Racism, hostility towards refugees and authoritarianism are crucial elements in the ideology of the AfD (“Alternative for Germany”), the new right-wing party which gained around 12% percent of the vote in the 2017 parliamentary elections. When people are scandalised by AfD statements and actions, the focus is usually on these topics. They are central to the public image of the party and its parliamentary group also because the AfD links nearly all policies to the issue of immigration. At the same time there is a polarity within the AfD between the neo-fascist right and the national-liberal centre, mostly around where it stands on the social question. The right of the party is ethnicizing the issue of social conflict, while the centre puts emphasis on a nationalist policy of market radicalism. This dichotomy that is also closely linked to power relations within the party is bridged and blurred by an overarching broad consensus in another field. The issue of family and gender politics is crucial for the party’s ideology and articulated in a fiercly antifeminist way.
The role of family and gender politics in the ideology of the party
When discussing the reasons for the rise of the new radical right-wing party in Germany usually two areas are identified in which the AfD successfully articulates wide-spread fears and discontents. On the one hand, the party takes up issues in a socio-economic domain such as the fear of losing social status and job insecurity. On the other hand, the party is taking up fears and uncertainties related to changes of social values. The AfD offers an attractive proposition to those sections of society that are unsettled by the changes of gender and family roles and by new ways of living and loving. The party offers them political representation, affirms their traditional views and ways of life and defends them against all challenges. Family and gender policies are the key areas for the AfD in this domain and the party is actively claiming a dominant role in these fields. Unlike socioeconomic questions, this topic is largely uncontested within the AfD, so it acts as a unifying theme between the otherwise opposing fractions. It plays a central role not only ideologically, but also in terms of the party’s organisation because it does actually offer positive reference points for very different groups within the party. Whereas the conservative, bourgeoise right wing of the AfD, that is partly influenced by Christian fundamentalist views, puts emphasis on traditional gender roles and sees the family as the nucleus of the state, the neo-fascist right is more interested in the control of reproduction and demographics as well as in forms of masculinism. With the exception of migration and Islam, no theme is communicated as aggressively by the AfD as that of the entire family and gender policy. Alongside the term ‘Islam’, ‘gender’ could well be a key enemy label in the party manifesto. The issue is addressed from a dominantly male perspective. Only 16% of AfD members are women (by way of comparison: CDU = 25%, Linke = 37%). In the Bundestag elections, the AfD received 10 of the female vote and 15% of the male vote. Of the 92 AfD representatives in the Bundestag, 82 are men. However, all the attitudes surveys conducted over many years have shown that the issues covered by the AfD, especially in the field of refugees and migration, are supported equally by women and men. The AfD therefore has untapped potential among female voters. Developments since the Bundestag elections appear to indicate that the AfD intends to do more to exploit this potential. After the elections Alice Weidel, Leader of the AfD faction in the Bundestag, announced that she wanted to make the Bundestag faction more female and to attract more women to the AfD through new themes. She mentioned the party’s inadequate response to the issue of combining family and career.