It's difficult to remember that there are people in the world who aren't kidding when they use the term feminazi. That it's used to elicit anything but a slow eye roll is nearly as inconceivable as the word itself. According to women-hater Rush Limbaugh, who popularized the portmanteau in his 1992 book The Way Things Ought to Be, a feminazi "is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed."
Over the last 23 years, the beloved oxymoronic epithet has been used to harass and undermine those working to advance the roles of women in society, or those women voicing what may be perceived as an opinion in a public space. While Limbaugh's definition ignores the history of Nazis' extremist control of reproductive rights, state-backed patriarchal violence, and the flight of avowed feminists from the Nazi regime, the logic of the notion applies the Nazis' militantism to the feminist cause.
I wanted to know if the mythical beast that conservative wet dreams are made of was real. And if there was such a thing as a feminist Nazi, how does she reconcile her own existence? So I decided to cull through the Internet's longest-operating racial hate site, Stormfront.org. There, I hoped to find my squitten, my liger, my literal feminazi.
Celebrating 20 years of racism this year, the white nationalist, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi forum seems like the last place you would expect to find open discussions on feminism. In just the last six years, registered Stormfront members have been found responsible for nearly 100 murders, according to a report released last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its members have included Richard Scott Baumhammers, who killed five people and paralyzed one in a shooting spree in 2000, and Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people—mostly children—in the 2011 massacre in Norway. Breivik, who joined the site in 2008 under the username "year2183," wrote in one post: "Feminism, corrupt treacherous politicians, a corrupt treacherous media, pro-immigration Jewry and a corrupt academia is the hole in the 'dike,' while Muslims are the water flooding in." Though Breivik's original entries have since been removed from the site, replies, reposts, and "good to have you with us" responses to his introductory post railing against Islam remain.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, feminism is a fairly contentious topic on Stormfront, which boasts about 300,000 registered members and self-reports about 40,000 unique visitors a day. In July, the forum topic "Any Feminists Here?" became so hostile that its moderator, SF Dungeon Master Fading Light, closed the thread after less than a month, stating, "God I hate to close a discussion thread like this, but this crap is just out of hand."
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Because I imagine it takes a lot to quell the spiraling hate speech on a website for the cultivation of hate groups, the same moderator followed up soon after with a new post: "Stormfront Position Statement on the Treatment of the Sexes," which called for an end to "women-bashing" on the site. Responses were disabled on the post.
The "Any Feminists Here?" thread, which had 158 responses before its closure, isn't an anomaly on Stormfront. Rather, sparking debate around feminism on Stormfront forums seems almost as irresistible to posters as using "The truth about" to start an otherwise unintelligible racist statement, sharing favorite photos of the Third Reich, or blaming Jews for just about anything. (Thanks to user WakeUpWhiteMan for sending us traffic on this thread last month: "Jewish Magazine Vice Publishes Openly Pro-Bestiality Article.")
What kind of white nationalist woman isn't, to some degree, a feminist?
But really, there are more posts explicitly about feminism on Stormfront.org than there have been on Broadly since our launch. Some of the other active feminist-related threads include: "Can feminism and white nationalism go together? I think so," as well as "(Jew) Progressive Academic Feminist Thinks Men Should be Put in Camps," "Women Against Feminism," "Is Feminism An Extremist Ideology?", "Why Are Feminists Fat & Ugly?", "How to Spot a Feminist," "Feminist Movement?", and "Policy Of Respecting White Women," among others. There is also an entirely female section of the site, the "For Stormfront Ladies Only" forum section, where a thread originally posted in 2008 called "What would Attract More Women to WN?" continues to see active posts.
In the sea of predictable hate speech against feminists on the "Why Are Feminists Fat & Ugly?" topic, I found one user's response particularly relevant to my search.
"What kind of white nationalist woman isn't, to some degree, a feminist?" posted user Ojos Azules after defending her identity as a feminist on the thread. Ojos Azules, or 31-year-old Anne, is a white nationalist in Canada, though her Confederate flag avatar might have you thinking otherwise. She told me in a private message—Stormfront's system is strikingly similar to AIM, bouncing smileys and all—that she identifies with an "old-fashioned feminism."
"White nationalist women are not going to be told how to live their lives," Ojos Azules said. "The women on this board don't seem to view themselves as less than their husbands, but as equal partners. There are no doormats here, male or female."
Dr. Abby L. Ferber, a professor of women's and ethnic studies and the author of White Man Falling: Race, Gender and White Supremacy, explained why some women of the far right might self-identify as feminists. "I think the question is: How does someone define feminism? Generally, their sense of what feminism is probably comes from the media, which is a pretty narrow view," Ferber said in a phone interview. "Anyone who has studied feminism at all knows feminism is so much more complex than that."
Women like Ojos Azules likely think of feminism within a traditional, liberal definition—one based on the idea that men and women should be have equal protection under the law. "From that definition, it makes sense that they might want to define themselves as feminists," said Ferber, who explained that within these movements, women are constructing their own sense of femininity. Some play the homemaker, while others need to take on a warrior role to socialize and bring more women into the movement. These women, in particular, may be more likely to identify as feminists.
If you say you are a feminist and in a white racial organization, then what are you saying about black women?
But regardless of your definition, to identify as a feminist is still inherently contrary to identifying as a white supremacist or neo-Nazi. "I do not think you can be a feminist and support a hate-based movement," said Dr. Margaret Power, a professor of history at Illinois Institute of Technology whose work focuses on gender, women, and far-right political movements. "If you say you are a feminist and in a white racial organization, then what are you saying about black women? That is just an overt contradiction at its very essence."
According to Ojos Azules, the Ladies Only forum has allowed for camaraderie and social support among the women of Stormfront, which could foster a greater demand for women's equality within the movement, especially in an online space where women may be referred to as anything from bitches to breeders. "I've seen things get out of control, but I've seen people really stick up for each other, too," she said. "If you're too sensitive, yeah, you're going to get pushed out. The ladies' forum helps a lot."
I asked Ojos Azules if she thought it was antithetical to be an advocate for gender equality while also against racial equality. "A white woman in a white community with white friends and a white spouse is less likely to suffer abuse and abandonment than someone who lives amongst non-whites and becomes romantically involved with them," she said. "Preserving our culture benefits all of us, and future generations especially."
Recent reports of neo-Nazis attempting to lure more young people into their movement by focusing on issues of gender equality and environmental justice could indicate that there is a growing presence of women, and particularly those who identify as feminists, in white supremacist movements. Dr. Kathleen M. Blee, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh known for her work on women's roles in the Klu Klux Klan, explained that the percentage of women in far-right movements has fluctuated over time. During the 1910s and 1920s, women took more active roles in the KKK; many even established their own women-led chapters, called the WKKK.
"Some of the women in the women's Klan saw themselves as both women's rights advocates for white supremacists," Blee said in a phone interview. "People tend to err in two directions: Either they discount that women have any real part in white supremacist, white nationalist movements, or they over-emphasize women's leadership in the movements." She clarified that these far-right movements are still very much male-dominated, and women tend to play marginal roles, even though they make up a pretty substantial percentage of the groups today. (Indeed, many gender equality–related posts on the Ladies Only forum seem so bizarrely out of touch they could be part of a special Women's Equality Day partnership between the KKK and Clickhole: "The trouble of marriage and divorce today - Men get a raw deal," "Is it necessarily a bad thing that women do most domestic work?", "It's Official, Ladies Not Shaving Their Armpits Is Becoming A Trend," and the popular poll "Who's more attractive: Skinheads or Old-fashioned Nazis?")
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In some threads, users brought up that women have faced unequal adversity over the course of history. In a response to a post on the "Any Feminists Here?" thread, user Fortress Europe posted, "The truth is, the men have oppressed women since the dawn of time. In some regions, it continues even to this very day."
I had a hard time believing that someone could recognize and condemn the history of patriarchal oppression of women while still blatantly affirming the systematic oppression of people of color. "I think in their minds it's not contradictory at all," said Blee. "They're not advocating for women outside of their particular category. So when women say they want to be feminists or racial warriors, they are advocating for gender equality focused on white women."
I asked Fortress Europe—a male Stormfront member from Bulgaria, staunch defender of women's rights, and rather harsh critic of To Kill a Mockingbird—if he identifies as a feminist and what that means for him as a white nationalist. "I'm for gender equality, and if that makes me a feminist so be it," he said in a private message. "Stormfront is a White nationalist site, and the White nationalism is a political and a social concept dedicated to the survival and the advancement of the White race. These prime objectives would never be realized without the participation and the cooperation of the White women, it is just not possible." Fortress Europe went on to explain that forcing women to be part of the white supremacist movement would likely be ineffective at advancing the cause of white nationalists.
I think it's important to try and understand why is it that women would embrace an ideology or practice that is not about their liberation, even though they might tell themselves it is.
Regardless of personal or confused definitions of feminism, Power believes we need to look at gender to better understand how people are manipulated into joining these movements. "I think it's important to try and understand why is it that women would embrace an ideology or practice that is not about their liberation, even though they might tell themselves it is," she said.
Ferber also emphasized that the movement has been growing, albeit in a fragmented and therefore more difficult-to-follow way. While we often point to people in white supremacist groups as extremists, their patriarchal constructions of gender and racist ideologies are indicative of problems deeply embedded within the culture at large. This, in turn, nurtures the growth of hate-based organizations and makes it easier for people to find these movements attractive.
"The movements really play on the narrow box of masculinity that men are forced to stay in," said Ferber. In other words, when it comes to gender, it's also not just the construction of femininity that we should be focusing on. "Men that don't fit that definition then are made to feel unsuccessful," she continued, "and they are ripe prey for movements like this."