When Women Bear the Nation’s Honour: Fascism and the Woman-as-Symbol Under Trump

Thursday February 2nd, 2017

Yesterday evening, following protests on the UC Berkeley campus against alt-right (read: fascist) spokesman Milo Yiannopoulos, a gory photo of a young, beautiful, white woman covered in blood went viral. The image, originally tweeted by the “Conservative Nation” account, was paired with the text, “Here’s what happened to a female Trump supporter when she met ‘peaceful’ and ‘tolerant’ liberals.” The image was retweeted and shared on other social media platforms including Facebook where it was shared over 29,200 times. Outraged Facebook commentators wrote in response, “Terrorists did this! Why aren’t they in jail?”



It quickly emerged that the image was a fake. The original photograph was taken of Australian actress Samara Weaving in make up and costume on the set of horror television show “Ash vs. Evil Dead” and was shared on Instagram by makeup artist Hannah Wilson to demonstrate her work and skill. But images such as this one are more than just a sloppy attempt at discrediting legitimate protesters.

Media images of beautiful white women, including President Trump’s own daughter Ivanka, have been used extensively throughout Trump’s election campaigning and into his presidency in order to legitimate his rule and to implicitly oppose claims of sexual violence and harassment that have emerged against the Pussy-grabbing president. However, this kind of imagery plays another role and one with a much longer history in both the United States and fascist political movements in general.

Communist political theorist Anuradha Ghandy writes that images such as these, “… must be understood in the context of the full significance of how this fascist mentality looks at women” (2011, 245). Writing in 2003, Ghandy could already sense the growing fascist movements worldwide, including in the United States and Japan but also in India, her home country, under the leadership of India’s current Prime Minister, and then chief minister of volatile Gujarat province, Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ghandy is apt to point out that in periods of economic decline, fascist anti-minority sentiment is “whipped up” by the ruling classes through populist leaders in order to, “divert the peoples’ attention from their mass destitution” (2011, 240).

Along with anti-minority sentiment such as the controversial “Muslim travel ban” recently instituted through an executive order by President Trump, Ghandy writes that fascist forces consciously pair up with religious fundamentalist groups in order to advocate for the return of the “traditional family order”. In the United States, she is correct in arguing that the fight for the preservation of the “moral order of society” is centered around abortion rights (Ghandy 2011, 241). This can be evidenced in last week’s widely attended “March for Life”. At the time of her writing Ghandy commented that these anti-abortion activists were, “… among the most conservative and reactionary sections of the American society. They have white supremacist views, indulge in openly racist activity and are fascist in their nature of organizing and propaganda” (2011, 241).

President Trump’s own cabinet, consisting of Mike Pence, a man who stated that allowing rape victims to access abortion would encourage women to try to get raped, as Vice President, and Steve Bannon, an open white nationalist, as the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist for the United States, completes the fascist-patriarchal-white supremacist trifecta.

During the anti-Muslim Gujarat riots in India under Modi’s minister-ship, Hindutva fascists spread falsified propaganda reports about raped Hindu women in order to fuel anti-Muslim violence (Ghandy 2011, 245).  The parallel in today’s America are viral photographs such as  the one above, encouraging violence against anyone who dares to stand up the alt-right’s agenda. As Ghandy writes, “When backward [conservative] ideology sanctions and advocates the total subordination of women to men, then women become the symbols and carriers of social honour of the community, often even the embodiments of the sovereignty of the state” (2011, 245). In other words, women become the symbols of the fascist (white) nation’s honour and dominion.

Under this fascist and white-supremacist symbolism, violence against women and sexual violence, particularly when committed by perceived outsiders such as “Leftists”, “Muslims” or “Blacks”, becomes a public spectacle representing the defilement of the imagined national community. The image implicitly calls out to white men to defend “their women” and their nation, indeed, whiteness itself. As Ghandy asserts, this type of propaganda serves as a “challenge” to men to protect women, and by extension, the moral order of the nation itself (2011, 246). “In this entire play of power,” Ghandy continues, “the woman, her rights as a human being, do not count at all” (2011, 246).

Under fascist ideology, women become symbols for men to fight over. The agency, choice, and rights of these women do not matter as much as their moral status as “gate-keeper” to the race or community. Thus, in the internet forms of the alt-right, the ultimate insult, and at the same time disavowed fantasy, is that of the “cuck” or the cuckolded male who sits passively by as his wife enjoys sexual pleasure with other men.

Finally, it is important to remember that throughout American history this exact type of imagery has had a particular racial charge in the widespread racist representation of Black men as hypersexual predators towards innocent white women. Most famously, this imagery plays out in the KKK propaganda film “Birth of Nation” where sexually aggressive Black men (white actors in Black face), harass white women. This white-supremacist imagery had very real violent implications in encouraging the lynching of Black men.

We have recently been reminded of the homicidal intent imbued in this white-supremacist woman-as-symbol ideology in the resurfacing of the story of Emmett Till. In 1955, 14 year old Black child Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi. Emmett was later abducted, beaten and mutilated, and shot with his small body dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Over half a century later, the white woman behind the claims that incited white men to murder an innocent child, has admitted publicly that the entire backstory was a malicious fabrication.

As we face the rising tide of fascism, our role as proletarian women is to insist upon our economic, political and social rights. Fascism must be fought on all fronts, including in the sphere of popular culture. We must work to expose these “women-as-symbol” propaganda pieces for what they really are. We must demystify and counter their weak claims to women’s empowerment by demonstrating the deadly racist violence that they have historically encouraged.


Ghandy, Anuradha. 2011. “Fascism, Fundamentalism, and Patriarchy” In Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy. Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen (Eds.) Delhi: Daanish Books, 239-252.