German lawmakers are not paying enough attention to the danger of misogynist ideologies. They have and continue to incite violence against women, and can serve as a gateway to more radical right-wing worldviews.
Anne Helm, who heads the socialist Left Party's parliament group in Berlin's legislature, has grown used to threatening emails. But it's wearing her down, she says. Helm usually receives them late at night. Some declare she's been "sentenced to death." Often, the sender claims to belong to the "NSU 2.0," a German right-wing terrorist network. "I have to take this seriously," the lawmaker tells DW. "That makes my life so much more exhausting." But even though some emails contain death threats, Helm is not scared for her life.
According to Hesse's state parliament, a total of 69 threatening emails were sent to Helm, as well as 26 other individuals and certain institutions in recent times. Curiously, some of them contained personal information about the individuals that was not available in the public domain.
Seda Basay-Yildiz, a lawyer who represented the first victim of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) right-wing terrorist cell, was one of those targeted by hate mail. As was German comedian Idil Baydar. Indeed, most of these emails were sent to women and contained misogynist insults.
Helm believes the author or authors acted out of far-right, misogynist motives. After all, there have been high profile cases of extremists spouting and acting on sexist ideology before. The man who committed the bloody 2018 Toronto shooting spree is a case in point. He was obsessed with so-called incel – short for involuntary celibate – ideology, which blames women for their sexual failures. "Incels think young men are entitled to women and their bodies, they claim women are withholding sex from them," Henning von Bargen of the Green Party-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation tells DW.
Stephan B., the man suspected of having committed the October 2019 attack on a synagogue in the east German city of Halle, is thought to have harbored misogynist beliefs as well. In a video live streamed prior to the attack, he was seen listening to misogynist music and railing against feminism, arguing it was to blame for declining birth rates in the West. This, he claimed, was the reason for the ongoing influx if migrants. He then continued to accuse "Jews" of being responsible for all this.
Berlin lawmaker Helm says such claims will strike most people are "utterly absurd." But within "right-wing nationalist ideology, this thinking is logical," she says. According to this worldview, she explains, women are responsible for bearing children and raising them in line with their traditional role as caregivers. "Feminism challenges this worldview," Helm says. "Just like the women who are now receiving death threats."
"Anti-feminism has always been an element of far-right ideologies," says Rachel Spicker of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. According to this worldview, women are peaceful, reserved, social and timid, whereas men are characterized by a sense of "heroic masculinity" and a willingness to "defend their women and nation," explains Spicker. She says such gender roles are found in anti-feminist ideology. And says that women refusing to comply with them often find themselves being threatened by right-wing sympathizers.
Sometimes, anti-feminism functions like a gateway to right-wing ideology, as Henning von Bargen says. After all, he adds, anti-feminism rejects liberalism and favors a curtailing of constitutional and human rights. "But this link is overlooked," von Bargen says.
Helm concurs. She says even though many in society would never accept being called a racist, some will happily admit to being sexist. Rachel Spicker, too, is convinced that anti-feminist beliefs are deeply ingrained in our society.
Spicker says men who find themselves in a crisis, who face losing their job or way of living, are often susceptible to such radical, sexist ideologies. After all, many find comfort in blaming others for their misfortune, says von Bargen.
Many men are radicalized online. In the past, public platforms like Reddit and 4Chan featured incel chat groups. While these have now been shut down, others have sprung up elsewhere. Browsing their content can be a harrowing experience, with some users demanding women be made "sex slaves" for incels, or broadly denigrating women as dim-witted.
The computer gaming scene is not immune to such misogynist and far-right ideologies, either. Karolin Schwarz, who authored a book on new, right-wing extremism, says today extremist and misogynist ideas are disseminated through gaming platforms like Twitch and Discord. Some users openly sympathize with terrorists, while others dedicate chat groups to the Identitarian Movement, Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), and conspiracy theories. Here, it is not uncommon to find users railing against people of color, Jews and women. Alas, few are aware of these extremist chat groups, warns von Bargen.
He therefore urges in-depth research on this phenomenon. "Anti-feminism is not taken seriously by many German lawmakers; above all they don't see how it creates a link between right-wing thinking and mainstream society," says von Bargen.
Helm, meanwhile, has found a way of coping with the deluge of hate mail. "I try not to take these emails personally, because I know they target what I stand for politically," she says.