by Callie Ahlgrim
Photography Courtesy of Francois Mori/AP
Today’s edition of “I don’t understand feminism” is brought to you by Paul Joseph Watson, editor for the alt-right website Infowars.
On Sunday, Watson decided to weigh in on France’s presidential election via Twitter: “So-called ‘feminists’ are trying to block people voting for a woman,” he wrote. “She would be the first female president of France. Let that sink in.”
Watson is referring to Marine Le Pen, who has become one of two finalists in France’s presidential race. The final vote on May 7 will see Le Pen challenge Emmanuel Macron—a left-leaning centrist who is dull, but wholly inoffensive.
Watson went on to applaud “REAL feminism” for securing Le Pen’s formidable position in the race. So what, you may ask, has warranted this high praise from such an obviously well-adjusted man?
Le Pen’s name actually carries a heavy significance in France. Her father—co-founder of her party, the National Front—is a famous anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, who dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as a mere “detail” of history.
Although Le Pen has worked hard to rehabilitate the party’s image, it turns out that bigotry doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Le Pen has proposed legislation to severely minimize immigration—both illegal and otherwise—as well as to ban headscarves, turbans and yamacas in public spaces. To listen to her explain it, France is a proudly secular nation and any visibly religious symbol has no place in their society—although she has no problem with Christians wearing clothing or jewelry emblazoned with a cross.
"Big crosses don't exist. Christian religions don't have ostentatious signs," Le Pen said on a recent television program. "In reality it is we who invented secularism."
In short, Le Pen is a bigoted and potentially destabilizing populist who campaigns on anti-immigrant rhetoric and accuses her opponent of elitism—despite having inherited wealth and publicity from her father.
Give her an ill-fitting suit and paint her face orange and it becomes abundantly clear why she appeals to far-right American conservatives.
Watson seems to have forgotten the permanence of online commentary. Last year he tweeted, “Obama ends his ‘male feminist’ essay with a tedious call to elect Hillary because she has a vagina.” Somehow, in the Infowars world, statements that directly contradict each other are acceptable as long as they’re made in support of the candidate you prefer.
But to suggest that female voters should support female candidates by default is not only hypocritical; it’s out-and-out sexist.
Am I unable to recognize Le Pen’s dangerous proximity to fascism because I’m blinded by her dresses and makeup? Am I bound to ally myself with a woman who does not stand for what I believe in, due to some misguided sense of solidarity?
Fighting misogyny does not mean that I have to like or agree with every woman. It means that I judge Tomi Lahren on her prejudiced, inflammatory comments rather than her appearance. It means that I critique Taylor Swift’s music rather than her dating life.
It is true that political representation matters, particularly when your country has never seen a woman hold the highest office. It’s true that women may be more drawn to female candidates because those candidates will likely understand their perspectives and concerns more fully; indeed, female representatives are statistically more likely to introduce legislation that deals with issues disproportionately affecting women, like domestic violence and equal pay.
But women are more than capable of recognizing the difference between representation and advocacy.
There’s no evidence to suggest that women will support any and all women who run for office. Jill Stein has never been able to drum up much female support and Walter Mondale, who tapped Geraldine Ferraro as his pick for Vice President, lost the 1984 election in a landslide. Most recently, failed bids for the White House include Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin on John McCain’s ticket and Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.
And yet, Watson was hardly an outlier when he lampooned female voters for playing the so-called “woman card” during Clinton’s campaign. Women across the country were accused of supporting Clinton simply because she’s a woman; of allowing immature and emotional whims to overwhelm their logic; of voting with their ovaries, or whatever, as if that euphemism made sense in any way.
To sum up: if women don’t vote for female candidates, we’re bad feminists. If we do vote for female candidates, we’re simplistic and irrational.
A woman in the White House (or the Élysée Palace) would be nice. I would like that. Many women would like that. But to boil an entire gender down to blind loyalty and naiveté is just a surefire way to alienate half the country’s eligible voters.