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Patriarchal Violence: Misogyny from the Far Right to the Mainstream

In both the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the field of extremism research as a whole, analyses of the far right have often neglected to fully account for the innumerable ways gender, misogyny and gender-based violence manifest within and operate alongside other forms of racially and religiously motivated hate. Organizations like the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism have done pioneering work monitoring and defining misogynistic hate ideologies, but this area of extremism is still not widely recognized or accurately understood.

The SPLC has been adapting how we monitor hate and extremism to more accurately reflect ideological distinctions. Our efforts to better capture organized misogyny began in 2018, when we started monitoring male supremacist hate groups. Male supremacist groups vilify women along paradoxes: manipulative yet incompetent; genetically inferior, yet the progenitors of the white race; and deserving of violent punishment both for having sex and denying sex to men. Many of these narratives about the inferiority and subjugation of women underpin the beliefs of nearly all extremist groups. The manifestations and rhetoric can be different across ideologies, however the resultant verbal, psychological and physical violence that such views motivate against women and trans people remains steadfast.

Dangerous Manifestations: Extremism and Domestic Violence

In order to effectively and thoroughly research gender in extremism, we must examine each intersection of these issues. While the ubiquity of misogyny and gender-based violence is hard to overstate in the far right, and our broader society, we began this research by examining domestic violence—an issue that surfaces regularly in the lives, actions and discussions of far-right adherents—and extremism.

Anecdotes of abuse abound, from white nationalist Richard Spencer being accused of emotional and physical abuse in 2018 divorce filings to allegations that Stewart Rhodes—founder of the antigovernment Oath Keepers—engaged in emotional and manipulative abuse aimed at limiting his family’s freedoms, a type of behavior Dr. Evan Stark calls coercive control. These harmful acts, if true, are the physical embodiment of violent rhetoric and narratives from groups like the Proud Boys, who claim, “leftist women are more third-wave feminist and less feminine than ever and now, you’re not even women anymore… either your [sic] women, and if you are, please stop fighting men, or you’re not women and your face is now punchable.”

Domestic violence has been reported and alleged across a spectrum of hate and antigovernment groups. However, misogyny and rigid gender roles are a common ideological pillar for most groups, and harm not only cisgender women, but trans people as well, along with LGBTQ identified people more broadly.

To better understand these issues with an eye towards more effectively confronting and interrupting violence, the SPLC convened a group of researchers, practitioners, academics and activists in far-right extremism, male supremacism, domestic violence, grassroots organizing and journalism earlier this fall. Across the six 90-minute panel discussions, speakers addressed the intersection of issues including gun violence, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, the continuing impact of colonization, discriminatory immigration policy and comprehensive interventions as they pertain to violent extremism and domestic violence. Consistent throughout these discussions was a need to move away from criminal justice solutions to build upon victim-centered approaches grounded in education and in restorative and transformative justice.

Patriarchal Violence: An Apt Descriptor for Pervasive Oppressions

As the SPLC seeks to increase its efficacy at rooting out hate and extremism in all its forms, we must also practice humility and flexibility. During our few years fully considering gender-based violence, and the handful of times our department has published articles on the subject, we have used the term “domestic violence.” While this term, as well as “intimate partner violence,” accurately define the specific type of relational harm that is being enacted, these terms largely fail to capture the roots of this cyclical violence at the intersections of race, class, religion and gender.

While the term “patriarchal violence” has existed to describe structural inequities for decades, Black Feminist Future, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, Freedom Inc. and Stand with Black Women recently convened the Abolishing Patriarchal Violence Innovation Lab to resituate patriarchal violence within a comprehensive context. Their definition reads, “Patriarchal Violence (PV) is an interconnected system of institutions, practices, policies, beliefs, and behaviors that harm, undervalues, and terrorize girls, women, femme, intersex, gender non-conforming, LGBTQ, and other gender-oppressed people in our communities. PV is a widespread, [normalized] epidemic based on the domination, control, and colonizing of bodies, genders, and sexualities, happening in every community globally. PV is a global power structure and manifests on the systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized level. It is rooted in interlocking systems of oppression.”

The Abolishing Patriarchal Violence Innovation Lab’s definition provides continuity from the genocide of indigenous populations, forced removal and lack of tribal jurisdiction to the high rates of missing and murdered indigenous women today. It contextualizes the gravity of the Supreme Court’s recent McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling in the history of allotment policies, like the Dawes Act, and cases limiting tribal sovereignty, such as Oliphant v. Suquamish. This understanding of patriarchal violence shines a light on the through-lines from an increase in militia members working at the North Dakota Bakken oil fields and the subsequent uptick in violence perpetrated against local indigenous women and girls.

Patriarchal violence recognizes the centuries of oppression on the same land that connects the forced sterilization of indigenous women, through James Marion Sims’ unanesthetized gynecological surgeries performed on enslaved black women, to allegations of mass hysterectomies in ICE detention centers. It subsequently accounts for the injustice of memorializing Sims as the “father of gynecology” when the maternal mortality rate for Black women in America is two to three times that of their white counterparts. It draws upon iterations of misogyny, racism and homophobia across generations to contextualize and bring visibility to the on average 30- to 35-year lifespan of trans women of color in the Americas.  

This definition of patriarchal violence also helps explain the dichotomous role of white women in hate groups that bolster a racist, self-serving ideology while simultaneously subjecting them to rigid gender roles, sexual assault and physical violence. It undergirds the precarious bargain that many white women have made in upholding institutions of white supremacy while forfeiting safety from misogyny and gender-based violence. The intersectional framing of patriarchal violence also opens a space for domestic violence intervention to be an impetus for deradicalization processes.

The Trump Administration and coronavirus pandemic, a confluence of patriarchal violence

The weight of patriarchal violence in this year of upheaval provided a particularly motivating catalyst to evolve our department’s framing of extremism. Four years of the Trump administration have proven exceedingly difficult for many women, particularly women of color and trans women. The innumerable assaults on fundamental human rights include decimating medical protections for members of the LGBTQ community; appointing anti-choice, homophobic federal judges, quietly gutting the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women’s definition of domestic violence and a concerted effort to block asylum-seekers fleeing gender-based violence.

In addition to the obvious concerns around illness and death during a pandemic that has further exposed structural inequities, domestic violence rates have also increased due to necessary stay-at-home measures. During the first two months of the pandemic, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a 9% increase in calls and said that 10% of all callers “cited COVID-19 as a condition of their experience.”

Contributing to this increase in domestic violence calls is an exponential increase in financial instability. This financial crisis has had a much worse impact on women than men, with roughly 865,000 women leaving the workforce in September alone, compared to 216,000 men. In November, the overall unemployment rate for women was 6.1%, with a 9% unemployment rate for Black women and 8.2% for Latinas. Financial uncertainty and unemployment impacts rates and severity of domestic violence. An increased financial dependency on an abusive partner can also greatly limit a survivor’s ability to leave a dangerous relationship.

Hate groups are taking advantage of this unprecedented moment; an increased amount of time online, compounded by feelings of uncertainty, a lack of meaningful social engagement and decreased supervision has increased young people’s susceptibility to radicalization. Deeply entrenched in the predation and propaganda of hate groups is misogyny and ideations of gender-based violence. As a driver to radicalization, misogyny works alongside racism, antisemitism and perceptions of waning civil rights in the face of increasing equality.

To further complicate these issues in the United States, “access to a gun makes it five times more likely that the abusive partner will kill his female victim.” With the incoming Democratic presidency, some experts predict that gun sales will spike due to fears of increased gun control measures that may accompany a liberal administration. With a pandemic continuing to spread out of control, domestic violence concerns become all the more dire.

Moving forward under the Biden-Harris Administration

As our framing of extremism expands to better encompass these understandings of misogyny, so too do our efforts to confront and build resilience against radicalization. The newly elected Biden-Harris administration offers a step towards progress with policy proposals to bolster culturally specific domestic violence services and plans to increase the safety of survivors through housing initiatives and sensible gun laws. A coordinated effort to disseminate the COVID-19 vaccines and provide financial assistance to all those suffering under the economic burden of a pandemic will also help. However, all of these steps must be taken with an antiracism and victim-centered approach to uplift those who are most vulnerable.

The criminal justice system is particularly ill-suited to handle both domestic violence and radicalization. As Dr. Leigh Goodmark writes in Decriminalizing Domestic Violence: A Balanced Policy Approach to Intimate Partner Violence, “the traumatic effects of the inhumane conditions and exposure to violence within prisons feed a destructive cycle of violence when those who abuse are released into the community and resume their intimate relationships.” While this line is written specifically about domestic abusers leaving prison, the same could be said about those who have been radicalized while incarcerated. A system built on violence and control will only breed the same.

To root out extremism and build resilience to radicalization at its source, significant investment needs to be made in education around digital literacy, critical assessment of online sources and online security for young people. Parents, teachers and caregivers also need to be equipped with the tools to recognize and confront online radicalization. Key to this education is the eradication of harmful constructions of masculinities in boys and young men, to move away from violence as a substitute for emotional literacy.

The United Nations has begun making a concerted effort to integrate the “agendas on women, peace, and security, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism.” In contrast, reflective of the convergence of oppressions described under patriarchal violence, the U.S. has long maintained an America First militarism couched in misogyny, colonization and racism. Over the past 20 years, this foreign policy has resulted in the killing of 801,000 people and displacement of 37 million globally and bigoted policies blocking refugees fleeing conflicts and asylum seekers fleeing gang violence in Central America, escaping domestic violence, and “fleeing persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” To move forward with meaningful policy to prevent patriarchal violence, the Biden-     Harris administration will first have to radically reassess the country’s past approach.

For intimate partner violence support and resources please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline

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