A spectre of normativity haunts gender theory. More often than not, we tend to encounter normativity in two forms – heteronormativity (a term some common it requires little explanation) and homonormativity, for which Everyday Feminism provides a reasonably thorough definition here. If we dig a little deeper into the complexities of gender, we see normativity appearing time and time again. Within the Masculinities framework espoused by R.W. Connell, among others, hegemonic masculinity functions are a normative mode of male behaviour and performance that polices men’s lives. Normativity tied into gender essentialism in certain aspects of second wave feminism. It’s no great secret that within gender identities, sexual orientations, sex acts, methods of gender performance, there is a tacitly maintained cultural script that guides our actions and results in ostracism for those who fail to conform to it.
I would to try and introduce a new term to the debate here. I’ll emphasise that this is not a term I thought of. I should acknowledge that the first time I encountered it was with my friend and fellow Genderling (a term we used for the students of the Gender Studies MPhil) Slavco. During one particular seminar, in which a lecture was going over some rather regressive aspect of pseudo-science that backed up the gender binary, I heard Slavco mutter darkly “Heterofascism!”
I never got around to asking Slavco what he mean by the phrase, which I had never heard before that day. Googling it later, I can across this rather thin definition on Wiktionary, which defines heterofascism as “authoritarian or aggressive support for heteronormativity.” Beyond that, there is little else to find on the subject.
Let’s try to unpack that phrase a bit; what doe we mean by “fascism”? One might argue (and I generally agree that) the use of fascism as a synonym for authoritarism is a bit lazy. Fascism is, in it’s nature, authoritarian, but authoritarianism isn’t always based around a fascist ideology. Fascism is, of course, difficult to define at the best of times – Mussolini’s fascism had differences to the fascism of Stalin, Hitler, which in turn has its differences to the fascism espoused by groups like the EDL, which in turn is different from the horrific ideology of the Greek Golden Dawn party. How then can we pin down “fascism” within heterofascism?
Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” (sometimes rendered as UR-Fascism) provides fourteen criteria for defining fascist ideology. For our own purposes, a few of these criteria are applicable to heterofascism:
1) A cult of tradition – traditionalism is held up as exemplar, and must be followed at all times, thus the modern is perceived with suspicion. A very basic example of this within heterofascism is within the equal marriage debate. Anti-equal marriage groups cite “traditional” marriage as being between one man and one woman, and thus the “modern” idea that marriages can exist between two men or two women is abhorrent.
2) Disagreement is treason – Eco defines this as fascism’s anti-intellectualism. Within Heterofascism, I would argue that this is based around a fear of supposedly “new” ideas of gender identity and strategies of gender resistance. An example of this would be the animosity expressed towards transgender people. While it is never a good idea to take the world’s pulse based on the experiences of a famous individual (doing so can erase the experiences of those who do not have the wealth, power or luck to dominant our media) the treatment, and, indeed, vitriol faced by Caitlyn Jenner is an example of this. Jenner’s abuse, at its core, can be read as a reaction to her “disagreeing” to follow a normative gender script – i.e. if you are born male, you are always male. Her very public disagreement with this was treated almost as treason against the gender norm. One might even go as far as to say that transphobia is a cry of treason.
3) “No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism.” – here, Eco suggests that Fascist ideology crushes analytical or critical thinking which goes against faith in a normal. In the case of Heterofascism, this emerges when, say, individuals and groups challenge the gender binary, normative gender roles, rigid conceptions of sexuality and so on. These people are othered, made into freaks and painted as dangerous by a heterofascistic media, state, church, etc.
4) Appeal to a frustrated middle class – again, we see this within heterofascism. With the issue of equal marriage, or gay adoption, its opponents tend to portray these as assaults on that sanctuary of middle class life, the nuclear, heterosexual, monogamous family. The appeal to family, to normality, ties into the anti-critical attitude above. By, say, being polyamorous, defining as queer or non-binary, people are subjecting the norms to criticism, criticism which exposes the underlying assumptions and fragility of these traditions. This must be stopped at all costs if heterofascism is to maintain itself. Furthermore, I would argue in the increasing attack on sex education (something I’ve written about before) we see this appeal to an individualist, nuclear, middle class family.