Nationalism in Disguise
The Right Wing’s Xenophobic Feminism
Trump’s travel ban has a section on ‘honor killings’ and gender-based violence. But he isn’t suddenly interested in women’s welfare—he’s just repackaging xenophobia as feminism.
The new, leaner travel ban President Donald Trump finally signed this week is not all that different from the one the Ninth Circuit struck down earlier this year. It targets six countries rather than seven and expires in 90 days, with the potential for renewal and the addition of more countries the administration deems a terror risk.
Trump’s new ban, like the old one, also establishes a database meant to track “honor killings” and gender-based violence perpetrated by foreign nationals in the United States. Just in time for Women’s History Month!
It’d be nice if Trump suddenly cared about women’s health and welfare, if he’d now seen the light after all those decades of locker-room talk. But Trump’s invocation of “honor killings” is nothing more than a rehashing of a familiar tack from the GOP, a party that seems to care about women or LGBT people only inasmuch as it justifies their xenophobia.
Women in the U.S. could almost certainly benefit from a nationwide database of men from any country who have committed any crime against women on American soil. In 2014, more than 1,600 women were murdered by men, mostly commonly by guns. But the Trump administration is not targeting men’s ability to obtain guns in their sudden embrace of feminism.
In 2013, more than 173,000 Americans, mostly women, reported being raped, mostly by men. But the administration is not focusing on bolstering funding for domestic violence shelters, or offering comprehensive sex education for young men that teaches consent. It’s not working with colleges and universities to strengthen their response to sexual assault on campus, nor is it increasing funding to family planning clinics.
It’s not fighting for workplace protections or paid maternity leave for low-income women. It’s not increasing funding to organizations abroad that provide health care services to women (instead, the administration’s expanded Global Gag Rule threatens more health care funding than its predecessors).
No, Trump is focusing on a tragic but vanishingly rare phenomenon in an attempt to stoke fear of the foreign.
Of course, this isn’t the first time xenophobia has been repackaged as feminism. A handful of states have attempted to enact bans on sex-selective abortion. Proponents of said bans insisted that the practice was a serious problem among certain communities. As with the “certain” foreigners implicated in this week’s executive order, the implied meaning in the term “certain” was, of course, nonwhite.
Lawmakers stumping for the bans would cite India, China, and Korea as practitioners of sex selection. While sex-selective abortions and female infanticide are a serious issue in some countries, there’s no evidence that its practice is widespread among immigrant communities in the U.S.
A 2014 University of Chicago Law School study that looked into the practice found that not only was sex selection a non-problem in the U.S., but the countries lawmakers were citing as bastions of the practice weren’t the places with the most lopsided male-female birth rate ratio. That distinction belonged to Liechtenstein and Armenia.
To get another peek into how feminist language is being manipulated to justify anti-foreigner sentiment, one need look no further than Breitbart’s coverage of “Muslim migration.” A person could spend an entire afternoon perusing the site’s diligent documentation of every time a Muslim man was responsible for a violent act in a country in which he was not born, especially if those acts are against women.
A media diet consisting partially of Breitbart would lead a person to believe that the streets of European cities are teeming with sex-crazed gangs of brown men groping white women with abandon. Curiously, Breitbart has also published thousands of words claiming that campus rape in the U.S. is a hysterical feminist myth put forth by women determined to take the fun out of sex.
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is another women’s health issue that preoccupies the Breitbart-reading right. In a hand-wringing piece published last month, the site claimed that migrants to the United Kingdom were increasing the number of FGM cases at alarming rates. A serious concern, for sure, but one that’s tough to take seriously as pro-woman advocacy when the site doesn’t publicize the shamefully high rate of maternal mortality among women of color in the U.S., or advocate for better care and education for female survivors of the practice. FGM, like domestic violence or sex-selective abortion, is only a concern because foreigners are doing it. The women to which it is happening are merely pawns in an agenda that ultimately aims to exclude them from the West, or to discard them in war.
Violence against women is always unacceptable, but whether an immigrant or a weak-chinned member of the god-fearing Duggar family is doing it shouldn’t make a difference. Is sexual assault or domestic violence against women any less a crime if the guy who did it has an American passport? Is it a worse crime if he’s speaking Spanish or Arabic? The Trump administration’s citation of violence against women as a reason to fear immigrants is a cynical attempt to disguise its true motives: cultivating Steve Bannon-style white nationalism in the American populace. You’d have to be a sucker to fall for it.