25th Jun, 2021
Reconsidering the Sexual Politics of Fascism
Two women were killed in the riots on the US Capitol but only one of them, Ashli Babbitt, has become a martyr for the movement. The other woman, Roseanne Boyland, was trampled by a crowd of Trump supporters shortly after arriving at the Capitol and seen in video waving a Gadsen (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flag. The tragic irony of Boyland’s death became a comic meme on the Left. But, on the Right, it was Ashli Babbitt who was remembered and memorialised. Now her name trends with every high-profile police killing of a Black person. #Sayhername, the hashtag used to bring visibility to patterns of police violence against Black women, was swiftly appropriated to obscure that violence.1 Ashli Babbitt became the Right’s counter-image to Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, proof that only some lives mattered to the Left and that some women were willing to sacrifice everything for their country.
Video footage, captured in the moments before her death, show the 35-year old Air Force veteran storming the US Capitol building with an American flag draped around her shoulders like a cape, then being hoisted through a broken glass door to enter the building, and finally being shot in the neck by a plain-clothes police officer before falling to the floor. Babbitt was unarmed when she was shot, though many in the crowd around her were carrying weapons and, just beyond the broken glass, several members of the US House of Representatives were in the midst of a hurried escape. Two weeks later, the Right organized a “Million Martyr March” to commemorate Babbitt. The poster, all in black, featured an illustration of a woman in white at its centre, in front of the Capitol dome, a teardrop of red blood at her neck, haloed by four white stars. The riot of January 6th generated a whole gallery of images that will be used by the Right as recruiting devices in the years to come. Ashli Babbitt reimaged as Lady Liberty is distinctive for its “feminine” aesthetic.
The martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt raises two separate but related questions – what the Right says about women and what the Right says to women – whose answers will tell us something about how it has adapted to changes in the social structure and how it foments contradictory forms of political reaction. Writing in the 1970s on fascism and femininity, Marxist-feminist Maria Antonietta Macciocchi noted the strange silence on these questions, as if we could understand fascism without also understanding how it speaks to and about women.2 For Macciocchi, a critical theory of fascism had to begin with the distinctive form of “female antifeminism” bred by male supremacy.3 She challenged the old Left for its failure to take sex seriously as a site of domination and struggle. And she insisted that anti-fascist theory and practice become feminist theory and practice, which is to say that it comprehend and combat the sexual politics of the Right, as well as the fascistic tendencies of the Left.
Macciocchi found resources for a feminist theory of fascism within Marxism, especially Antonio Gramsci, and in the psychoanalytic tradition, especially Wilhelm Reich. La Donna “Nera”: Consenso Femminile e fascismo, published in 1976, is remarkable for being one of the few texts in the long history of Freudian-Marxism driven by feminist aims and a feminist agenda. For Macciocchi, psychoanalysis provided the explanation for women’s consent to fascism, which she saw as a form of female masochism and mass irrationalism. Whatever the limits of this argument, Macciocchi posed a primary question of politics as a question for and about women in particular: Why do women fight for their servitude as if it was their salvation? How do women come to desire their own domination and even defend it to the death? How does femininity itself get constructed around this bizarre death drive?
Just a few years later, in 1979, the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin published “The Promise of the Ultra-Right,” which would become the first chapter of Right-Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females, which aimed to show how “movement conservatism” in the United States had succeeded in mobilising women as women on behalf of male supremacy.4 Though she was not a Marxist or a Freudian, and her book is noteworthy for the absence of reference to these established traditions, Dworkin echoes Macciocchi in emphasizing the role of women in right-wing mobilization. She was focused specifically on the American case, undoubtedly different from the movements in Italy and Latin America that Macciocchi studied.5 And she saw white women’s support for the Far Right as a mostly rational calculation, quite unlike Macciocchi’s ideas about instinct and irrationalism. But Dworkin, too, insists that the sexual politics of the Right are key to its success. She emphasises the power of women like Anita Bryant, Ruth Carter Stapleton, and especially Phyllis Schlafly in mobilising the support of women for their own subservience and second-class status – preferable, after all, to no status at all. Like Macciocchi, Dworkin takes aim at the cult of femininity that anchors male supremacism in the hearts of conservative women, as well as in men. She also sees “female antifeminism” as a potent political force, often neglected and easily misunderstood. Both thinkers treat the institution and ideology of the patriarchal family as breeding ground for fascism.
The contemporary conjuncture throws new light on these old texts and the image of “female antifeminism” that emerges from both. I begin with Ashli Babbitt precisely because she was not the typical housewife from the Eagle Forum mailing list. Nor was she the mournful Madonna that Macciocchi saw at the roots of fascist movements. She embodies neither traditional nor mythic femininity. Indeed, Ashli was more like one of the guys. A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Babbitt served 14 years in United States Air Force, 4 on active duty, 2 as a reservist, and another 6 on the National Guard. She retired from the military in the lower ranks of leadership, with a few medals for her service but before becoming eligible for a full pension. In photographs that circulated after her death, she embodies the sun-kissed, tomboy sexuality of a sex-integrated society (and military): ponytail, red MAGA cap, tank tops, fatigues, sunglasses, cutoff denim, American flags, in flexed pose. Ashli was divorced and remarried, with no children, living with her second husband and his girlfriend in what tabloids say was a “throuple” but was, at any rate, not entirely conventional. Her Twitter feed indicates that she once voted for Barack Obama but was “radicalised” by an intense hatred of Hillary Clinton. She found other targets in Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and Kamala Harris. It was a novel strain of “female antifeminism” that took hold of Babbitt, concentrated in reaction against women leaders of the Democratic Party. When she left for the Capitol protest, she was the owner of a failing pool supply shop in suburban San Diego, deep in debt. The sign on the door of her storefront declared it a “Mask Free Autonomous Zone” in protest against the state’s Covid-19 restrictions. Further down, the sign read: “We shake hands like men.”
If the “Ultra-Right” (Dworkin’s term) had once promised white women the security and safety of patriarchal domesticity, today it offers something else, something more immediately transgressive, more responsive to destructive impulses and antisocial forces, and more proximate to the equality that it rejects and the freedom it renounces. It offers white women an account of their unhappiness and an affective arena to express their rage.6 Schlafly and other “movement conservatives” once heralded “the power of the positive woman,” but the Right today understands the power and potency of the negative. It relishes white women’s anger and feeds their resentment. It encourages their aggression. And this, I would suggest, is at least part of its appeal. It is not simply a question of protecting one’s interests (as white women, petit-bourgeois women, women with American citizenship), or even desiring one’s own domination, but of gaining access to the pleasures of “masculine” affect and agency. It is a privilege reserved only for some women, which is part of the point. And it is a form of “female antifeminism” that mirrors the neoliberal feminism it opposes, another degraded version of having it all, where instead of the corporate career and the heterosexual reproductive family, women can have combat training, AR 15s, polyamorous sexuality, conspiracism, and, above all, a semblance of power that substitutes for the real thing. Some women want a seat at the boardroom table. Others want to be in the eye of the storm.
Ocean Beach, the “bohemian” neighbourhood that Babbitt called home, is about 40 miles away from Camp Pendleton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the United States. The military, the beach, and the border are the most powerful institutions in San Diego and give the region its distinctive political culture. For several decades now, the Far Right has adopted a deliberate strategy to infiltrate the US military. And Southern California has long been a hotbed of white supremacist and skinhead gang activity. But it does not appear that Babbitt was a part of this scene, or even that she was radicalised during her time in the Air Force. More likely, she was schooled, like millions of others, in the lower ranks of the American security apparatus, shaped by the local politics of a national border just 25 miles from her home, and steered to the Far Right by her own “common sense” and community. Women comprise about 15% of the US military, where they are subject to shocking levels of sexual harassment and assault. It is also where women learn how to “shake hands like men” and participate in the rituals of gendered violence to which they are routinely subject.
Macciocchi’s portrait of female masochism cannot capture the complexities of an Ashli Babbitt. And Dworkin’s representation of right-wing women captures none of the irrationalism, for which psychoanalysis remains our best available theoretical vocabulary. Nonetheless, both thinkers are highly attuned to what Horkheimer and Adorno describe as the “potential fascism” latent in our existing institutions, as well as the dynamics of fascisation, to use Ugo Palheta’s very helpful terminology, that harness this potential.7 Both see that sex is a key instrument of fascisation.
Palheta defines fascisation as a “whole historical period” and process that prepares a population for fascism.8 He identifies “two main vectors” of fascisation: “the authoritarian hardening of the state and the rise of racism.”9 I think it is well worth thinking about this authoritarian hardening of the state in connection with the hardening of personality that the Reichian idea of “character armour” implies. But, on an even more basic level, can we speak of the fascisation without speaking of sex? Will we be in any position to understand the fascism of our present and how it relates to fascisms past? Will we understand how online misogyny becomes gateway drug to Far Right, how the world of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, MGTOW trolls, and “involuntary celibates” overlaps with that of white supremacists, militia men, and proud boys, or even how a relatively minor episode like #gamergate could be plausibly described one of the inaugural events of the Trump era? Will we recognise in the “Great Replacement” myth a bid for control of women’s sexuality, as well as racist and culturalist panic? Even more to my point here, without seeing sex as an instrument of fascisation, can we make sense of the anti-vaxxers, yoga moms, and wellness gurus who are part of the new Right resurgence, how the Q-anon conspiracy mobilises women’s fears for their children? Can we appreciate how the politics of #MeToo – which positions some as victims of the boss’s unwanted sexual advances, some as the boss’s wife, and some as mothers who hope their young sons will grow up to be bosses – shapes the present moment? Can we explain how a relatively fringe movement, like #tradlife, relates to the larger political project of anti-feminism on the Right? Can we hear its softer echoes among the “fash-curious” and trad-socialist Left? Can we comprehend a political situation in which Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) do the bidding of religious fundamentalists and cultural nationalists? Will we grasp why trans liberation is not only a feminist but also an antifascist project?
What both Macciocchi and Dworkin saw as novel in the reactionary movements they observed, namely the mobilisation of “female antifeminism” in defence of male dominance, might appear instead as an ongoing and evolving strategy of the Right. It is striking that neither Macciocchi nor Dworkin get much attention in debates about fascism today, especially when it seems that every major thinker of the twentieth-century has by now been reread to have predicted these developments. It is as if the Left does not yet know how to talk about women and the Right, with the implication that it does not know how to fight for the liberation that feminism demands.
It is not obvious that Macciocchi and Dworkin belong in the same analysis. They wrote in different national and historical contexts, held to very different ideas about history and society, and advanced different feminist politics and fought different reactionary movements. They also took opposed positions on the ultimate compatibility of Marxism and feminism and the uses of psychoanalysis for feminist politics. Macciocchi was born in the year that Mussolini took power, to anti-fascist parents living in the Lazio region. She would become an established journalist and an elected politician, though her early critical theory of fascism, which fuses Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytical arguments, remains obscure and mostly forgotten. She was a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and a follower of Gramsci, introducing his ideas to French audiences in Paris and Algiers and defending them against critics, including Louis Althusser. Her correspondence with Althusser in the late 1960s led to a significant rift with the PCI.10 By the 1970s, she was expelled from the party for her support for Maoism and the Cultural Revolution. Later in life, after meeting Pope John Paul II, she repositioned herself toward the Church and its teachings.
Though this late “conversion” is in some ways surprising, it is also true that Macciocchi always saw the Church and religion as being at the centre of Italian political life. Her earlier argument in La Donna “Nera” was that the Catholic myth of female sexuality – the virgin mother as the counterimage to the pitiful whore – provided the ideological-psychological basis for fascism. Mussolini entered a political terrain already set and significantly shaped by conservative institutions and ideologies. And he engaged women on this terrain, women who had lost their sons and brothers in war and wanted a politics that valorised and venerated death. A “martyred, baneful, and necrophiliac femininity” lie at the foundations of fascism, according to Macciocchi.11 Though she occasionally lapses into a simplistic view of women as “instinctually” submissive and prone to the irrational, much of her analysis focuses on what contemporary critics have called the “death cult” of fascism, and the ways that women assume the “character armour” of fascism. She took this last idea from Wilhelm Reich, who treated the rise of fascism as a sickness of sexual repression, inhibition, and anxiety.12 Like others in the Freudian-Marxist tradition, Macciocchi saw fascism as a kind of mass irrationalism, afflicting women in distinctive ways. She found in psychoanalysis the tools to explain how an aggressively masculinist project gains its surest support among women, even those who would be its victims.
The basic point, for Macciocchi, was that a Marxist analysis had to be slightly stretched to deal with the sexual politics of fascism. She emphasises that working women fared miserably under Mussolini’s regime. Wages for women dropped up to fifty percent. Women were dismissed from work, especially in the professions, and barred from the practice of medicine. They were prohibited from teaching at certain institutions and prevented from studying certain subjects. Women’s reproductive autonomy and agency was severely curtailed. They were even stripped of their gold, for instance on 18 December 1935, when Mussolini declared The Day of Faith and asked Italian wives to give their wedding rings to the State. It was just one month after the League of Nations had imposed sanctions against Italy for the invasion of Ethiopia and the regime was desperate for money and for a show of support. In Rome alone, fascists collected hundreds of thousands of rings. In Milan, they collected nearly as many. Even in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, thousands of women sent gold to the Duce, with estimates that the Italian government received up to $100 million in gold from women around the world. In return, women received little iron rings to wear in place of their wedding bands, sometimes engraved with Mussolini’s signature. They were used in remarriage ceremonies, to cement a woman’s second marriage to the state, seen by Macciocchi as a “mystic marriage under the sign of Death (war) and Birth (cradles).”13 Material conditions for women worsened under fascism, but their attachment to the regime was unfailing. Everyday life was shadowed by death. Mussolini spoke of “coffins and cradles” and exalted women as the eternal guardians of life and death. Psychoanalysis could account for the elements of fascist myth that excite our deepest psychological drives.
Even psychoanalysis had to be slightly stretched to account for the myth of female sexuality at the centre of the fascist unconscious. The coupling and comingling of life and death in the fascist unconscious was, for Macciocchi, powerfully shaped by the concrete institutions of the Church and the Family. Fascism was not a break with tradition, but its hollow veneration and instrumental activation. “The ‘emotional’ plague of fascism is spread through an epidemic of familialism” that demands women surrender their “to him who bears the whip.”14 Fascism is a specific conquest of the streets, but it is born in the family apparatus. Despite her differences with Althusser (“some professor, from his Parisian chair”), Macciocchi also repurposes his most significant concepts, writing: “the ideas that dominate the pillars of the ideological State apparatus, thanks to the joint forces of capitalism and fascism, pivot on familialism, anti-feminism, patriarchy.”15 These ideas are the “ritual practices” through which women “voluntarily accept the ‘royal attributes’ of femininity and maternity.”16 They are reinforced, for example, by “the four papal encyclicals which have ... been promulgated against women and their work, with a view to demanding from them nothing other than procreation, and as a consequence allowing them no divorce, no contraceptive pills, no abortion, and so on.”17 The point is that institutions and their ideologies build the “character armour” of femininity upon which fascism depends. Reich’s idea of “character armour” was itself a Freudian reconstruction of the Marxist idea of Charaktermaske and referred to the hardened layers of subjectivity that formed in defence against pain and displeasure, which are endemic to capitalist patriarchy.18 Fascism spoke to women through the “character armour” of femininity. It allowed them to mistake that armour for power.
Andrea Dworkin was not a Marxist, nor did she believe that feminism could be fastened to Marxism. Macciocchi had criticised an “infantile ultra-Left” that believed the workers’ revolution would solve the problem of sexual oppression. And she challenged the Left not simply for its emphasis on production at the expense of reproduction, but for a fascism in reverse that seeks to purify from politics the struggles over reproduction. But Macciocchi had believed in the happy marriage of Marxism and feminism. Dworkin is a child of their divorce. Part of the polemic in Right-Wing Women is that it was unfortunately the Right – and not the Left – that had been taking the concerns of women seriously, even if only white, middle-class, heterosexual Christian women were included in that category and what it offered was the false “security” of the household and a subordinate place within it.19 Psychoanalysis did not offer her much, either. Its normative subject was male and its formative site was the patriarchal family. More importantly, for Dworkin, the sexual conflicts that produce the personalities of men and women are not that deep, as suggested by the Freudian idea of the unconscious. All that sex and death is, in fact, right there on the surface.
Like Macciocchi, Dworkin saw conservative religious institutions and ideologies as a key point of contact between traditional conservatism and an activated Far Right. She profiled conservative women of Southern Baptist and Catholic origins, showing how each sought to convince women of the price they must pay for the privileges of male protection. Some of these women believed deeply in male supremacy. Others were more strategic in their counsel. None more than Schlafly herself, “possessed by Machiavelli, not Jesus” and singular among women of the Right for her cunning and force.20 Here is Dworkin on Schlafly, worth quoting and at length:
Unlike most other right-wing women, Schlafly, in her written and spoken work, does not acknowledge experiencing any of the difficulties that tear women apart. In the opinion of many, her ruthlessness as an organizer is best demonstrated by her demagogic propaganda against the Equal Rights Amendment, though she also waxes eloquent against reproductive freedom, the women’s movement, big government, and the Panama Canal Treaty. Her roots, and perhaps her heart such as it is, are in the Old Right, but she remained unknown to any significant public until she mounted her crusade against the Equal Rights Amendment. It is likely that her ambition is to use women as a constituency to effect entry into the upper echelon of right-wing male leadership. She may yet discover that she is a woman (as feminists understand the meaning of the word) as her male colleagues refuse to let her escape the ghetto of female issues and enter the big time. At any rate, she seems to be able to manipulate the fears of women without experiencing them. If this is indeed the case, this talent would give her an invaluable, cold-blooded detachment as a strategist determined to convert women into antifeminist activists. It is precisely because women have been trained to respect and follow those who use them that Schlafly inspires awe and devotion in women who are afraid that they will be deprived of the form, shelter, safety, rules, and love that the Right promises and on which they believe survival depends.21
Schlafly is depicted here as a dog-whisperer to “domesticated females” (again, Dworkin’s term). She is able to use women’s fears precisely because domesticated women are trained to follow those who use them. What she offers women is the promise of a world in which they remain safe and protected. It was a promise predicated on the “Machiavellian” view that it was “a man’s world”, and that it was the task of women to secure a place for themselves within it. For Dworkin, this promise contained the indirect admission of a world that is a hostile warzone for women. What Macciocchi called the “character armour” of femininity, Dworkin saw as the survival instinct. There was nothing irrational about it.
Dworkin, too, is a complicated figure. Her crusade against pornography now looks to be a complete disaster for the feminist movement and arguably its most consequential political defeat of the past 50 years. Her writing has been rightly criticised for its neglect of the powers and privileges that give white women a significant stake in white supremacy. While it is true that she does not deal with the role of white women in white supremacy, it is also her basic point in Right-wing Women that some women have a significant stake in male supremacy. She recognizes that “female antifeminism” takes shape in opposition to the interests of Black women, lesbian women, trans women, poor women, all sorts of women for whom the protections of the patriarchal family are unavailable. The question, for Dworkin, was not why some women will fight for their servitude as if it is their salvation. The question was whether feminism had something to offer women beyond a negotiated settlement with male supremacy.
Taken together, Macciocchi and Dworkin return sex to the centre of our current debates about fascism and the Right. By its own self-representation, fascism purports to be a genuine alternative to the Left and the Right, a “post-ideological” project to restore to the nation its unity and greatness. The truth, and what Macciocchi and Dworkin see so clearly, is that the Far Right activates conservative institutions (the church, the military, the family) and affirms bourgeois values (“survival of fittest”) to advance an authoritarian agenda. Beyond this, both women treat sex as a primary vector of fascisation.
Fascisation is reflected not only in the electoral success of right-wing parties, but also in the normalisation of extraordinary violence and everyday cruelty, the dramatic increase in economic inequality, the repressive desublimation of collective resentment and rage, the assault on participatory democracy at every level, and the strengthening of a racial regime of state terror. In the United States, specifically, fascisation is reflected in the lethal combination of imperialist war and nationalist agitation, in the decisive role of anti-democratic institutions (the electoral college, the filibuster, the Courts, the US Senate itself) in determining who holds power, in the outsized political influence of Christian nationalism and Catholic orthodoxy, in the wide discretionary powers given to highly militarized police forces, in the unregulated power of social media companies to profit by selling our “data” and spreading misinformation, in the mobilisation of an extra-parliamentary militia movement, in regular mass shootings in schools, places of worship, night clubs, cafes, newspaper rooms, yoga studios, and shopping malls. The United States has been a hothouse of gun violence and police terror for all of its history, but these are now the defining features of American culture. The largest arms-dealer on the planet, with control of nearly 40% of the global market share, the United States government and economy is greased by the violence that it exports around the world. These are not “post-ideological” developments, but instead point to the escalation and intensification of a protracted ideological project. This project is shaped by the real and perceived loss of power, what Wendy Brown has described as an aggrieved white male supremacism that is “wounded without being destroyed” and thus reliant upon women in a new way.22
What does all of this have to do with Ashli Babbitt? And what do Macciocchi and Dworkin have to do with Babbitt, one of the guys, whose access to historically-male institutions was predicated on the ambiguous achievements of the feminist movement, whose descent into Q-anon conspiracism began with her hatred of powerful women like Clinton and Pelosi, whose petit-bourgeois political protest assumed an explicitly gendered pitch? We shake hands like men – this is a fantasy of agency and power, a fantasy of participation in the social-sexual contract, a fantasy of access to homosocial intimacy and its secrets, a fantasy of brotherhood and belonging. It is a trans fantasy that cannot avow itself as such, but also strangely admits its failure. Like men. Like the men who surrounded Babbitt at the Capitol, the men who helped her up and through the broken glass, and the men who swarmed around her after she fell to the ground. Who were these men anyway? Was not Babbitt more than a man in her death?
The martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt underscores Macciocchi’s argument about a “death drive” at the root of fascism and its peculiar expressions in women. It confirms Dworkin’s hunch that the new right-wing women would be the product of the feminist movement that they oppose. The concept and critique of femonationalism is important, but insufficient to the complexities of this situation. From a different direction, Moira Weigel coins the term “Authoritarian Personality 2.0” for those parts of the Right that have made a home online and among the powerful players in Silicon Valley.23 Weigel shows how these players, shaped by Big Tech and responsive to the material conditions of platform capitalism, have absorbed elements of the 1960s counterculture and its ideas about freedom. “AP 2.0” is not a program for the mobilisation of the masses, as fascism once was. It is the algorithmic identification and agitation of niche consumer markets. Weigel, a brilliant media historian, is alert to the gender dynamics that surface everywhere online and how media technologies have shaped our gendered lives offline. But she leaves the sexual politics of “AP 2.0” largely untouched.
Macciocchi warned that the failure to take “female antifeminism” seriously meant that the Left lacked the political clarity and feminist commitment necessary to defeat it. Dworkin worried that the Right was speaking to the concerns of (some) women, while the Left was distancing itself from the feminist movement.24 The current conjuncture, marked by mass death and disease, the affective efflorescence around new media, the re-domestication of women’s work, and the new familialism of the neoliberal period, will produce its own forms of “female antifeminism” across the political spectrum. Those schooled in the feminist tradition will hear the “resonance machine” that produces the Bruenigs and Barretts, along with the Babbitts. With the continent braced for the possible election of Marine Le Pen, the daughter of fascism in France, and this after President Macron’s own minister of higher education, Frédérique Vidal, declared “gender theory” part of an “Islamo-Leftist” threat to the Republic, we are poised to revisit these questions yet again. And we are primed to rediscover that a genuine antifascism, in theory and practice, requires a militant feminist politics.
Robyn Marasco is associate professor of political science at Hunter College and The Graduate Center at the City University of New York, the author of The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory after Hegel (Columbia, 2015), guest editor of a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly on “The Authoritarian Personality” and guest coeditor, with Banu Bargu, of a special issue of Rethinking Marxism on “The Political Encounter with Louis Althusser.”
- 1. Appropriation is everywhere on the Right today, from the attack on “woke capitalism” to the bad-faith defense of free speech to the practice of popular protest. “Whose streets? Our streets!” – what was once a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement has been appropriated by the Right, now heard at the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, pro-police demonstrations in St. Louis, and at the Capitol riots. The “mash-up” and mimetic quality of right-wing discourse (and aesthetics) is an important part of its power today.
- 2. Macchiochi’s La Donna “Nera”: Consenso Femminile e fascismo is out of print in the Italian edition. The book was never translated into English. A condensed version of her essay, “Les femmes et la traversée du fascisme” was published in Tel Quel in 1976, which was translated and published in the English-language journal, Feminist Review. The feminist historian, Jane Caplan, wrote a helpful introduction to Macciocchi’s essay and argument, which focuses on her simultaneous critique of “ultra-Leftism” and “ultra-feminism”. See Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, “La sexualité féminine dans l'idéologie fasciste,” Tel Quel, No. 66 (1976) 26–42 and “Female Sexuality in Fascist Ideology,” Feminist Review, No. 1 (1979) 67-82. See also Jane Caplan, “Introduction to ‘Female Sexuality in Fascist Ideology’,” Feminist Review, No. 1 (1979) 59-66.
- 3. She writes: “I speak on behalf of those who have killed female anti-feminism, which has been artificially fed by male power, and which makes one woman the enemy for another. I speak on behalf of ‘extreme women’ – those who are thought too intelligent, too active, too militant, too generous, too courageous, and so on.” Macciocchi, “Female Sexuality in Fascist Ideology,” 81. Thinking about Ashli Babbitt, herself killed by a plain-clothed police officer, this seemed an inappropriate epigraph to the present reflections.
- 4. Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females (New York: Perigee Books, 1983).
- 5. Macciocchi does discuss Hitler and German fascism, but much of her analysis focuses on the Italian case, with reference to more recent examples in Pinochet’s Chile.
- 6. See Holloway Sparks, “Mama Grizzlies and Guardians of the Republic: The Democratic and Intersectional Politics of Anger in the Tea Party Movement,” New Political Science, Vol. 37, No. 1, (August 2014) 1-23.
- 7. Theodor Adorno et al, The Authoritarian Personality (London: Verso, 2019).
- 8. Ugo Palheta, “Fascism, Fascisation, Antifascism,” Historical Materialism, January 7, 2021, https://www.historicalmaterialism.org/blog/fascism-fascisation-antifascism.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, Letters from Inside the Communist Party to Louis Althusser (London: New Left Books, 1973).
- 11. Macciocchi, “Female Sexuality in Fascist Ideology,” 68.
- 12. Reich developed the idea of “character armor” as a synthesis of Marx and Freud. The history of the concept is too extensive to reconstruct here, though it is worth noting that the early Frankfurt School pursues a different integration of Marx and Freud around the concept of the Charaktermaske. For an illuminating debate around these themes, see Kyle Baasch, “The Theater of Economic Categories: Rediscovering Capital in the late 1960s,” Radical Philosophy, 2.08 (2020) and the critical response from Asad Haider (forthcoming).
- 13. Macciocchi, “Female Sexuality in Fascist Ideology,” 72.
- 14. Ibid., 73.
- 15. Ibid., 79.
- 16. Ibid., 77.
- 17. Ibid., 74.
- 18. Reich ‘s idea of “character armour” has a significant bodily dimension and should not be interpreted exclusively or even primarily as a theory of personality. See Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, trans. Vincent R. Carfagno (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1972).
- 19. While beyond the scope of my reading here, it is worth noting that Dworkin’s Jewishness was important to her own sense of identity and to her theory of male oppression and woman-hating. In 2000, Dworkin published Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation, which draws parallels between antisemitism and misogyny, defends Zionism, and defends a feminist vision of a “homeland” for women. It seems, to me, that Zionism offers a lot of what the younger Dworkin saw in the politics of right-wing women: a place where the Jewish people can be safe. At least in certain contexts, Dworkin renounced the dubious kind of “safety” that the Right promises and pursues.
- 20. Dworkin, Right-Wing Women, 26.
- 21. Ibid., 26-7.
- 22. Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 180.
- 23. Moira Weigel, “Algorithmic Personalization and the Authoritarian Personality 2.0” (forthcoming in a special issue of Polity on The Authoritarian Personality).
- 24. The right-wing radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, popularized the term “feminazi” and hurled at women like Dworkin, yet another instance of projection and disavowal on the Right.