07.24.11

Norway Killer’s Hatred of Women

Anders Breivik used anger against women to cast himself as a crusader, believing feminism is destroying the West from the inside and creating space for Islamism, says Michelle Goldberg.

Conservatives worried about the Islamization of Europe often blame feminism for weakening Western societies and opening them up to a Muslim demographic invasion. Mark Steyn’s bestselling America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It predicted the demise of “European races too self-absorbed to breed,” leading to the transformation of Europe into Eurabia. “In their bizarre prioritization of ‘a woman’s right to choose,’” he argued, “feminists have helped ensure that European women will end their days in a culture that doesn’t accord women the right to choose anything.”

This neat rhetorical trick—an attack on feminism coupled with purported concern about Muslim fundamentalist misogyny—is repeated again and again in Islamophobic literature. Now it’s reached its apogee in mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” Rarely has the connection between sexual anxiety and right-wing nationalism been made quite so clear. Indeed, Breivik’s hatred of women rivals his hatred of Islam, and is intimately linked to it. Some reports have suggested that during his rampage on Utoya, he targeted the most beautiful girl first. This was about sex even more than religion.

Breivik describes himself as a disaffected product of the Norwegian liberal political elite, furious at the way sexual instability has affected his own life. His father was a diplomat, stationed first in London and then in Paris. His parents divorced when he was a year old, after which his feminist mother married a Norwegian army captain, and his father wed a fellow diplomat who Breivik calls a “moderate cultural Marxist and feminist.” Though he describes his stepfather as somewhat conservative, he nevertheless complains of a “super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing,” which he says has “contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.”

A terror of feminization haunts his bizarre document. “The female manipulation of males has been institutionalised during the last decades and is a partial cause of the feminisation of men in Europe,” he writes. He blames empowered women for his own isolation, saying that he recoils from the “destructive and suicidal Sex and the City lifestyle (modern feminism, sexual revolution) … In that setting, men are not men anymore, but metro sexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.”

Furious and alone, Breivik plugged into the international anti-jihadist, anti-immigrant right. One of the most notable things about his manifesto is its scant attention to Norwegian politics or authors. Most of those he quotes are American, Canadian, or English, including Steyn, Robert Bork, Rich Lowry, and Melanie Phillips. Rather than railing against Norwegian feminists, he attacks Betty Friedan and even the relatively obscure Ellen Willis. He’s deeply versed in American culture-war issues—at one point, he even rants about the so-called war on Christmas.

Obviously, none of the writers he cites is responsible for his hideous crime. However, reading these authors pretty clearly helped him transmute his anger at women into a grandiose political ideology, and to recast himself as a latter-day crusader. He picked up the argument that selfish western women have allowed Muslims to outbreed them, and that only a restoration of patriarchy can save European culture. One of the books he references approvingly is Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West, which argues, “[T]he rise of feminism spells the death of the nation and the end of the West.”

His mad act was in the service of male superiority as well as Christian nationalism.

The demographic theory behind such pronouncements is completely wrong. In fact, in modern, industrialized countries, feminism is correlated to higher birthrates. Catholic countries like Poland, Spain, and Italy have some of the lowest birthrates in Europe, because society does little to help women combine their aspirations for work and family, forcing them to choose. France and Scandinavia are much closer to replacement fertility, which is crucial to ensuring that pension systems don’t rest on the shoulders of a rapidly declining number of workers. As the Tory M.P. David Willetts wrote in a 2003 report, “The evidence from Italy, and indeed Spain, is that a traditional family structure now leads to very low birth rates.” Countries concerned about shrinking populations, he concluded, must find ways to help working mothers. “Feminism,” he wrote, “is the new natalism.”

Nevertheless, the right clings to the idea that feminism is destroying Western societies from the inside, creating space for Islamism to take cover. This politics of emasculation gave shape to Breivik’s rage. Thus, while he pretends to abhor Muslim subjugation of women, he writes that the “fate of European civilisation depends on European men steadfastly resisting Politically Correct feminism.” When cultural conservatives seize control of Europe, he promises, “we will re-establish the patriarchal structures.” Eventually, women “conditioned” to this new order “will know her place in society.” His mad act was in the service of male superiority as well as Christian nationalism. Those two things, of course, almost always go together.