Four new female faces on the right. Credit: Lucy Brown.
In the UK, right-wing and far-right groups, often connected to other US and European movements, are growing. Though these spaces remain male-dominated, many younger women are building their own versions of freedom and liberation through the broad church that is this growing right-wing scene, both online and offline.
At 50.50 – the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy – we are conscious that polarisation is toxic. We’re reporting on such trends to better understand them, and this means listening to people we disagree with. And as entertaining as the circus of populist elites is, more interesting questions include: what attracts ordinary people to extremist politics, and why are some young women rejecting feminism?
“What attracts ordinary people to extremist politics, and why are some young women rejecting feminism?”
Below, we hear directly from four women on the right. We met at a party in north London, celebrating one year of Donald Trump’s presidency in the US. Guests were surprisingly diverse, reflecting a range of different people now coming together on the right. There were several Americans in the room, and a few earnest young men giving out flyers for the white power group Generation Identity. Many did not want to be pictured or interviewed.
We asked these women to explain how they came to their political positions. They have different stories and political journeys, reflecting the different experiences and backgrounds within this broad, right-wing church. They talk about porn, political correctness, and immigration. Notably, and perhaps surprisingly, several describe abandoning progressive politics and feminism after feeling ignored or bullied by the left.
We’ve edited the following comments lightly, for length; as such, there is some distressing language. Readers should take this as a ‘trigger warning’.
Marina, 22, from south-east England; works in London.
Marina. Credit: Lucy Brown.
I’m a hard-core libertarian these days, very much socially and economically liberal. I wouldn’t say I was always on the right – I was a bit more centrist when I was younger, but ever since I started studying economics and politics, I just got a bit more attracted to free-market ideas.
Libertarianism is more recent. It’s about the belief in having economically-free markets but also the right to do what you want to do, and what you can, while not affecting other people’s rights. That’s quite a fundamental principle and I struggle to see how anyone could go against it.
I think the reason more young women like me are going to the right has to do with self-identity, people don’t want to be drawn into traditional political stances. I’m an immigrant to this country – I moved here when I was six months old from Russia. My parents grew up in Soviet Russia and when I first started out in the Conservatives, as a 16-year-old, I used to keep it a secret.
“I wouldn't say I was always on the right...”
Politically, a lot of people who identify with my views on economic policies will be drawn to the Conservatives. I’m still a member… In my opinion, if you promote economic freedom then social freedom will come.
The main thing now is internet censorship and what exactly hate speech encapsulates. Even I am not sure what that is these days. Porn is another thing – lots of porn that is not in anyway offensive has been banned. Not rape porn, child porn; mainstream types of things, maybe fetishes, watersports… Not my thing, but still – there’s no reason to restrict that. I don’t see why the government should be interfering in people’s lives in that way.
Hebing, 22, US citizen from China; studies in London.
Hebing. Credit: Lucy Brown.
I think there’s huge hypocrisy within feminism. I remember a distinct moment at school, when my teacher insisted that we had [skin] whitening projects in Asia because of Europe. I was like: “No, 1000 years ago, rich women didn’t work outside, so if you are pale it means you are rich: it’s a class issue, no one had seen a European back then.” She said it’s still ‘a Eurocentric issue,’ and that was that. I was listening to this woman lecture me, and it just dawned on me that these people are in a cult. They just want people to agree with their opinions and I was like: I can’t do this any more.
"I started off as a progressive."
I sympathise with some of Trump’s messages but I don’t consider myself a full, hard-right woman. I’m a libertarian, I believe in freedom, but I also don’t agree with all libertarian positions, because some of them lack pragmatism. The belief in open borders – I think it's too optimistic and trusting; it’s not practical, and it could cause a lot of chaos.
I was ten when I immigrated to America and I’m not kidding, my world turned upside. I am from a really urban area in the People’s Republic of China and we moved to Birmingham, Alabama. From a mid-size city, to bum-fuck nowhere. My friends and I call it Boringham. I didn’t speak English, we had no family in America, and it was very hard in the first few years. So I sympathise with many fellow immigrants. But at the same time, I don’t agree with the libertarian platform when it comes to having open borders.
I started off as a progressive. When I was 15, I was for affordable healthcare, a $15 minimum wage… but as an undergrad [student] I realised was that this was a really collectivist and very optimistic mindset. In order to achieve these ideals a sense of violence is required, and this makes everyone worse off. Recipients of those policies tend to be stuck in a poverty trap and everyone else who has to pay for it through their taxes loses out as well. It’s a lose-lose situation.
“I think the right is really recognising that in order to be successful and get bigger, more women need to join.”
I think the right is really recognising that in order to be successful and get bigger, more women need to join. That’s why the left was so powerful for so long: it was all about women’s rights and it had this basis of support. But when I was a progressive, if I said anything that disagreed with their narrative, they’d tell me I’m self-hating, I’ve internalised misogyny, I’ve internalised racism.
A guy on the left once told me to go back to China. I’m a free speech activist – meaning I think saying things shouldn’t get you into trouble, because you are allowed to have an opinion, especially if you are not threatening anyone. But I was labelled a Nazi-sympathiser. It was so difficult. To be a woman on the right, you need to have a thick skin; you have to deal with the attacks from the left and a lot of idiots on the right; I’m not going to say that they don’t exist, because they do. But you learn how to grow [a thick skin], and it’s much more fun to disagree with people and it not be the end of your friendship.
Lucy, 27, video producer; from south-east England.
Lucy. Credit: Lucy Brown.
It was never a conscious decision for me to become ‘right wing’. I just started being called it and watching people who were labelled ‘right wing’ on YouTube. It’s ended up sticking as an easy way of explaining myself.
I am against feminism. I believe we have been tricked into hating ourselves and being ashamed of our national identity. We have been scared into silence as Britain collapses under the weight of the so-called ‘immigration crisis'. We’re being lied to by the media, which is partially-owned by international bodies not working in Britain’s interests. We’re a nation led by hypocrites and cowards – who must be exposed by any means necessary.
"I believe we have been tricked into hating ourselves and being ashamed of our national identity."
My activism was inspired by the loss of a friend who died in a tragic traffic accident. I was stuck in a spiritual rut and I suddenly realised how little time I had, so I decided to pull up my boots and do something. Not really knowing where to begin I began by volunteering at a homeless shelter and attending different political rallies – March for the Homeless, and then Black Lives Matter.
I started looking into racially-aggravated murders, particularly in the US and I began to listen to these new black activists, trying to think about what I could do to help. I joined a feminist anti-domestic violence group, who were occupying an abandoned flat in Hackney [north London]. I went there several times and even did an overnight shift. Gradually, I became disillusioned and disappointed with what I saw in these groups. I saw a lot of saying but not much doing.
I remember hating Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, Tommy Robinson. Once I realised that one wasn’t so bad, it was only a matter of time before I realised how much I had been lied to. The truth is addictive, and I absorbed everything like a sponge, breaking down barrier after barrier in my mind – despite internal screeching of ‘if you watch this guy you’ll become racist!’.
“The truth is addictive, and I absorbed everything like a sponge, breaking down barrier after barrier in my mind."
I became obsessive. I couldn’t stop listening to YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs. The questions I had in my mind were being answered slowly but surely, and I felt my sense of humour coming back. It felt amazing. Now my ‘activism’ largely consists of producing [former English Defence League leader] Tommy Robinson’s show – helping tell people’s stories, keep an eye on what the news decides is too much of a hot potato to touch. I’ve met grooming victims, veterans, activists, MPs, and travelled across Europe.
What I now see is hope in the faces of those who thought they had been forgotten. I get called ‘brave’ by complete strangers. It’s very humbling. I feel like I’m giving back to the people in my country who my government would rather I forget. There’s nothing like the feeling of somebody coming up and saying ‘thank you’, because we are essentially becoming a voice for the voiceless. The biggest misconception about women like me on the right is that we have ‘internalised misogyny’. It’s the feminist equivalent of being called an Uncle Tom.
Parand, 22, from London; left a college degree in design last year.
Parand. Credit: Lucy Brown.
Trump’s greatest success, so far, has been his tough stance on immigration, and recognising how Islamism is a massive problem and hindrance for the West. We can all see what is happening in Europe, like in Sweden – the culture that is considered very liberal-minded has been completely destroyed. Trump doesn’t want his country to be like that. I liked how he made the focus about Islamism, as opposed to specific races. It angers me when people accuse him of being racist, when in fact he has been really supportive towards black people and his share of the black vote is bigger than any other Republican president.
"I’m an anti-establishment right-winger."
I’m an anti-establishment right-winger. I don’t really believe in what the Conservative party does. The internet has had a big impact on my views. We live in an age where we can access so many things that we previously weren’t able to. I think there are so many women who are now intellectually curious and want to understand the other side.
It’s not that I wanted to become right wing – my family are more left-wing, and I grew up that way. I just read the arguments, and the right made more sense. With immigration – like how many women have been suffering with the rapes happening; look at countries like Germany – there are lots of people who previously were very left-wing, until like those New Years sex attacks. It’s horrific to learn it this way, but there’s an entire culture being imported that really doesn’t hold women’s best interests.
Supposedly the left is supposed to care about women’s rights but clearly they don’t. They have decided to abandon a women’s right to just feel safe in their country, the right to just go around and not be attacked. Look at acid attacks – they have risen in London, and it’s definitely to do with the types of people we have in this culture; if you look at the rates before we had a lot of immigrants,you can see it’s because of immigration.
"The left tries to demonise our views when they can’t come up with a good enough argument that can defeat them.”
Both of my parents are from Iran. I’m not saying all immigrants are like that – but the left tries to demonise our views when they can’t come up with a good enough argument that can defeat them. They say, ‘you are stupid,’ and it does really hurt, but I’m like: give me an argument instead of calling me stupid. Humans are emotional creatures, but you also need to reason with emotions and try and look through them to find out why they are saying what they are saying, and it’s often because they don’t really have an argument.