Some of the coronavirus-related developments are impacting gender relations, while protests against the coronavirus measures are revealing ideological and personal links to anti-feminism.
The global coronavirus pandemic has triggered a number of crisis scenarios and is unmasking social relations. Some of the coronavirus-related developments are impacting gender relations, while protests against the coronavirus measures are revealing ideological and personal links to anti-feminism. The text that follows summarizes my initial impressions concerning how anti-feminist trends are aided and abetted by the coronavirus crisis and where anti-feminism intersects with coronavirus conspiracies.
Anti-feminism raises its head in particular through mobilizations against feminist demands and accomplishments. Anti-feminist enemy stereotypes and ideals are shared by people across the political spectrum and thus periodically facilitate collective mobilizations, such as opposition to the planned revision of the curricula for schools in Baden-Württemberg in 2014/15. On many an occasion, anti-feminists pursue the goal of reverting back to the gender relations of an idealized past. Accordingly, many anti-feminists peg women to their potential role as mothers and scandalize abortions. They are united by the ideal of a small heterosexual family and hostility to overwhelmingly orchestrated feminism.
Shift towards Retraditionalization
As a result of Germany going into partial lockdown in March and April 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, health care jobs, which have now been recognized as being “systemically important” and are typically performed by women, garnered greater attention and recognition, though this frequently was more symbolic in nature. The parallel closure of schools and daycare facilities left a gap in the provision of childcare. Although men were frequently working from home, it was the women who typically attended to childcare, caregiving, and schooling tasks as if it were the most natural thing in the world, shouldered a huge burden, and, at times, put their gainful employment on the back burner. Initial studies underpin the feared trend that this situation has led to a retraditionalization of gender relations in the private sphere.
Some anti-feminists view this situation as an opportunity to reinforce traditional family patterns. The publicist Birgit Kelle, for example, posted on the blog site, demofueralle, an article titled “Die ersetzbare Mutter – ein Mythos hat Pause” [The replaceable mother – a myth takes a break]. Her blog exclusively cites women as being of relevance to a child’s upbringing. After all, she leaves fathers unmentioned, when she writes: “Millionen von Familien stellen gerade fest, dass dann, wenn der Staat als Nanny ausfällt, die Familie und ja, die Mutter, wieder in den Mittelpunkt des Haushaltes rückt.” [Millions of families are now coming to realize that, when the state ceases to carry out its role as nanny, it is the family and, well, the mother that becomes the focal point of the household.]
In March 2020 the association Deutsche Sprache e. V., also seized on the coronavirus situation to tout its anti-feminist agenda. In one case in point, the association promoted its anti-feminist call to oppose the “gender nonsense” by claiming that German universities lacked the required funding to conduct virus research. It blamed this state of affairs on the allegedly immense expenditures assigned to Gender Studies.
Ideological and Personal Overlaps
The public rallies in opposition to measures to combat the coronavirus that have occurred since April 2020 in particular unveil the existence of substantive and personal links to anti-feminism inasmuch that coronavirus conspiracy narratives and the trivialization of the coronavirus tie in to classic anti-feminist rhetoric. A major sounding board for believers of coronavirus conspiracy theories is former evening news anchorwoman, Eva Herman, one of Germany’s most prominent anti-feminists and, these days, an active right-wing publicist. On her various social media channels, she regularly trivializes the coronavirus threat and disseminates conspiracy narratives about the coronavirus. In May 2020 she used her YouTube channel “Wissensmanufaktur” [Knowledge Manufactory], to broadcast an interview with Xavier Naidoo, during which the prominent musician spread (anti-Semitic) conspiracy narratives, expressed his fear of a “New World Order”, and warned that vaccinations were dangerous and deadly. Herman also conducted an interview, in March 2020, with long-standing SPD member of parliament and doctor, Wolfgang Wodarg, who periodically trivializes the coronavirus threat. The interview bore the lurid title: “Krieg gegen die Bürger” [war on the citizens].
Classic Pro-Life Rhetoric
A further connection to anti-feminism can be found in the belittling statements on the coronavirus threat expressed by Joseph Wilhelm, the Managing Director of two German organic brands, Rapunzel and Zwergenwiese. In a since deleted post from May 2020 on the Zwergenwiese website, he described COVID-19 as a harmless flu and claimed that, behind the measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, lay “subliminal, commercial reasons which, given the mortal fear that was being instilled, presented lucrative business opportunities.” Using classic pro-life rhetoric, he qualifies the fatalities resulting from the pandemic with a follow-up statement that, in “modern“ societies, some 12 million abortions are carried out every year, except this is seen as an accomplishment. Similarly, in an open letter titled “EIN AUFRUF FÜR DIE KIRCHE UND FÜR DIE WELT. An Katholiken und alle Menschen guten Willens” [AN APPEAL TO THE CHURCH AND TO THE WORLD: to Catholics and all people of good will], coronavirus conspiracy narratives are associated with abortions. The letter was drafted by Catholic bishops and backed by anti-abortion and anti-vaccination initiatives. They speculate that secret forces are behind the coronavirus measures – a classic conspiracy narrative. They claim that aborted fetuses are being used to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and that, for this reason, Catholics find the coronavirus vaccine “morally unacceptable”.
Enemy Stereotypes Shared by People Across the Political Spectrum
On closer inspection of the ideological principles behind anti-feminism and the anti-coronavirus protests, it comes as little surprise that the two overlap. Anti-feminism is, after all, closely linked to conspiracy narratives as it is, and this intensifies in times of uncertainty and crises. One structural similarity is that, in both interpretive worlds, abstract enemy stereotypes enable the collective mobilization of people across the political spectrum. Unlike in the case of anti-feminism, however, coronavirus protests also have prominent representation among the esoteric and anti-vaccination spectrum. Many anti-feminists and coronavirus trivializers furthermore share an anti-modern world view and frequently present non-science-based arguments.
Anti-Coronavirus Protest as a Gateway Ideology
There is a danger that anti-coronavirus protests will serve to instill an ideology in their supporters that will act as a gateway to a fixed, conspiracy worldview permanently associated with misanthropic ideologies such as racism, anti-Semitism and anti-feminism, and which is routinely one of the motives behind right-wing terrorist attacks. The anti-coronavirus protests might give rise to a long-term alliance among conspiracy theory supporters which could result in a politicization of esoteric and anti-vaccination advocates and which is latently anti-feminist – due to the scandalization of abortions, for example. Coronavirus conspiracies pose other dangers in that anti-Semitic hostility will ratchet up and illnesses will not be taken seriously, resulting in more people falling ill and dying. Not taking the pandemic seriously could potentially lead to further lockdowns, which, in turn, would aid and abet a retraditionalization of gender and family roles.
Drawing attention to the linkage between anti-feminism and coronavirus conspiracies is not intended to dilute the focus on the structurally entrenched linkage between anti-Semitism and coronavirus conspiracies. Rather the, for the most part, gratifyingly widely discussed linkage between anti-Semitism and the denial of the coronavirus should be broadened to include anti-feminism.
This article has been originally published on Gunda Werner Institute/Heinrich Boell Stiftung on 21.09.2020.
Blum, Rebekka (2019): Angst Um Die Vormachtstellung. Zum Begriff Und Zur Geschichte Des Deutschen Anti-feminismus. Hamburg: Marta Press, p. 114-115.
Since statistics on the subject of gender relations in childcare and caregiving work with binary gender models and I am thus unable to make any accurate statements on INT* representation (inter, non-binary, trans*) on this thematic issue, I have used the term ‘women’ here.
An initial statistical study can be found here: https://www.boeckler.de/data/Boeckler-Impuls_2020_08_S4-5.pdf (accessed on 22.08.2020). Thomas Gesterkamp has written an essay on behalf of the Gunda Werner Institute on the opportunities, but also the dangers, that retraditionalization presents as a result of working from home during the coronavirus crisis: http://www.gwi-boell.de/de/2020/04/28/abrupter-rueckfall-alte-rollenmuster (accessed on 31.08.2020).
The blog is a go-to location for (anti-feminist) supporters to network on e.g. protests against curricula in which the acceptance of sexual and gender diversity was to be enshrined as a mission statement, as was the case in Baden-Württemberg 2014-2015.
 (https://demofueralle.blog/2020/04/29/die-ersetzbare-mutter-ein-mythos-hat-pause/ (last accessed on 30.07.2020)
Pro-lifer is the self-description used by anti-abortion Christian fundamentalists who, for example, attend the annual marches for life, depict abortion as an act of murder, and, at times, hold vigils outside crisis pregnancy centers.
https://twitter.com/Alert4_Alert4/status/1261930527617093634 (last accessed on 22.08.2020).
 Blum (2019): p.112-115.