Gender And Misogyny At The Capitol Insurrection
Dr. Miranda Christou is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in Sociology of Education at the University of Cyprus.
Despite the fact that scholars of the far-right warned about challenges to democratic institutions and impending violence even before Election Day, the Capitol insurrection took many by surprise. While every day brings new evidence to light—testifying to the vile and violent nature of the siege—there is also more information about the disparate groups that formed the crowd.
As Cynthia Miller-Idriss explained, “the individuals who participated in the violence came from a wide range of groups across the far-right spectrum—white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, patriot militias, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and violent MAGA extremists, your neighbors and maybe even your family members.”
The fact that these were mostly white people was no surprise. But the presence of women in the crowd puzzled many, mainly because of assumptions about women’s “instincts” and predispositions. While it is true that women are rarely at the frontlines of violent extremism and they constitute a minority of far-right leaders and far-right voters, this so-called “gender gap” is misleading.
Women’s tangible and often intense investment in organizations that feed on racism and sexism belies their small numerical representation. I argue that women’s role in extremist movements needs to be understood in light of the misogyny that fueled the insurrectionists’ violent behavior, both literally and symbolically.
White women normalizing hate
In one of the first academic books to highlight women’s obscured role in white supremacy, Kathleen Blee’s Women of the Klan provided a rare window into how white women organized their domestic lives around the Klan agenda and twisted racial hate through Christian dogma.
White women had also been slave owners as Stephanie Jones-Rogers methodically outlines in They Were her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South where it is obvious that their investment in the economy of slavery outweighed their lack of political power. Seward Darby’s insight into the lives of three women in Sisters in Hate also shows how white women’s allegiance to a racial hierarchy that benefits them trumps any of their feminist demands for equality.
White women’s role in white supremacy has a long history and it continues to morph into movements and causes that render a familial face to bigotry and hatred. This is why QAnon moms (or QAmoms) is now a mainstream phenomenon. The QAnon conspiracy infiltrated moms’ Facebook groups by tugging on their motherly sentiments and by providing them with likes in the age of mother influencers.
What took off as an obscure conspiracy theory supported by marginal basement dwellers moved into the kitchen and the living room because it artfully whitewashed Nazi ideology into a movement that purported to save trafficked children. No need to invoke the 14 words because QAnon hijacked #savethechildren in order to bestow an air of legitimacy and urgency to an otherwise ludicrous scheme.
Many white women have always been normalizing hate and they will continue to nurture children into hatred, bake cookies for white supremacists and declare innocence when their complicity is exposed. As Mona Eltahawy noted: “the audacity of white womanhood obscures and obfuscates the violence that white women are allowed to get away with.”
Misogyny as a gateway to white supremacy
White women’s complicity with white supremacy, however, should not conceal the openly misogynistic ideology of extremist movements, including the ones that stormed the Capitol. From the Alt-Right to Proud Boys and full-blown neo-Nazis, these different shades of white supremacy are held together by their support for traditional gender roles and a sense of loss for the good old days when women knew their place at home.
They are the Angry White Men that Michael Kimmel so presciently described as the Trump supporters who are characterized by a sense of aggrieved entitlement: they mourn the disappearance of “real men,” feel blindsided by feminist progress, and play up their victimhood in a world they no longer recognize.
As Alex DiBranco, founder of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, has noted, the Trump campaign and presidency mobilized a whole range of misogynistic tactics that accompanied his performances of toxic masculinity. In fact, sexist attitudes do not simply correlate with white supremacy but there is evidence that sexism functions as the gateway drug to white supremacy: men bonding over misogyny and rallying for the white race. Analysis of posts by male misogynistic groups on the internet, known as the manosphere, also indicates that these groups are migrating into more violent extremist spaces.
Mona Lena Krook, the author of “Violence against Women in Politics,” explained how misogyny was on full display at the Capitol siege. Targeting Nancy Pelosi’s office (feet up on her desk, stealing her gavel, her laptop, and the Speaker’s lectern) were symbolic forms of putting down the most powerful female political figure in American politics. Another man was arrested for tweeting to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “Assassinate AOC.” This is exactly what Kate Manne described as the moralizing goal of misogyny in Down Girl.
The radical right and abuse
Finally, there is another, more disturbing layer in the performance of toxic masculinity by the aggressive crowd at the Capitol siege. Writing for Elle magazine, Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer for victim’s rights, explains how the Capitol events triggered analogies with the cycle of violence in domestic abuse: first, there is tension building, followed by explosive violence and then a short honeymoon period before the abuser embarks on the same route.
When President Trump stood in front of his adoring crowd hours before the siege and said “These people are not going to take it any longer” and “We will not let them silence your voices,” he was whipping up a lie (“They cheated”) to build tension that would explode into violence.
This is exactly how an abuser functions: he accuses her of cheating on him, of wanting to cheat on him, of thinking of cheating on him. Truth does not matter—only the fact that he is angry and will explode any minute now. He manufactures himself into a victim to justify the beating. Afterwards, he brings flowers and tells her that he loves her: “We love you, you are very special,” the president told his insurrectionist followers; because they are both victims of his lies and perpetrators of the violence he instructed them to commit.
Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker tweeted exactly this analogy a week after the events when it became obvious that GOP elected officials were tortured by the dilemma of distancing themselves from the president or keep toeing the line: “This really does remind me that the most dangerous period in an abusive marriage is when you leave.”
Reducing politics into interpersonal dynamics is always epistemologically problematic because it risks psychologizing the structural and systemic parameters of how power functions. But the growing evidence that perpetrators of violent extremism have a history of domestic abuse, is not only a sound piece of information for policymakers but also a warning about the cycle of violence that we are facing.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.