The furore within the Liberal Party about Katherine Deves. Fox star Tucker Carlson’s accidentally homoerotic trailer for his new “documentary,” The End of Men. Even, partially, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. All share the hard right’s obsession with strong men and imposing order.
There is a borderless country on the internet that has been referred to as the “manosphere.” It unites misogynist white supremacists around the globe with the extreme interpretations of religion in American Evangelical churches, Rad Trad Catholics and Eastern Orthodox faiths. The figures who star in this world idolise strong men. Vladimir Putin has embodied both meanings: ostentatious physical performance of strength in his macho tableaux reinforces his increasingly totalitarian leadership.
A deep anxiety about gender roles pervades this world. It believes there is a war on men and masculinity. Many believe that we face declining testosterone levels and sperm quality. The emphasis on patriarchal strength dictates how both men and women must behave. Men must bring order in the country and the home; women must be passive, obedient, demure and pure. Blurring of the boundaries is loathsome and a threat to the nation.
The gender panic epitomised in the manosphere itself is also insinuated through an increasingly extreme religious right in politics. This is caught up in the “freedom” rallies, the anti-vaxx movement, and the internet radicalised group that roughly gathered around QAnon and amalgamated conspiracies. Q has now mostly dissolved into a large proportion of Evangelical groups. This last ties the gender panic to fears of pedophile cohorts and grooming. This voter is now drawn to UAP, threatening the Coalition from the right, as Pauline Hanson’s racism did in the 90s.
That Scott Morrison committed to support Katherine Deves after the revelations about her transphobic social media posts is telling. It may be in part another “dead cat” gambit to distract from the broken promise to introduce a federal ICAC. The choice may also reflect, however, a gamble on galvanising a socially conservative voter base.
This would indeed be a gamble. The Coalition is juggling its old centrist voter who combines more socially liberal views with conservative economic principles against a new more extreme base. Some of this base’s values are reflected by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Despite the name, this body represents an American Evangelical (Pentecostal) form of Christianity rather than Australian mainstream traditions. Its emphasis on freedom to offend, and disgust at non-traditional gender and sexuality, make it a comfortable fit for the manosphere.
The ACL has launched a campaign that might well hurt the Coalition’s election prospects. In February, five Liberal MPs knew that their government’s religious discrimination bill would compromise already damaged re-election hopes. The gift it gave religious organisations to discriminate was alienating this group of MPs’ more progressive electorates. By crossing the floor to ensure stronger protections, however, they enraged the ACL. Now payback has begun. Flyers have been distributed in their electorates accusing them of attacking Christianity. Some of these MPs are already vulnerable to strong campaigns from the teal independent candidates, so chipping away at their percentage from the religious right is a threat they should fear.
The Deves gamble might be intended to woo the lobby back and shore up this front. Of course, the damage is just as likely to be compounded by driving progressive centrists away from a party that embraces divisive rhetoric about mutilation, Nazis and rapists.
This gambit, mainstreamed by our government in this way, has dire consequences. Trans people already face higher risks of suicide not because they are trans but because of societal rejection, abuse and violence. Now that this “moral” minority’s bigotry cannot easily be directed at LGB people, it is being directed at the much smaller and more vulnerable Trans community.
The drawing of theocratic tendencies to the centre of American “conservative” politics over the decades since World War II has brought policies that remain deeply unpopular to the majority and made them law. Abortion still retains the support of around 3/4 of the US population but Republican states are making it virtually impossible for women to choose. Attacks on Trans youth have escalated to making parents and doctors vulnerable to felony charges with life sentences for helping teens access the puberty blocking hormones that allow them to make their decisions as adults. Libraries are being stripped of books about diverse experiences on sexuality and race in towns in these states. Teachers are being threatened with law suits if they discuss anything to do with the subjects.
Australia now has politicians amplifying the talking points of the MAGA-pandering Republicans. The population to which UAP and PHON direct themselves wave placards that appear at protests around the anglosphere. The idea that they have pure sperm (because unvaccinated) is touted alongside claims on the protection of constitutional amendments that they don’t realise are American not Australian.
For this group Putin is an iconic figure. His dedication to manliness and returning women to their proper place is accompanied by a deep homophobia. Timothy Snyder’s record of his silovarch’s disturbing comments about the weak homosexual west has been rounded out by reporting this week about the Patriarch Kirill. His endorsement of the invasion of Ukraine is unremitting and much of the motivation apparent in his words, as in Putin’s, lies in purging Ukraine of the taint of the sybaritic western homosexuality inherent in liberal democracy. For Catholics who reject Pope Francis (sedevacantists) like Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, Putin is the true leader of Christianity and Moscow is the “Third Rome.”
Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister for Women, has joined George Christensen in trying to mainstream anti-choice rhetoric in Australia. The various theocratic tendencies of American conservatism are seeping into Australia. It will not take seven decades to transform Australia in the way that America is being transformed.
As Australia’s population declares itself more secular, conservative religious voters are making the Coalition and the fringe right parties their voice. If Australia’s majority wants to retain the “live and let live” approach to faith and life choices that we have pursued over recent decades, the 2022 election is a critical point. The Coalition’s undermining of democracy is going to make it harder to stop their moral panics and minority policy in the future.