birth rate in the West, encouraging a constant influx of migrants.

These anti-feminist views have the potential to become clear-cut political agendas if the AfD is ever to be electorally successful. Fundamentally, the AfD supports a white, heteronormative family model and seeks to raise the birth rate “among women of German origin”. Naturally, then, abortion is frowned upon, viewed as a step too far towards sexual self-determination.

For a party that is predominantly elected and led by men, this is not surprising. According to Katharina Hajek, who specialises in gender politics of the New Right in Austria and Germany, “the ‘traditional family’ – understood as the heterosexual married couple with biological children and a gendered division of labour – is the ‘guiding principle’ of their gender policy”.

The AfD tends to explain its rejection of female emancipation through the Great Replacement, a right-wing conspiracy theory believed to have originated from French author Renaud Camus. The conspiracy theory voices populist fears of cataclysmic demographic changes across Europe. Supposedly, ethnic minorities and migrants will overpopulate the continent due to a higher birth rate. To save European culture from potential collapse, far-right supporters claim that white female sexuality and reproduction must be controlled. The party profited from the theory during their 2017 campaign, with one poster displaying the image of a white pregnant woman. The caption reads: “Neue Deutsche? Machen wir selber”, translating to “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves”.

Evident in their manifesto is the AfD’s dismissal of gender ideology and gender mainstreaming. The party “rejects efforts at both national and international levels to implement this ideology through instruments such as gender studies, quotas (for example, for women), and campaigns such as the one for gender-neutral language. Such extreme policies are diluted through the party’s focus on the family, claiming that “marriage and family are the nucleus and germ cells of civil society and a cornerstone of social cohesion”.

Germany under the New Right: A concerning image

The AfD’s rejection of feminism and gender ideology is nothing new. Initiative Familienschutz (Family Protection Initiative) and Initiative Besorgte Eltern (Concerned Parents Initiative) are two examples of organisations which work to avoid the “destruction of the family” through tax law, gender-based policies and the teaching of homosexuality in schools.

Perhaps one of the most concerning organisations is Demo für Alle (Demo for Everyone). The organisation has established close links with the AfD through their shared postal address in Berlin, despite their own claim that they distance themselves from “all anti-Semitic, racist and extremist ideas and organisations, or individuals who represent such ideas”. Criticism of female sexual liberation and reproductive rights is nothing new in Germany, but the AfD’s ability to curtail female autonomy through genuine policies should be enough to detract voters.

Whilst it is extremely unlikely that Angela Merkel will be replaced by the AfD in next year’s federal election, the party’s growing popularity stands to remind us of what Germany could look like under the New Right. Abortion access and modern divorce laws would be restricted, childless women would be discriminated against at a far higher level, and rape culture would likely be normalised in Germany.

It is clear, then, that the AfD is a “rampantly male-dominated bro-club which has declared war on the emancipation of women”. This war can be avoided if Germany realises the threat posed by the AfD and actively works to resist it. And this resistance always begins at the polls.