And Again: The Means of (Re)Production

It’s the chamber at the center of the labyrinth, the mystery hidden in plain sight. It’s the intersection toward which all intersectionalities converge. It’s where male supremacy and white supremacy are exposed as always having been the same thing.

It’s reproduction.

Not the means of production, as Marx and Engels thought, but the means of producing the producers themselves. Reproduction.

The white male Christian murderer of 50 Muslim women, children, and men in New Zealand released a document online, “The Great Replacement,” before he committed the massacre last week. The opening words, repeated three times for emphasis, were: “It’s the birthrates.”

Constructed male identity, fascistic politics, woman-fear, woman-hatred, and violence form an infamous, ancient alliance, one we ought to be able to recognize by now. In the 1930s, the German National Socialists—the Nazis—agitated against contraception and abortion, homosexuality, and women’s employment in the work force, and revived the idea of Kinder, Kirche, Küche (children, church, and kitchen) for German women. A working coalition of misogyny between the Nazi political party and the Roman Catholic religious establishment served long enough for Hitler to consolidate his power: his party had been elected and was the largest party in the Reichstag, after all. Feminist groups and publications were then shut down, as were contraception clinics. In 1933, the year Hitler became chancellor, feminists along with non-Aryans were forced out of their jobs in teaching and other public positions. Women were barred from political office and from the judicial bench. One year later, he became president—and abortion was banned and made a criminal offense against the state, punishable by hard labor or the death penalty. Today, extreme-right movements around the world are following the identical playbook, as they always have. Today, 70 percent of terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by ultra-rightists.

Three personal interjections here.

I first touched on this subject in 1974, in an essay I titled ”On Women As a Colonized People” (later collected in my Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist), in which I set forth my analogy that women in a patriarchy are basically being mined for our natural resources—sex and childbearing—but denied control of the benefits of those crucial resources, which are reserved for “export” to men.

A quarter of a century later, I wrote an entire book about such men,The Demon Lover: The Sexuality of Terrorism. I’m sorry I ever had to, yet glad I did, because otherwise I’d have to write it now. I wrote it three decades ago, yet it’s maddeningly relevant, even (to my grief) prescient.

I know New Zealand fairly well, too. I’ve spent many glad hours in Aotearoa, or “land of the low-lying, long white cloud,” the Maori name for that small country. In 1989, the same year I finished The Demon Lover, I spent a semester as Visiting Professor in Feminist Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, where the mosque massacres just took place. Christchurch is a tidy, almost sleepy little city, possibly the most colonial place in the Antipodes; it tries so diligently to be merrie olde England that the river is named the Avon and street lamps sport hanging pots of scarlet geraniums instead of the more dramatic indigenous neinei or puhutakawa blossoms. It’s a picture-book city, seemingly oblivious to the proximity of a savagely beautiful coastline or the Southern Alps in their icy vastness. The people are polite, friendly, but like all kiwis reserved—until you get them talking about their gardens and then you can’t stop them even if you wanted to. It was painful to conceive of Christchurch’s placidity being ruptured by the 2011 earthquake, but it’s heart-breaking to imagine the innocence of Christchurch shattered by the violent man-made disaster last week. One can easily understand why people fleeing violent homelands taken over by religio-political male fanatics had fled to such a place seeking a new home and peace. But a religio-political male fanatic of a different kind made certain they would find no peace.

Because of the birth rates, you see.

He had named his document “The Great Replacement” to echo what white supremacists had screamed in Charlottesville, Virginia when they marched bearing tiki torches, chanting ”You will not replace us.” That’s also the slogan of Identity Europa, another neo-Nazi group. In fact, it’s crawling all over the right-wing web, popularized by a fascistic French philosopher, Renaud Camus (no relation to the French novelist Albert Camus). “Replacement theory” has heavily influenced nativists like the Dutch politician Geert Wilder, and is a staple of rightist, anti-immigrant, political parties across Europe. It’s an extension of colonialist theory, rooting itself in the fear that white women are not bearing enough children, which will lead to white people being replaced by “The Other.” It promulgates numerous measures against The Other, measures that range from discrimination to genocide.

Such groups obsess about falling birthrates, too ignorant to understand that this is actually a long-strived-for benefit to an overpopulated planet, and to the liberation of women as whole human beings rather than full-time reproducing machines. On the contrary, these profoundly insecure men regard women who are concerned with anything except children, church, and kitchen as a threat to their own self-defined supreme manhood, which they equate with their very existence. Many openly proclaim that women should lose the right to employment. What began as a series of jokes about how wrong it was to have “given” women the vote has turned serious—and not only throughout overtly neo-Nazi communication spaces. In a revealing mirror-image fashion, these extreme rightists articulate their envy about how The Other—the Islamic state, for example—treats women, and they express rage at being unable to do the same in democracies. Most believe the “clash of civilizations” propaganda and insist that white males are in a weakened position because white females are no longer living subserviently, the way they believe women of “The Others” are. For this, they blame feminism, and vow to bring on the apocalypse rather than let it continue.

They use as informational fodder certain studies showing sperm counts and testosterone declining (phenomena not unrelated to climate change and polluted natural resources, by the way) as a sign that feminism is trying to destroy them. They buy sperm counters. They go to testosterone replacement therapy. It’s the 21st-century version of the 90-pound weakling trying to become the muscleman. Chat rooms and message boards across the so-called Manosphere are filled with talk about increasing sexual dysfunction. In an excellent March 19 New York Times article, Nellie Bowles quotes Professor Paola Bacchetta of UC Berkeley, who serves on the board of the Center for Right-Wing Studies, saying, ”It’s all about their anxieties about their male others; they fear being overproduced and eliminated.”

But it’s not only on the dark web, on 4Chan and The Daily Stormer. It has more alarmingly entered mainstream right-wing rhetoric, masked as the longing for a return to ”family values” when expressed on FoxNews, but where Fox’s Tucker Carlson veers close to saying it flat out. A member of the United States House of Representatives, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, tweeted last year ”We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” It was the backdrop for “birtherism,” which first brought Trump to political prominence, and it’s present in all the dog whistles and hints he drops about immigrants, because his audience knows that a slowing birthrate in some western countries may mean that immigration becomes a desired necessity to keep the population stable.

Sex is the first point of agreement that an online white supremacist recruiter uses—and remember that he’s approaching adolescent males and those in their early 20s, who are already preoccupied with sex. One of the most militant sub-groups calls itself the “Incells”–involuntary celibates—who have been turned down by women with whom they wanted to have sex. Annie Kelly, a doctoral student at the University of East Anglia in Britain, researches the impact of digital cultures on anti-feminism and the far right, and notes that “[I]n gaming and comic books and these things that aren’t politically related, anti-feminism is an easy access point to make your case.” The Nazis didn’t have the internet, but they had developed a related strategy: they deliberately flooded newly conquered and occupied countries with violent pornography, toward the same result. Once a group of young men in an online forum agrees that declining white birthrates are an existential threat, then the conversation turns to policies. “Policies” range from the need to re-educate white women to the need to kill all nonwhites.

Much more needs to be researched and written about this, and thankfully that’s no longer such a solitary task. Furthermore, we have come a long way since 1974, and even since 1989, because one thing is now understood as no longer a matter of uncertainty: the unavoidable truth is that women’s capacity to reproduce is perceived by white supremacist groups and their allies as the ultimate territory to be subjugated, because only then can they be certain that the myth of their all-powerful manhood is preserved.

That’s at least a start.