This ongoing project (with Julia Elad Strenger and Lihi Ben Shitrit) examines how women’s visibility in far-right movements and parties increases public support for far-right agendas, and explores the role of gender stereotypes in underlying these processes.

How do extreme political views and actions come to be increasingly more tolerated and accepted by larger segments of a population? What are the mechanisms that allow for more aggressive and intolerant forms of political extremism to move from the margins to the mainstream of a society?

 This project tackles such questions by employing a gender lens that reveals the crucial role that women’s participation and gender stereotypes play in patterns and spread of political extremism. To do this, it investigates the rise in influence of far-right movements and parties globally. The project examines how the growing visibility of women as actors (activists, leaders, elected representatives) in far-right movements and parties affects these movement’s public image and, in turn, their acceptance by the political mainstream.

Historically, far-right movements and parties have had fewer women representatives than leftwing ones, they have had a gender gap among their supporters and electorate, and most if not all of them have been identified with a distinctly masculinist, aggressive, and radical public image. Yet as both scholars and media attention have recently noted, women, though still in smaller numbers than men, have been increasingly more visible in far-right activism and formal politics. 

Our research proposes a far-right gender mainstreaming model that challenges the common use of the term. Traditionally in academic and policy parlance “gender mainstreaming” refers to making a gender perspective, analysis, and women’s representation central rather than peripheral so that gender equality becomes a mainstream objective. Far-right gender-mainstreaming, on the other hand, signifies a very different path. We argue that the visible inclusion of women can sometimes transform the image of far-right groups from one perceived as “aggressive,” “masculine,” “extremist” or “radical,” to one that is perceived as more mainstream; this without changing their core far-right agendas (e.g. ultra-nationalist, xenophobic, anti-minority, anti-liberal and anti-democratic agendas, etc.).

Namely, through increased and more visible women’s participation and representation, far-right movements or parties make radical agendas appear more “mainstream.” Importantly, this project also examines the gender mainstreaming model for far-left movements and parties. However, both theoretical insight and preliminary empirical research suggest that higher female visibility does not have the same significant mainstreaming effect on the image and agendas of far-left political actors as it does for far-right actors.

 A far-right gender mainstreaming model has important implications for understanding the current rise in power of intolerant politics. First, it would help account, among other factors, for the gradual drift of far-right movements and parties from the political periphery to mainstream politics, despite the fact that many of them have not substantially moderated their radical agendas.

Second, it can explain why far-right movements and parties would be increasingly more interested in visible women’s participation and representation in their ranks. Finally, it would alert those committed to democracy, tolerance, and gender equality to the hazards of viewing far-right movements as potential allies simply because of the growing visibility of women among their ranks. The project builds on preliminary research in Israel but sets out to examine this phenomenon on a global scale