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Thread: Gender And Right-Wing Populism In The Low Countries: Ideological Variations Across Parties And Time

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    Gender And Right-Wing Populism In The Low Countries: Ideological Variations Across Parties And Time

    ABSTRACT Although scholarship on the general ideological orientation of right-wing
    populist parties is well established, few scholars have studied their ideas about gender.
    De Lange and Mügge therefore ask how differences in ideology shape right-wing
    populist parties’ ideas on gender. Drawing on the qualitative content analysis of party
    manifestos, they compare the gender ideologies and concrete policy proposals of
    national and neoliberal populist parties in the Netherlands and Flanders from the 1980s
    to the present. They find that some parties adhere to a modern or modern-traditional
    view, while others espouse neo-traditional views. Moreover, some right-wing populist
    parties have adopted gendered readings of issues surrounding immigration and
    ‘Islam’, while others have not. The variation in stances on ‘classical’ gender issues can be
    explained by the genealogy and ideological orientation of the parties, whereas gendered
    views on immigration and Islam are influenced by contextual factors, such as 9/11.

    KEYWORDS Flanders, gender, nationalism, neoliberalism, Netherlands, political
    parties, populism, radical right, right-wing ideology

    Right-wing populist parties have become important players in contemporary
    Western European politics. They have entered many national
    parliaments, either taking office themselves or supporting minority
    Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the international workshop, ‘Gender and
    Far Right Politics in Europe’, Georg-Simon-Ohm-University of Applied Sciences, Nürnberg,
    Germany, 27–8 September 2012, and at the 20th International Conference of
    Europeanists, ‘Crisis of Contingency: States of (In)Stability’, University of Amsterdam,
    25–7 June 2013. We thank the participants of these panels and the special issue guest
    editors, Niels Spierings and Andrej Zaslove, for their constructive feedback on the earlier
    versions of the paper, and Takeo David Hymans for editing it. Some of the manifestos we
    analyse here were made available by Paul Pennings and Hans Keman’s (Vrije Universiteit
    Amsterdam) Comparative Electronic Manifestos Project (CMP), financed by the Netherlands
    Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO project 480-42-005), in cooperation with
    Andrea Volkens and Hans-Dieter Klingemann of the Social Science Research Centre Berlin,
    the Central Archive for Empirical Social Research, GESIS, University of Cologne, and the
    Manifesto Research Group (chairman: Ian Budge). Sarah de Lange expresses her gratitude
    to the Department of Political Science of Goethe University for welcoming her as a visiting
    scholar in 2012. Liza Mügge acknowledges the Harvard Minda de Gunzburg Center for
    European Studies for hosting her as a visiting scholar in that same year.

    The burgeoning scholarship on right-wing populism includes many detailed
    analyses of ideology and party programmes, with particular attention to
    salient right-wing populist issues such as immigration and integration.
    Nevertheless, little is known about the role gender plays in right-wing
    populist ideology. This is a lacuna in our understanding since right-wing
    populist parties increasingly pay attention to gender, often to justify antiimmigration
    positions by focusing on ‘harmful cultural practices’ such as
    female genital mutilation, honour killings, the wearing of headscarves, forced
    marriages or polygamy.

    According to feminist scholars and activists, the inclusion of gender
    equality and sexual emancipation in the programmes of right-wing populist
    parties has given rise to a new nationalism in which ‘women’s rights and
    gay-and-lesbian rights are deemed core civilisational values of the West,
    while migrant communities, particularly Muslims, are cast as menacing
    them’. However, the ‘newness’ of the inclusion of gender in right-wing
    populist and nationalist ideologies is debatable, given that gender ideologies
    were prominent in, for example, colonial policies and in nation-building
    processes. The feminist argument above also assumes that right-wing
    populist parties form an ideologically homogeneous bloc. But, despite
    ideological similarities, right-wing populist parties differ considerably
    when it comes to their issue profiles and programmes. On the basis of
    these differences, parties can be characterized as either national populist or
    neoliberal populist.

    This paper traces the role gender plays in the ideology of right-wing
    populist parties, using a qualitative, inductive approach. It asks: how does
    ideology shape right-wing populist parties’ ideas about gender? To examine
    the gender ideologies of right-wing populist parties, we focus on ideas about
    family, men and women as presented in their party manifestos. More
    specifically, we explore how differences in ideology manifest themselves in
    these parties’ stances on ‘classical’ gender issues (such as the division between
    labour and care, and reproductive rights) on the one hand, and on ‘newer’
    issues related to gender, immigration and ‘Islam’ on the other.4 To answer our
    central question, we study the manifestos of national and neoliberal parties in
    the Netherlands and Flanders, where both kinds of parties experienced
    electoral breakthrough in the late 1970s and early 1980s, respectively.5
    Through qualitative content analysis of the manifestos, we are able to map
    differences in gender ideologies systematically across parties and over time,
    and account for the observed patterns of variation.

    Our analysis, mainly descriptive in nature, shows that some right-wing
    parties adhere to a modern or modern-traditional view when it comes to
    gender issues, while others espouse more neo-traditional views. This
    categorization of party gender ideologies, however, does not neatly mirror
    the distinction between national and neoliberal populist parties. Moreover,
    our analysis shows that the inclusion of gender in the ideology of right-wing
    populist parties is hardly new—as is sometimes suggested in contemporary
    feminist scholarship—but has significantly changed over time. Since the mid1990s,
    anti-Islam positions have been gradually linked to gender and family.
    As part of this development, anti-immigrant politics has not only become
    focused on Muslim immigrants, but has become explicitly gendered.
    The article proceeds as follows. First, we take stock of the literature on
    gender, ideology and right-wing populism. Second, we discuss Dutch and
    Flemish national and neoliberal populist parties’ genealogy and ideology.
    Finally, we explain differences in gender positions by analysing parties’
    stances on 1) classical gender issues, and 2) gender, immigration and ‘Islam’.

    Gender, ideology and right-wing populism

    This article adopts a classic approach to ideology, defining it ‘as a set of
    beliefs, values, principles, attitudes and/or ideals—in short as a type of
    political thinking’. As such, an ideology offers a framework to explain,
    evaluate, orient and programme. Ideologies are powerful tools as they offer
    solutions in daily dilemmas of a political nature and ‘direct, or at least
    influence, political behavior’. A gender ideology is defined as the part of a
    political ideology that contains ‘structured beliefs and ideas about ways
    power should be arranged according to social constructs associated with
    sexed bodies’.

    There are two prominent themes within the ideologies of right-wing populist
    parties. First, they reject the notion that individuals are equal, perceiving
    inequalities (such as economic, ethnic or religious) as ‘natural’ and opposing
    political projects that aim to create egalitarian societies.9 Second, right-wing
    populist parties adhere to a belief system in which ‘ society [is considered] to be
    ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, “the
    pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should
    be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people’.

    These parties therefore accept democratic institutions and procedures, while criticizing
    the existing party and parliamentary system. On the basis of differences in
    ideology, right-wing populist parties can be categorized as either national
    populist parties or neoliberal populist parties. Whereas the first group focuses
    primarily on cultural, ethnic and religious inequalities, the second emphasizes
    economic inequalities.

    National populist parties, also sometimes referred to as populist radicalright
    parties, adhere to a combination of nationalist and xenophobic attitudes.
    In their view, the nation-state should be inhabited exclusively by natives. Nonnative
    elements—including people, objects and ideas—are seen as serious
    threats to the ideal homogeneous nation-state in which territory and nation
    coincide. National populist parties are known for their calls to close
    borders to non-western immigrants and to enforce their compulsory assimilation.
    Since the 1990s they have targeted Muslims, claiming that their
    growing numbers and unwillingness to integrate are incompatible with
    European Judaeo-Christian values. In this view, Islam is a totalitarian
    ideology, a fundamental threat to individual freedom and liberal democracy.

    Neoliberal populist parties differ from national populist parties in two
    ways. First, nationalism and xenophobia are not central to their ideologies.
    Although neoliberal populist parties may hold nationalist and xenophobic
    beliefs, they pay considerably less attention to immigration and integration
    issues than national populist parties.14 Their policy proposals to solve
    immigration and integration problems are also often less radical than
    those of national populist parties. Hence, whereas national populist parties
    oppose multiculturalism, neoliberal populist parties are sceptical of
    multiculturalism.15 The core of the ideology of neoliberal populist parties
    is formed by economic liberalism: they advocate anti-egalitarian measures,
    aim to reduce government and state intervention, and defend the ‘ordinary
    people’ against an allegedly ‘corrupt elite’.

    In recent years the ideological differences between these two types of
    parties have become less clear-cut. In an attempt to become more acceptable
    to mainstream parties and voters, national populist parties have increasingly
    been resorting to liberal democratic arguments to defend their opposition to
    immigration. The national populist critique of Islam, for example, stems from
    the observation that ‘Islamic values’ are at odds with liberal democratic values
    such as the autonomy of the individual, democracy, the emancipation of
    homosexuals and women, the equality of men and women, freedom of
    expression, and separation of church and state. The convergence of national
    and neoliberal populist parties is particularly visible when it comes to the
    rights of Muslim women. Harmful cultural practices such as forced marriage
    and female genital mutilation are linked to anti-immigration policies and
    presented in a broader human rights and gender equality framework by both
    national and neoliberal populist parties. But it remains unclear whether this
    rapprochement between national and neoliberal populist parties can also be
    observed when it concerns the emancipation of native women and women’s
    rights more generally.

    While feminist scholarship distinguishes between governing ideologies—
    for example, in the familiar distinction between the left and the right—it pays
    no attention to variations within these ideologies. This literature thus
    offers few clues as to how ideas on gender may vary between national and
    neoliberal populist parties. Studies of right-wing populist ideology do,
    however, offer some suggestions. Eleanore Kofman, for instance, concludes
    that ‘there is not a single and consistent attitude to the family and its social
    relations among far right movements’.

    At the same time, Cas Mudde
    observes a consistent gender ideology that he argues consists of three tenets:
    1) the equating of women’s politics with family politics; 2) the staunch defence
    of ‘natural differences’ between the sexes; and 3) the idea that, since women
    are the only sex that can give birth and offspring are vital to the survival of
    the nation, women should be ‘protected’.
    There is thus no agreement among
    scholars that there are variations related to gender across the ideologies of
    right-wing populist parties. More importantly, to our knowledge no attempts
    have been made to explain such variations.

    The gender ideology of right-wing populist parties

    The attention Dutch and Flemish right-wing populist parties devote to
    gender issues varies. Most parties touch upon gender issues only sporadically,
    and integrate them within other themes such as economic development,
    labour market participation or the integration of immigrants. The
    Flemish VB is the exception here, and has devoted considerable attention to
    gender issues in separate sections of its manifestos since the early 1990s.
    Remarkably, these sections address family policies rather than labour market
    or social policies, as is common in the manifestos of mainstream parties,
    as well as ethical issues such as abortion. In 1991 the VB even listed the
    protection of the family and the fight against abortion as one of its
    programmatic priorities, together with crime and drugs, Flemish independence,
    and immigration.28 In the same year the party organized a conference
    on family policies, resulting in the publication of Het Vlaams Blok: De
    Gezinspartij (The Flemish Bloc: The Family Party).

    While some of the right-wing populist parties discuss both ‘classical’
    gender issues (such as the division between labour and care) and gender
    issues related to the immigration of non-westerners (such as CD, CP/CP’86,
    LPF and VB), others do not. The LDD only discusses classic gender issues,
    and refrains from commenting on gender issues in relation to immigration or
    ‘Islam’, while the manifestos of the PVV show the opposite tendency. Finally,
    it should be noted that the focus is almost exclusively on the family, feminism,
    women and women’s rights. Men and their position in society are rarely
    mentioned explicitly, while ideas about masculinity are absent from all

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