In the Name of Womens Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism

By Helou, Maya El | Refuge, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

In the Name of Womens Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism


Helou, Maya El, Refuge


In the Name of Womens Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism

Sara R. Farris

Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, 272 pp.

In the Name of Women's Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, by sociologist Sara R. Farris, is an important and timely contribution to the fields of sociology, gender and women studies, and migration studies. Farris, over five chapters, both introduces the concept of femonationalism and makes a very compelling argument about it as an ideological formation.

The author traces the genealogy of right wing parties' cooptation of the language of womens rights and feminism in order to advance their anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic agendas, in the Netherlands, France, and Italy. Farris clearly lays out how the dichotomous framing of "brutal, savage Muslim men vs. Muslim women victims" reproduces the problem of sexism as one that belongs exclusively to non-Western societies. She continues by arguing that this depiction further renders non-Western societies as dangerous to Western values of "equality" between men and women, while simultaneously shedding light on the patriarchal and misogynistic characteristics of the political parties that use these arguments.

The book investigates the institutionalization of gendered integration policies and their role in normative reproduction of non-Western Muslim women immigrants as providers of affect/care labour. The author gives a brilliant and much-needed materialist intervention into, and analysis of, the economic capital that can be derived from the demonization of Muslim men as violent, and the victimization of Muslim women, "subjected to a backwards culture and savage men" from which they need saving. The author also builds on the tension and hypocrisy of using feminism as a tool to liberate Muslim women immigrants from the cultural chains of patriarchy. She argues here that anti-immigrant right-wing parties address women as mothers rather than individuals, resituating womens core role and value in society as mothers--a concept feminism quarrelled with historically and refuted.

Farris provides a discourse analysis of the media campaigns of neoliberal governments and the nationalist rightwing parties in question. Through this discursive analysis, Farris deconstructs the gendered nature of civic integration programs and analyzes how the theme of gender equality became central to civic integration. Each of Farris's five chapters theoretically engages with theories of nationalism, post-colonial feminist studies, and critical race studies. Noticeably, after engagement with the last in the fourth and fifth chapters, an obvious and profound engagement with Marxist theory and analysis are used to elucidate the political economy of femonationalism.

Once situated within migration studies, the book's most striking intervention is a historical reminder of Europe's existence as a fortress long before the surfacing of the border crisis--now named "refugee crisis"--that emerged with the flow of Syrian refugees escaping war to seek refuge in Europe. It is also a reminder that the didactic violence of integration policies and institutional violence against migrants existed before the "Syrian refugee crisis." But mostly her most brilliant intervention is in shedding light on how women's rights and feminist ideologies of gender equality are being used and co-opted by European right-wing parties and consolidated by femocrats in order to further discriminate against Muslim and non-Western immigrants. Farris takes us back to the roots of this instrumentalization through a critique of affect/ care labour, such as domestic labour, and by showing how discussions of care labour have been historically central to the critique of patriarchy as exploitation of women. …

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