European Femonationalism and Domestic Violence Against Women

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Article published in The Funambulist 13 (September-October 2017) Queers, Feminists and Interiors. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

This conversation recorded on August 7, 2017, with Sara Farris, Senior Lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, attempts to link the work she presents in her book, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism (Duke University Press, 2017) with the violence against women that femonationalist discourses deliberately ignore (as these violences are exercised through what we could call “a universalist patriarchy”): domestic violence. The conversation first presents the political concept of femonationalism in the context of Europe, and then proceeds to describe the several dimensions of violence against women in domestic spaces.

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Before we really address space, could you please introduce what you mean when you use this concept of femonationalism?

SARA FARRIS: The concept of femonationalism really describes on the one hand the appropriation, or I should even say, the exploitation of feminist themes and the idea of gender equality, by right-wing parties like the Front National in France for example, particularly in anti-Islamic campaigns. On the other hand, it also describes the endorsement of anti-Islam slogans and ideas by some feminists and “femocrats”. It describes a contemporary phenomenon that we can see in countries like France, Italy or the Netherlands, which are the countries on which my book focuses, but also, I would say, across the Western world. It is quite a new phenomenon in many respects, but there are also certain historical legacies that I describe and discuss in the book.

LL: I thought that it would be interesting to include this conversation in this particular issue because it might create a very productive dialogue with the text written by Mehammed Amadeus Mack about homonationalism. Both his work and yours expose European societies’ claim to be less misogynistic or homophobic than others — in particular the former colonized societies — and how it enables them to hold people originally from these other societies at a greater moral standard than the one it holds itself at. Do you find this dialogue between both aspects (femonationalism and homonationalism) as productive as I suppose it to be?

Farris Funambulist 1
Percentage of women in the EU having experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence since the age of 15. (European Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014)

SF: When I wrote this book I was certainly inspired by the work of Jasbir Puar, who published her book on homonationalism in 2007. I think it is a quite interesting and important phenomenon to analyze from a left perspective, to see how emancipatory projects and people, who we consider on the left, that we associate with left ideas such as LGBT movements, queer movements and feminist movements, how some of them, not all of them, have been ‘seduced’ by nationalist, anti-Islam ideas. Or, if you prefer, how they even have been coopted or how they have internalized, perhaps it’s better to say, certain right-wing ideas and especially certain Islamophobic ideas. This work is really about how feminists, some feminists — I really want to stress some because certainly not all of them — how they have begun to use ideas of gender equality, in particular against Muslim males under the stereotype that Islam is a religion, which oppresses women more than other religions, and in a way that Muslim men are some kind of special group of people who are by definition misogynists, who oppress women and that are unable to respect women’s rights. So certainly the two phenomena, homonationalism and femonationalism, are very connected because in the case of Jasbir Puar’s work, her whole point was precisely to look at the ways in which LGBT movements and queer movements in the United States were endorsing Islamophobic ideas and Islamophobic slogans, somehow allying or colluding with American nationalism. I look at the ways in which some feminists are somehow allying with European nationalisms; Italian, French or Dutch in this Islamophobic war against Muslim men in particular.

LL: Still holding on space for another moment, we can see how in your work there are two very distinct female subjects that are mobilized: on the one hand, white women; we can think in particular of the events in Cologne in New Year’s eve of 2015, as well as more recently what has been the stigmatization of the neighborhood of La Chapelle in Paris for example. This figure crystalizes the trope of ‘our’ women; this colonial idea of a patriarchal and colonial nation “defending ‘their’ women.” And on the other hand, the other figure subjectivized by this femonationalism are women of color and Muslim women in particular, who need to be saved from their own community that are deemed patriarchal when Western societies would not been seen this way. Could you perhaps talk more about those two distinct processes of subjectivization of women through this discourse?

SF: Yes absolutely. My book is precisely devoted to understand this kind of ‘rescue narrative’ and even paradox because I really begin by asking how is that racist discourses about immigrants and about Muslims seem to be so gendered, which means, to make a distinction between the migrant man or the Muslim man on the one hand, as the oppressor, the rapist, and the criminal, and on the other hand, the Brown woman, migrant or Muslim woman, as the victim. One of the first things to recognize is what I call, but what also other authors have called, the sexualization of racism, which means precisely that racism is gendered, sexualized, and plays out, according to a certain sexual and sexualized register. By looking at that I began really to explore how is that these right-wing nationalists seem to want to also save these Brown and Muslim women. So they foreground them as victims, but they also seem somehow to offer rescue to these women. So, in a way, what these right-wing nationalists are doing, as you said already, is precisely stigmatizing the Brown migrant and Muslim men as potential rapists, according to a very classical colonial and nationalist trope, which is precisely the one according to which the women need to be saved from foreign and non-national men. And obviously according to such a trope, ‘national’ women need to be saved, need to be preserved from non-national men because they are the biological reproducers of the nation. So the whole idea is to maintain the racial and ethnic purity of the nation. That is why nationalists very much discourage interracial or interethnic marriages.