‘After my bachelor’s degree in political science, I first started doing a full-time job that I was already doing on the side: building websites. That went really well and I liked it too, but after a few years I really started to miss the talks at the university. Then I came back for a master’s and I immediately thought: I’m in the right place here. I like to think about and analyze society. In gender and diversity studies at Radboud University, I am now doing research for my dissertation together with my supervisors. It must first be four articles, the first of which has just been accepted by a magazine, Politics and gender. I am finishing the second. We discuss everything with the three of us, which is very stimulating.
“What inspires me is how gender and postcolonial studies think about power. Not just as something that belongs to individuals or institutions, but as a systemic feature of society. Norms that the majority of people adhere to – and which others feel less comfortable with. That’s how I experience society. Mainly standpoint theory appeals to me, the idea that there is not one truth in social issues, but that it is about different perspectives of different groups that can co-exist.”
Populism and masculinity
“It is from this approach that I investigate gender and masculinity within right-wing populist parties. The Netherlands has long been an outsider in Europe with progressive views on gender, such as ‘gay marriage’, same sex marriages. Conservative discourse could be found in churches or centre-right parties, but the mainstream of society and politics was predominantly progressive. If you now look to the populist right – and I mean Fortuyn, Wilders and Baudet – you see something remarkable. You often hear about them that they only stand up for women’s or gay rights because that fits in with their anti-immigration or anti-Islam agenda. So to oppose Muslims or other migrant groups. But is that true? Our research nuances it at the very least.
“This is especially true for Fortuyn. He made his homosexuality part of his political identity. It was more than just a tool for him to denounce Islam, though he certainly did. But he also championed women at the top and labeled the incumbent elite as an old-fashioned patriarchy. That is a form of ‘over-masculinization’ of the opponent that you really don’t see anymore with the populist right. The incumbent elite is now considered to be too little masculine, too weak. Of course, Fortuyn also said very different things – and authoritatively pointed out women in their place – but he felt that the elite lagged behind the people in emancipation.
“Even at the PVV you see a discourse that is in favor of certain forms of emancipation, even if it is not about immigration. You may wonder whether that is genuine, but we see reasons not to doubt it in some cases. For example, the PVV mainly votes for gay rights, Wilders has also said that it does not matter to him if someone wants to change gender. There is, however, a limit: as soon as it comes to non-binarity, neither male nor female, it’s over. That is woke and therefore wrong. At Forum you see something completely different: that party is now completely against what they see as ‘transgenderism’. The tricky part is that the parties are not consistent in their discourse, so you have to pay attention.
“You also notice the difference in the way in which the leaders of those parties present themselves. Wilders stands for ‘normal’ masculinity. He stands up for the ‘normal’ Dutch person, with whom he identifies. What makes him different is that he stands up for them and takes threats. At Baudet it is very different. On the one hand, he is also ‘one with his supporters’, in his eyes the ‘real’ Dutch. But at the same time he expressly presents himself as an intellectual and great thinker, who distinguishes himself from ‘the people’. Wilders is the mouthpiece of the people, Baudet wants to be its guardian or guide.
Strikingly, few voters who may vote for any of today’s right-wing populist parties have truly conservative views on gender. We took everyone who says they seriously consider voting for PVV, Forum or JA21 from a voter survey and looked at what they think about same-sex marriage, changing gender identity and adoption by same sex couples. But 8 percent appear to be consistently against all three, even slightly lower than the national average. This makes the assumption problematic that the group of potential voters of these parties is per se gender conservative.
“An important reason for me to return to university was that I really want to continue teaching. I was a bit older when I did my master’s and I noticed that contact with new generations keeps me sharp. I like that even better than I had hoped, I get energy from discussions and I also learn a lot from them. You notice that some things are already a lot more natural to them than they were to me, just using TikTok.
“My wish would be to continue as a researcher and teacher. Those two really go together for me, you can’t research society without connecting with new generations. I hope I can do a nice research. With colleagues, in a nice place.”