Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
The sexuality of reaction is complicated and contradictory

The sexuality of reaction is complicated and contradictory

Writers Seyward Darby and Katherine Abughazaleh discuss how far-right influencers use sex to promote religion

Episode Summary

One of the stranger things that’s happened in right wing media since Donald Trump emerged on the political scene is how obsessed with sex many far right figures have become. Andrew Tate, a former kickboxer, is one of many reactionary lifestyle influencers who preach a gospel of misogyny that they claim will lead followers to easy sex and money. Sex and birthrates are one of the most frequent topics you hear about on white nationalist and neo-Nazi podcasts.

Some of this is surely due to the fact that the Republican party’s leader since 2016 has been a crass real estate investor more famous for his dating life than business success who also has faced numerous charges of sexual harassment.

But that isn’t the only reason. If you look in the right places, you’ll realize that reactionary media has been filled with content about sex, dating, and marriage for many years. And it wasn’t exclusively a bunch of male pastors telling women what to do either.  Far-right women have always and continue to be in the mix.

In 1963, Helen Andelin published “Fascinating Womanhood,” a book telling women to submit to their husbands, but also to manipulate them. James Dobson, the far-right political activist, got his start offering relationship and parenting advice to fundamentalist Christians in 1977. And Phyllis Schlafly, who started her career campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment was also a raging crusader against pornography, a cause that has recently been resurrected by reactionary leaders such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk.

Far-right people obviously are still upset over the 1960s, but the language today is different. Joining me to take a look at all this is Seyward Darby, she’s the author of the book “Sisters In Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism.” She’s also the editor of The Atavist Magazine.

We’re also happy to be joined by Katherine Abughazaleh, a researcher on far-right media figures like Tucker Carlson, who has also done some work examining the Republican dating website “The Right Stuff.”

The transcript of the audio is below. You can watch this episode as well.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today, ladies.

SEYWARD DARBY: Thanks for having me.

KATHERINE ABUGHAZALEH: Thanks for having us.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so, let’s get started. We got a lot to talk about here, so let’s maybe just get started first with you, Seyward. Tell us a little bit about your book, briefly the people that are in there, and then and then we’ll go to you, Kat.

DARBY: Sure. So “Sisters In Hate” is, as the subtitle suggests, about women who are or have been very active in the white nationalist space. And it focuses on three women who have radicalized into white nationalism over the last 15 to 20 years. And it’s, their lives, what led to that point. And then the roles that they played in various influencer groups as well as organized neo-Nazi groups in some cases.

But the book also uses their stories as a jumping off point to look at the history of women’s roles in far right, organizing far right politics. And asks the question, why have we forgotten about them? Why do we ignore their contributions? And so I look all the way back to the immediate post Civil War period and bring it up to the present day with a diversion here, there into the international space namely Nazi Germany.

SHEFFIELD: So Kat, you’ve looked at a lot of these right wing media figures that talk about sex and dating and whatnot. But your recent dive into the right wing dating website, The Right Stuff, tell us a little bit about that. What is that website and what did you find out when you went in there?

ABUGHAZALEH: So The Right Stuff is this dating app that’s for conservatives and conservatives only. You can only get in through an invite, specifically through conservative influencers.

And I was just curious to see what the people would be like on there. And so I talked to a conservative influencer on Instagram, pretended I was sick of liberal city boys on Tinder and went on the site.

And it was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. A lot of guys holding fish or sitting in front of deer that they shot. There were a lot of prompts about January 6th and liberal conspiracies. It was a trip for sure.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. All right. Well, so when you say a bunch of guys holding fish. I mean, are you saying that this, it was seeming to be kind of like a rural dominated demographic that was there? Is that what you mean by that? Or like what?

ABUGHAZALEH: When I say guys holding fish in a profile picture, that’s something you’ll see a lot on dating sites like Hinge and Tinder, and it’s kind of a red flag.

Either shows no personality or no personality.

A lot of these were suburban guys that wanted to show that they were masculine and outdoorsy. There were a lot of guys showing how much they could squat at the gym. A lot of guys showing that they owned guns, was less about where men were and more about how they were men.

They seemed like they were always trying to prove something, and didn’t really feel like it was about dating at all.

SHEFFIELD: Like prove to themselves you think? Or to other men or to like what? I don’t know. Let’s talk about that.

ABUGHAZALEH: Yeah, I mean on The Right Stuff, you can’t search for your gender, so you can’t say I’m a woman interested in women or I’m a man interested in men.

So it’s not like other men would be seeing these. But there were a lot of pictures that I was just curious how they thought it would appeal to the typical woman, seeing a guy holding a lot of guns in all of his pictures doesn’t really project safety. It seems like a lot of peacocking for no reason, if the reason you’re trying to find is to get a date.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So Seyward, I would guess that some of the women that you have looked at in your research, they might find those pictures to be appealing, I’m guessing, right?

DARBY: Yeah, very much so. I think that an important thing to remember about the far right space, and this has always been the case, is that it is a hyper traditionalist area.

And so this idea of ‘men are men and women are women,’ and they’re very clearly defined identities for each gender, and that there are no other genders. I mean, that’s like a given, right? But the idea of you have a lot of guns, you like to fish, you like to hunt. I think that on the one hand, of course I’m married, I’m not on dating sites, but I agree, like if I saw a man holding a bunch of guns, that would not exactly appeal to me, to put it mildly.

But I think to some women, it actually does project safety. It makes them think, oh, this is someone who will provide for me, who will defend me, and who will also fight for me, if necessary. And so I think that, and I have not spent time on the website, but I would be curious to know on the flip side, like what did the women look like?

Because I’m guessing that they sort of fit into a cookie cutter idea of femininity in the same way that the men fit into a cookie cutter identity for masculinity.

SHEFFIELD: Well, since none of us have seen it, I guess it’s tough to say for sure, but–

DARBY: Right.

ABUGHAZALEH: But I mean, that’s how I tried to make my profile look definitely. Growing up, in a conservative area as a conservative I was trying to fit every single one of those ideals I learned as a kid into my profile. It paid off.

DARBY: Right.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and we’ll talk about it more, but so one thing that is kind of interesting about these about The Right Stuff is that it isn’t the first right wing dating website that has been in existence. It’s actually something that I’ve written about for the Young Turks that since the internet came along, there actually have been five or six of these right wing dating websites dedicated solely to the idea that ‘the libs won’t let me get a date. They won’t date me. They’re mean to me. They just don’t understand me.’

And so for those ones, some of them actually did have public facing profiles, and it was interesting and if you go, you actually can go to the Internet Archive and look at some, it’s like a digital graveyard. It’s such a great site. There’s my plug for them. And of course they didn’t pay me because they don’t pay anybody for anything.

But you can see the profiles, and one of the things that you note when you look for them is that they are overwhelmingly men that were on these websites and there weren’t very many women.

And of the women who were there that I saw when I was going through these historical sites, a lot of them just seemed obviously fake accounts. Just not real women. Like they would copy and paste a model picture from a magazine and pretend it was them for catfishing and scam purposes. Who knows what it was for?

And I think it’s kind of interesting when you think about it in that sense, because I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of single men who don’t understand the world has changed and that they need to change as well in order to succeed at it.

That they’re also being sort of preyed on constantly by all kinds of grifters and scammers. In your research, Kat, you’ve, you talked, you’ve looked at how Fox News kind of forces that persecution narrative on a lot of their male viewers. Talk about some of the ways that you’ve seen that with some, or who are some of the people who do that the most there?

ABUGHAZALEH: Tucker Carlson for sure tries to make men feel like they’re the victim. This last year at one point he said that if you don’t wear a dress that your trans neighbor is going to make you lick their feet, was how he described it. That masculine values are now illegal. That was something that he said, ‘illegal.’

He talks a lot about how women are weakening our military, pregnant flight suits, that’s a rant that he’s gone on many times.

It’s just a continuing cycle. He had Andrew Tate on earlier this year, or in 2022, I guess, to talk about how Andrew Tate’s rhetoric wasn’t actually that dangerous and he was being banned for dumb reasons.

And it’s just kind of a repetitive cycle. Jesse Waters does the same thing. You also have people that might not say super explicit sexist stuff like many would think of, or really extreme things, but they always say, men are men and women are women. And that comes with its own implications. So it’s pervasive across the entire network.

SHEFFIELD: One of the other things that’s kind of interesting is that when you look at the few women who are figures in these right wing media spaces, a lot of them do not live, particularly traditionalist lives themselves. And either one of you can jump in. I actually want to hear from both of you on this point.

One person who comes to mind for me is Laura Ingraham, Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host. I don’t think she’s ever been married, or she was for a brief time. She never gave birth to children. She adopted children as a single mother, which was literally what Dan Quayle in the nineties said was this horrible, awful thing when Murphy Brown, the TV character did it. That’s Laura Ingraham’s life.

And Anne Coulter, the far right columnist and blogger, she’s never been married. She’s never had kids. She pretty much seems to spend most of her time in bars smoking cigarettes with random people– obviously not a traditionalist, feminine woman, quote unquote.

Is that something that you’ve seen, Seyward in some of the women that you’ve looked at? Maybe talk about some of them, specifically if you would please.

DARBY: Sure. Yeah. I think absolutely, there are women, particularly ones who are more sort of public-facing, who don’t inhabit this hyper traditionalist role. At least, in pretty obvious ways, like the ones you’re describing.

But I think too, it’s important to remember when you’re talking, and I did a lot of sociological reading and anthropological reading and whatnot, and studies into the far right indicate that there are so many more women we don’t see and don’t know about for the exact reason that being hyper traditionalist means not necessarily broadcasting yourself because you should be focused on home, family, husband, whatever it may be.

And so just because, there aren’t as many of these female sort of pundits in the vein of, I don’t know, an Andrew Tate or a Jesse Waters, whoever it may be, I think that numbers are difficult to actually find and quantifying is not necessarily the way to do it, if that makes sense.

It’s more about kind of thinking in terms of what are the different spaces in which these people who believe these things operate?

But I think to kind of go back to the question you’re asking, some of the women who are more public-facing, and one of the women who I would put in this category is one of the women I profiled in my book, Lana Lokteff, who runs Red Ice with her husband, Henrick Palmgren.

She’s actually addressed this directly in various interviews in her own programs where she said essentially we are at this pivotal moment–which, I mean, to be clear, white nationalists always feel like they’re at some pivotal moment if we don’t do something now, the world is going to collapse and white people are going to be extinct or whatever it may be. But her argument is essentially, ‘I don’t want to have to be doing this, but we are in such a state that we are essentially at a moment where, even some women need to kind of come onto the battlefield.’ In this case, it’s the battlefield of ideas, or whatever it may be, however you would describe their sort of world.

But I mean, I think that’s a lie quite honestly. But at the same time, they are clearly, people like Lana, are trying to project this idea that I understand why you might have a problem with a woman like me doing something like this and that might be unattractive to you, that might not be traditional enough for you. But at the same time, I’m telling you that it’s necessary at this moment.

This is something that I’ve heard her repeat in so many videos and interviews over the years. And I don’t think she’s the only female sort of pundit activist in the far right space who will give that spiel.

And one of the texts that I use in the book to talk about Lana is the book, The Handmaid’s Tale, because in the book, Serena Joy, and this bears out a little bit in the show too, I don’t know if you guys have watched the show all the way through.

But it talks about how Serena Joy, who’s the hyper conservative wife of the man who owns the handmaid essentially, and it talks about how in the before times, like before this revolution in which the hyper conservatives took over America, she was more in this sort of predominant public role, but then once they won, she was told to go back into the house and do her traditional wifely duties, right?

And it’s an interesting– what would happen if the white nationalists of today actually achieved this society that they claim to want to achieve, what would it mean for women like Lana Lokteff, Lauren Southern, we can go on and on down, down the list of these influencers.

Would they really be willing to give up that public facing influence, but also, I mean, they clearly take great pride in the work that they do, however regressive and awful it is. And would they be willing to give that up or are they just talking a big game right now?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Did you have anything you wanted to add on that regard, Kat?

ABUGHAZALEH: Yeah, I mean, I just think that Phyllis Schlafly is like the OG for this, for really coining that. I mean, that’s who Serena Joy was based off of. And it’s this whole, oh, I regret that I have to do this, but I have to do this. She’s a martyr. She’s the person making a sacrifice for her children, for her family, or she paints it as a hobby. Even though Phyllis Schlafly was one of the most powerful tastemakers in Washington politically, she was behind so many right wing campaigns. She basically killed the Equal Rights Amendment, but she just painted it as a hobby, even though this was her full-time job, she was doing more than most men in Washington at that time.

And a lot of other women have conservative women. A lot of other conservative women have taken that and used it as a role model.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it is interesting that you do in fact, see those criticisms lobbed against these women. So if you follow them on Twitter, they will get replies or you look on these websites that they have, they’ll invariably get these comments, ‘how dare you tell us what to do.’

ABUGHAZALEH: I mean, have you seen that trad Twitter account? Sorry.

SHEFFIELD: Oh no, go ahead.

ABUGHAZALEH: Oh, There’s this account on Twitter that is dedicated to traditional masculine values, and they talk a lot about architecture and GMOs and not having chemicals near food. And this is what a wife should do.

At one point they said, wife should be making breast milk ice cream for her many children that she keeps at home. Super weird. And then someone looked up the email associated with the website, associated with that account, and it’s a woman running that account.

It’s not a man running that account, it’s a woman that’s posting all of this crap for the world to see. It’s complete hypocrisy on every level.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. But at the same time, that is something for me as somebody who was on the political right, part of what made me leave it was that I did see so much hypocrisy and so much blatant sort of essentialist moralizing or completely utilitarian that ‘Well, I don’t believe this thing, but I’m going to say it anyway because my audience wants to hear it, or it will help me get ahead with some politician or some person. So I’m going to say it.’

And that type of thinking, I mean, it is all throughout, top to bottom. Like Sean Hannity recently was deposed in a lawsuit by one of the voting machine companies, and he was asked, well, did you believe these things that Sidney Powell– the one-time Trump attorney was saying about these conspiracies of Venezuela changing the votes and whatnot and krakens. And he said, no, not for one minute. I didn’t believe it.

But he didn’t say anything to that effect on the air. And in fact, he put forward their ideas and allowed her to be on the air, at least in the beginning. And you see that over and over. I mean, it is so endemic and it doesn’t matter to them.

And it’s why, I saw so many people, I mean even now you see people saying, I can’t believe the evangelicals like Trump so much. What’s wrong with them? I don’t understand it, what are they doing?

And it’s almost like these people don’t have any familiarity with the culture that they’re talking about. Would you say that, Seyward?

DARBY: Yeah. I mean, I agree that, a pretty hefty dose of hypocrisy and opportunism, it’s a hallmark of far right organizing.

And when I was initially, so I started working on my book pretty shortly after the election in 2016. I didn’t know it was going to be a book yet. I thought it was just going to be an article. But I even remember talking to white nationalists, Lana Lokteff amongst them, who were willing to say that they didn’t even think Trump was conservative enough.

Which is an insane thing to think about if you’re part of mainstream politics. But for white nationalists, he was not actually vocal enough on the question of race, and not definitive enough about the war on whites, and all of these sort of fantastical ideas that the far right has about what’s going on in America and the world.

But they were more than willing to ride his coattails, to ignore the things they disagreed with, his ungodliness, whatever it may have been because it was useful.

They’re savvy political actors and they’ve been incredibly good over time at getting ahead of, they’re some of the first people to use the proto internet because they realized, this is an incredible way for us to share our ideas.

They’ve also been very good, always at glomming onto existing mainstream political trends and saying: ‘We’re not so different than this, what we believe is not so different than this.’

I mean, anti-communism is actually a really good example of this. In the seventies eighties, especially the far right, even though that was aligning themselves with people who they didn’t necessarily agree with across the board, it was like ‘but this is a convenient alliance to have an ideological alliance to have.’ and they turned anti-communism in their space into something that was also very racist.

One thing that I think is important to remember, and I thought about this so much over the course of all of my research, is that they are essentially turning the domestic, what we think of as the hyper domestic, things like turning your breast milk into ice cream, they’re essentially reframing that as a political act, saying: ‘Doing this is actually the way that you contribute to a better society, the way that you build a better society, the way that you build a more pure society.’

Looking at it, it can seem so bizarre, but at the same time, essentially it’s saying women by not being people who are on YouTube all the time, by not being in politics, not being in industry, whatever it may be, by doing things like this, yes it is absolutely putting women in a box and keeping them at home. But home for the far right is a political front.

And I think the Nazis were incredibly powerful at this. There was a whole Nazi women’s wing, women were given medals based on the number of children they had, and soldiers on the streets were told to stop and salute women if you had six kids or whatever it was because you were a servant essentially to the idea of nationhood and arianism and all these different things.

And so, I’m always, the breast milk thing is such a good example where that is so weird and gross on the surface. But there’s so many layers there of what that is saying to women. And saying you can do these things that nobody else is celebrating. Everybody else tells you– I mean, and that’s not actually true, but this is the message, right– that everybody else is going to tell you is not really that worthwhile. Maybe it’s weird, but we are telling you it is important. It is special. It is something that will actually contribute to a purpose greater than you know yourself.

And so anyway that’s a ramble. But those types of signifiers are fascinating to me because they really are a portal into how the far right politicizes domesticity. I think that’s just a really important part of all of this conversation.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting that in the 1950s and 60s, the reactionary media at that time, they were upset about this slogan that Betty Friedan and other early 20th century feminist or mid-century feminists were saying ‘the personal is political.’

They hated that line. But now, their ideological descendants have adopted it wholesale and probably even more so. And you can tell us in the research that you’ve done, Kat, you look at Fox News and other right wing media figures, they’re still upset about the 1960s, aren’t they?

ABUGHAZALEH: Oh my God, yes. I actually did a TikTok yesterday talking about some things that Tucker’s had a tantrum about, and one was he did half a monologue talking about how Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. And once again, the Kennedy assassination happened 60 years ago, and this was half a monologue on the most watched news show in the country.

I’d also like to urge everyone to read this book, The Flag and the Cross by Philip Gorsky and Samuel L. Perry. It’s incredible. It talks about white Christian nationalism. It addresses a lot of the hypocrisy about how Christians and hypermasculinity– it’s turned into this racist belief. So even if you have people of color who are Christian nationalists, they don’t really have racist beliefs. It’s unique to White Christian nationalists and that turns into being willing to allow Trump to be a leader because they want a warrior, they see Christ as a warrior. They don’t see him as a peaceful figure, who hung around with prostitutes and poor people. They see him as a warrior. And even though Pence is a devoted Christian, they see Trump as the warrior they need.

They want someone to fight for them. It’s a fascinating book, super recommended. It’s absolutely incredible. Very enlightening. Lots of research, but yeah, they’re still mad about these things. This is something that just continues on and on, and it also goes into that idea of this war against conservatives, or White people, or Christians, or whatever. You can sub in white for any of those things, even men.

And so they’ll be mad about something that happened decades ago, because it shows this imaginary timeline they’ve created for themselves. Last night, Tucker said that we don’t talk about how bad South Africa has gotten since in the last 29 years– 29 years ago, apartheid was abolished.

And so they just create this entire other timeline where there’s a White genocide in South Africa, and you can refer to this thing that happened all these years ago, even if it wasn’t true. This history that they create for themselves is so important just to establish these values no matter how ludicrous they are.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and at the same time, it’s why they constantly are telling their followers not to trust other media sources because you cannot construct an alternative reality if your people are getting outside news and they’re getting outside opinions. It doesn’t work. You can’t keep them in the dark.

And Fox News, I think, is the best example of this because they’re infamous for all the things that they say that might be horrible or biased or whatever, but probably just as big, if not a bigger impact of their media, is what they don’t say. And what they don’t tell their audience about.

ABUGHAZALEH: During the January 6th hearings, Fox would air with no commercials, so that way no one could click over to see what was happening on any other news channel.

Tucker actually did an entire thing where he was like: ‘Every news channel is showing these hearings, but we’re different. We’re not showing these hearings.’

And then he talked about it for 30 minutes about how it was so unfair that other news channels were covering Biden’s speech where he talked about extremism and fascism. There was a little box in the corner on Tucker’s screen with Biden talking, but they didn’t air any of it. And then the chyron said Tucker’s live reaction to Biden’s speech when they weren’t hearing any of it.

So they just don’t show things. I’d say there’s like a 50 50 shot of whether primetime programming at Fox is actually going to talk about what’s happening, or it’s just going to be some other completely ridiculous story that they’ve pulled out of their ass.

SHEFFIELD: It’s because it’s not a news channel. It is a political, arm. That’s what it is. And Fox is really no different in the content-wise from. The only difference between Fox and let’s say Lana Lokteff’s show is just how far they’re willing to go, I would say.

And I mean, is that something Seyward, that you have seen them remark on it. I mean Ben Shapiro has been on Lana Lokteff’s show as a guest, he was there for at least 30 minutes. And they had a great conversation.

DARBY: Yeah, I mean it’s been really interesting, because I started watching Red Ice as research, let’s see, seven years ago, I guess, six, seven years ago. And things like South Africa, that’s a great example. And I actually bring this up in my book because that has been a talking point, and I know you guys know this. I’m just saying it for the audience. That has been a talking point for white nationalists for so long.

Basically since the end of apartheid, if not, honestly a little earlier than that, they have made this a talking point forever. This idea that what is happening in South Africa is the attempt to eliminate white people and nobody’s talking about it anywhere because liberals have taken over the world, whatever.

And that was something that I remember like watching on Red Ice, whole segments about it, bringing in experts six, seven years ago. And then I remember the first time Tucker ever talked about it. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I remember the segment and it was kind of like my head exploded, right?

Because it was like, oh, it’s happened like this. It has been mainstreamed. Because whether we like it or not, even though Fox is not a news channel, it is a mainstream channel insofar as the number of people who watch it, the influence it has, all of these different things. So this is a long way of saying it’s been really fascinating to watch.

Fox was always awful, but to watch Fox move farther and farther to the right and really start honestly going farther in the way that you’re describing. Red Ice, once upon a time was the only kind of show– increasingly Fox is willing to go that far or get really close.

And I’m sure there are researchers doing this where you could kind of pick white nationalist talking points, things like South Africa, and essentially trace the evolution of how they started moving through the right wing ecosystem until they became staples of Fox News coverage.

And I think, to your point about how it’s really a question of are they going to actually cover what’s going on or are they just going to cover whatever, not even cover, just talk about whatever they want to talk about. I mean, again, white nationalists in their media ecosystem have been doing that forever as well.

And I think the vilification of media by not just the furthest fringes of the right, but over the last, 20, 25 years of the media generally by conservatives, has seeded this idea that is now bearing fruit where people just do not trust mainstream people who are on the right, do not trust mainstream news.

I remember one of the subjects in my book, Ayla Stewart, she was known as Wife With a Purpose back when she was very active online. She was the only woman who was supposed to speak at Charlottesville, for instance. She was a big deal for a minute, hyper, hyper trad wife.

I remember her talking, she would do these videos where she would talk about how she gets up in the morning and she checks YouTube because that’s where she believes news is living. And when she would hear about a news story because she happened to be in a store, or in her car, or whatever, rather than what the rest of us do– I would like to think go to trusted news sources. She would go to YouTube and see what her favorite talking heads, the Lana Lokteffs of the world, quite frankly, were talking about.

And I think that Fox News has now sort of really leveraged that idea of vilifying other sources of information. ‘Only pay attention to us. If you’re not paying attention to us, you’re missing the truth.’

And so if we’re talking about South Africa and this alleged White genocide that is happening, which most certainly is not happening, it’s not that we’re off the news, it’s that we are telling you the truth that nobody else wants you to hear.

And I think it’s so important from a psychological standpoint to realize people love to believe that they have information that other people don’t have, that they’re special, that they get it, that they see the secret truth. This is why conspiracy theories are so popular, or one of the many reasons they’re so popular.

And Fox News is just constantly beating that drum of if you pay attention to what we have to say, you are going to know the real truth. And I mean, to be clear, the White nationalist media ecosystem, they’re still very much saying that. And now Fox is just on it and has been on it for years now.

SHEFFIELD: I agree with you. And another example of that, Seyward, is this idea of the White genocide or replacement theory. It was an idea that had been around in White nationalist activist circles for many years. But at the same time, began slowly percolating into the less overtly racist outlets like Fox and OAN or Newsmax, but they were doing it not as a racial thing, but as a political thing.

So this was Democrats trying to bring, import other Democrats so that Republicans would lose. And Kat you kind of talked about this a little bit, that there’s kind of a interchangeability between White, and Christian, and Republican, and it’s all the same. It means the same thing. You can literally sub any of those three words at any given point, and it would still make sense, right?

ABUGHAZALEH: Yeah. I mean, I think that a big thing we need to realize here is this is all to make these men that are watching feel impotent. They’re being replaced by immigrants, they’re being replaced by people of color. They’re being replaced by women that are entering the workforce, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Muslims, disabled people, whatever it may be.

It’s to make them feel impotent, because that’s how they feel, because they see not being the conqueror, not having all of the power, or having some people get their agency, as a slight against them, which it’s not.

It just means more people have rights, not that any of theirs are being taken away. And so it ties into that hypermasculinity, that sexual aspect where they’re so repressed. They’re focused on all of these ideologies and all of these very reactionary ideas because they feel impotent and because they don’t really have much besides that sense of victimhood and pride that they have worked towards, or that they are feeding into with these YouTube feedback loops and stuff like that. It’s just preying on insecurity.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I guess another way that they do that also is in this hypocritical idea of the sexualization of children.

So right wing Christian cultures have many things that are sexualizing of children like these beauty pageants for seven year olds, they will put them in swimsuits and make up and ask parents to tell them how sexy they are. I don’t know how you can get more sexualizing of a child than those pageants. But they love them.

ABUGHAZALEH: Purity balls.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and then, yeah, and that’s another way, there are all these different “purity rings,” and saying that you as a girl, or even as a woman– I mean, in the Mormon culture that I came out of, there’s this idea that you’re your father’s property almost. Even if you’re an adult woman, until you become married, you are literally in Mormon culture, if you’re a single adult now, male or female, they treat you just the same as if you were a 17 year old. You cannot be a full participant in the church. And that’s how it is.

And these purity balls and purity rings and all this stuff. And then at the same time then, they’ll go and complain and say, ‘Oh, the left wing is sexualizing the kids, and they’re trying to take their innocence away,’ even though plenty of drag shows are not done by gay men. There are straight men who do them. There are women who do drag shows. It’s not necessarily anything to do with homosexuality at all.

But for them it’s an expression that they don’t control. It’s not something that originates from them, so therefore it’s evil and hypersexual. And their other stuff, ‘well, that’s just normal.’

DARBY: So, yeah we’re seeing a sexualization panic right now, and we’ve seen sexualization panics before.

But I think you really can’t underestimate how important it is that these panics appeal to women. Maternal instinct, this idea that we are uniquely positioned to protect kids, to take care of kids. And so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing these sort of mom organizing groups, like Moms for Liberty and whatnot pop up and start organizing around the country against books and topics in schools that they see as risking sexualization of kids.

And this has been over time, again, going back to, I mean, a hundred plus years, and probably before that, we’ve seen time and again, women sort of stepping forward activism-wise to say ‘we are here as women to stop the sexualization of children, to stop the poisoning of children’s minds.’ And I think that absolutely there are men who are like, ‘I’m going to pick up arms and go protect the kids,’ whatever it may be.

But I really think in terms of who is being inspired to act, what does that action look like? So much of it is actually non-violent from a literal firing of guns, punching of faces perspective.

I think the other thing about the sexualization panics that’s really important is that sexualization panics have always, again, it’s one of those issues where the far right is like, can’t we all agree that we should protect the children? And that’s a way where you start to see overlaps with more mainstream conservatives in some cases, even with people further to the left, where there’s this idea of, okay, well we can all agree that hurting children is bad.

And so this is also a recruitment in its own way, because it’s saying, well, obviously even if we don’t agree on everything, we can agree that corrupting children, corrupting their minds is this negative thing. And so to me, that’s why the critical race theory panic, the sexualization panic, those two things have obviously been happening side by side.

Even QAnon, right? Which is all about, allegedly not all about, but largely about, protecting children and this idea of a cabal that’s out there hurting children, these are all such important recruitment issues and recruitment grounds especially for women. And I think, appeals to ideas of what it means to be a woman– to be a good mother, be a good citizen, and tells them there are things you can tangibly do.

There are petitions you can sign, there are meetings you can go to, there are groups you can take part in. And all of that is so scary, because the effects of that can really linger. And we’ve seen that before in textbook wars and other instances over time where far-right women have been at the forefront of rewriting reality, rewriting history.

So yeah, that, that is the stuff that keeps me up at night. What are the ways in which policies down to what’s happening in the classroom policies, not necessarily federal policy. The ways that things are being shaped and changed that are then not easily reversed.

SHEFFIELD: It is definitely a way of getting a lot of women involved in right wing politics, because I don’t know if you if either of you guys have seen some of these women who are filmed showing up at these school board meetings, it predominantly seems to be women who are going to these and talking about ‘you evil teachers and you evil school board members,’ and in many cases they don’t have kids that go to public school, but they’re there anyway.

And they’ll talk about how they’re there to stop Satan. And they’re there to push back against the demons that are trying to take control of our culture. And they really believe this. It’s something I think that, to your point earlier where you were saying that there a lot of these sort of deeply religious conspiracist viewpoints that many women have, and it’s kind of buried.

They don’t talk about it in public, they don’t talk about it to the parents of the kids at school. They don’t talk about it other than to their very close friends.

But they might wear– so there is actually is an evangelical woman I know that she has a QAnon shirt, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t know what QAnon was, and some of the lore of it. So her shirt says, ‘Pedos get Stilettos,’ and it shows a woman’s shoe crushing a skull.

And you can buy it on QAnon websites, but if you didn’t know that, you might just think that’s some sort of weird, punk design or something, you wouldn’t know what it was.

Because it is very, it’s buried very deep. And lots of women that I have known, in my former life as a fundamentalist Mormon, everything is just buried under layers and layers of repression and internal worry and concern about not sharing, casting pearls before swine.

Kat, you probably saw some of that growing up and living in Dallas yourself, right?

ABUGHAZALEH: Yeah. So I went to Catholic school and every summer I would go to this Baptist summer camp that was super fun. I mean, you had an hour of Bible study a day and then the rest of it was going on water slides and hanging out at the lake, and I’m super glad my parents sent me.

I made a lot of great friends, and for the most part my counselors were pretty great, but you’d always have like one or two that would just say some things that are absolutely nuts, like total indoctrination. I remember very vividly when I was six years old, maybe seven, I asked a counselor if you have to hear about Christ to go to heaven, what if you’re like a child in Africa that’s never heard about Christ, and then you die?

And then she just looked me in the eyes and she goes, then there was a reason they were born there.

And saying that to a small child is insane. So it’s the same thing with hypocrisy. They’re the ones indoctrinating these kids. And who doesn’t want to protect kids? You’re a monster if you don’t. All roads go back to Phyllis Schlafly. She was the first to really weaponize kids in the modern era, in my opinion.

And I mean, what do you say to that? If you try to argue, if you try to say: ‘Hey, look into this more, media literacy is so poor in this country,’ then it’s like: ‘Oh, so you’re pro-pedo.’ And that’s not what it is.

It’s just you’re telling a lie and it’s really hard to fight back against a lie that is so close to human spirit, especially when this is actually doing damage to children. When you’re hurting not just trans or gay kids, but you’re preventing them from getting the education that they need, you’re preventing them from knowing about sex education. Just knowing their own body, if something is wrong or if an adult touches them. All of these things, when you try to take it out of the school system, you are hurting the children.

DARBY: Right.


DARBY: I mean, I wanted to really quickly, because I think, one of the things we’re really talking about here is power, right? And people feeling like they can seize power in their lives. And that kind of brings me back to one of the things you were saying, Kat, a minute ago about kind of appealing to men’s feelings of impotence and insecurity.

But I think there’s sort of like another side to that coin, right? Where it’s saying, but you can regain a feeling of power by actually not doing very much, by not challenging yourself, by not trying to like navigate this complex world by saying no, just kind of be this basic instinctual version of yourself and that will make you feel better.

And I think that something similar goes on with women absolutely, in terms of the channeling of ‘Be what nature meant you to be, and you will be part of something bigger than yourself.’ But I really think, and this is kind of, I guess the essence of conservatism, you could argue is not trying very hard, right?

Rather than taking a thing and trying to unknot it, and trying to understand the complexity, it’s saying here is a simple answer and a simple solution that will make you feel empowered. And I think that’s such an important part of all of this, and especially of radicalization to the far right, is that people are being told they’re doing something important.

They’re doing something based on knowledge that other people either don’t want them to know about, or are ignoring, or are too blind to see, or whatever it may be. But really what they’re being told to do is remarkably lazy. And I think that that is such a key aspect of this. The hypocrisy of what they’re being told to do and who to be is simultaneously ignoring complex realities, not actually trying to be like a better person or make the world a better place, but saying no, no, do the basic, frankly, often racist, cruel, misogynistic, whatever it may be, thing. But don’t worry, it’s not actually all of those things. It is something good and important and revolutionary.

And I think that’s the other side of the coin, I guess, is the thing I keep thinking about.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and the other thing is that the ideas that they present to people, they don’t work. So if you’re a man who wants to date more or have more sexual encounters for whatever reason, that’s whatever, that’s people’s decision, right? But they will tell you to do things that make you less appealing to women. And if you’re a woman and you want to get married, they will tell you to just marry whoever comes along and not care about who they are as a person or where you are as a person.

And then their ideas about you can be an independent thinker by watching all my podcasts. You can think for yourself by believing everything I tell you. And you can do something really important for the world by watching YouTube for 50 hours straight.

And none of these things are true. But then they have the second round, which is to give them a blame narrative, which to say that, well, the reason you don’t succeed at having a good marriage, or good dating life, or good sex life, or good career, well, it’s these other people’s fault.

It’s not your fault. It’s not our fault. We are blameless. We are God’s servants on earth. We’re the manly men who are being repressed. I mean, it’s just complete cycle. They give you destructive advice, and then they give you a reason to not look at why it didn’t work.


DARBY: Absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: Alright, well, so let’s maybe just wrap up a little bit with, I mentioned in the introduction, the book “Fascinating Womanhood.” Can we talk about that a little bit, Seyward, and then there actually are a lot of modern tie-ins to it. It’s a book that a lot of people haven’t heard of, but gosh, it’s so influential. But yeah, go ahead.

DARBY: Yeah. It is it is essentially like the anti-feminist mystique. And a lot of people have not heard of it, even though it has sold millions and millions of copies. And it’s essentially like a guidebook for trad life, for traditional lifestyles, this idea of how to be the perfect woman vis-a-vis a man.

Because I mean, that’s the other thing about the way gender is defined in this space, like one necessarily needs the other, right? Because together they create literally children, White children, but also, create this ideal society. And so I think that thinking of it almost as this regressive guidebook is, I think again, even though it’s, what is it, 60, 60 years old.

SHEFFIELD: It was 1963 when it came out.

DARBY: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s an old book, but it has really found new purchase, I mean, had always been, I think, popular.

SHEFFIELD: It’s still in print. It’s still in print.

DARBY: Yeah. It’s still very much in print. And had found, it had always had readers on the far right, particularly hyper conservative Mormon societies. Helen Andelin, the author was Mormon.

But then recently because of this sort of popular resurgence of hashtag #tradlife, hashtag tradwife, like all of that stuff it has found, even more and younger readers. But yeah, it’s it’s things like how to make your husband happy when he comes home from work. Like how to be attractive to your husband, how to act like a little girl to manipulate your husband into doing this or that.

SHEFFIELD: Even stuff like go to bed in your makeup, and then once your husband’s asleep, go and wash it off and then sleep, and then wake up before him and put it back on so he can see that you have it on.

DARBY: Right, right.

SHEFFIELD: That’s the kind of stuff that’s in that book.

DARBY: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s scenes like that in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. But obviously those things took at the time. And what is fascinating, fascinating, about Fascinating Womanhood now is like these sort of tips and tricks are being sort of repurposed in the age of digital technology when people love tips and tricks, right?

Like they love to go onto TikTok and learn how to do this or that, or onto Instagram and learn how to do this or that.

I sound like such an old person right now, but I think that it’s the sort of like ideas inside it really lend themselves to that kind of like popular-ification.

And so yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s sold millions of copies and inspired other similar books. And one of the, one of the subjects in my book, Ayla Stewart, Wife With a Purpose, she credits Fascinating Womanhood with really helping her decide to become a tradlife subscriber and a tradwife, like a very proud tradwife.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, to your point though, and maybe Kat, you can go to this as you were saying, Seyward, that a lot of the ideas or methods that are in this book, they can and are actually reduced to life hack material. And you actually do, you’re now seeing a lot of the biggest lifestyle influencers on Instagram or TikTok, they are hyper conservative Republican women, that are showing ‘this is what my house looks like, here is my interior design idea, here’s my idea for a children’s activity.’

That’s who really kind of dominates a lot of Instagram spaces is these far right women. And many of the women who are following them have no idea that this is happening to them. I mean, have you seen anything like that, Kat, in what you’ve looked at?

ABUGHAZALEH: I mean, going on Twitter, yes, but I do feel like that hasn’t really been, there’s not like a Today show where it’s like trad life hacks, there isn’t that yet, but I mean that’s definitely a thing and I think it’s a brilliant. But overall, it’s just this general fear that I think has mostly penetrated the mainstream, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that way more in the future.

DARBY: I was just going to say, I mean I have seen it more so in like the meme-ification, so there are whole Instagram, Facebook, I’m admittedly less on TikTok because I’m an old person who can’t really deal with that much technology, but I’ve definitely seen the meme-ification of some of these tradlife, tradwife life hacks.

And I think it’s one of those things where you know, to your point about what do lifestyle influencers, what is the lifestyle that they are actually advocating? And oftentimes, it is a remarkably traditional conservative, kind of look at my nice house, everything is weirdly white. Lots of big written words on the wall, like all that kind of stuff.

And I think it would not surprise me to see like it’s all slippery slopes, right? And so, the more sort of overtly ‘women should be in the kitchen, women shouldn’t vote,’ all of the very, very hyper trad stuff, kind of bleeding into and finding purchase in what is a more popular sort of conservative aesthetic.

That stuff has been around, like there’s a whole part of Stormfront, which is a place I spent a really obscene amount of time when I was researching my book, because one of my subjects had found white nationalism on Stormfront, which is the oldest neo-Nazi sort of social forum message forum on the internet. There had long been a whole space, I think it’s called like sugar and spice or something like that. And it’s essentially like a trad woman, trad White woman, space and it’s life hacks, right?

And so like that stuff has always existed, and you’re just constantly watching it trickle out, get sprinkled, sugar and spice getting sprinkled across other spaces. And then, sometimes it finds purchase with different types of influencers.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and I, and another example of that would be that, when you look at some of the HGTV shows, a number of them have actually been created by far-right Christian activists. So the Benham brothers had one, then people found out, ‘Holy crap, these people are part of these, radical anti LGBT Christian supremacist groups.’

But it wasn’t just them, like then some of their other figures, they may not be as radical, but they are aligned very firmly with the evangelical suburban in– in many cases, like this is actually an outgrowth of Texas lifestyle, Southern Living type magazines and whatnot.

So yeah. All right. Well, did let’s maybe get into the final wrap up here. Did you guys have any final thoughts you wanted to share in this topic that you were thinking about in the discussion? Why don’t you go first Seyward, and then we’ll go with you, Kat.

DARBY: Yeah, I mean, I guess my pitch always to people is to not ignore the women.

It’s really easy to ignore women in this space, especially because they are attacked, and marginalized, and treated as objects by a lot of the men in this space. But at the same time, there are women who agree with them. There are women who fight alongside those men. There are women who pave the way for, I mean Phyllis Schlafly being a great example, for some of these playbooks that we’re seeing now.

And I think our society has a tendency to overlook women’s contributions to progressive causes, and also have a tendency to overlook their contribution to regressive causes. And so, angry White men is a real problem, but angry white women is a real problem too.

SHEFFIELD: All right, cool. All right. Well, Kat, what’s your takeaway for people that you want them to have?

ABUGHAZALEH: I mean, absolutely, angry white women are just as much of a problem. You need to look at these things, but I don’t think people understand how easy it is to be manipulated, especially White people, especially White men and White women that fall into this rabbit hole.

I was talking to a friend who was expressing concern about something about children. They kept talking, I was like, you are on the cusp of falling into a QAnon hole that it is going to be very hard to climb out of. No one is immune to propaganda, whether it’s racist, whether it’s sexist, whether it’s homophobic.

Nobody is immune to propaganda. No one is immune to these types of campaigns. And it’s really important to keep your eyes out and to understand that. Because I feel like a lot of people think they’re too smart or they’re, too stubborn to be able to be shifted in one way or another. And especially with the media literacy in this country, it’s easier than ever.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, it’s been a great discussion. I appreciate both of you joining me today and we’ll be sure to post links to all your various endeavors in the show notes, so people can check those out. Thanks for being here.

ABUGHAZALEH: Thanks for having me.

DARBY: Thank you.

ABUGHAZALEH: Nice to meet you Seyward!

DARBY: You too!

SHEFFIELD: All right. All right. So that’s the program for today. I appreciate you and we’ll be back next week with another one. And just wanted to remind everybody that you can support the show at patreon.com/discover Flux, and we really appreciate it. And go to Flux.community to get more podcasts and articles about this subject and many others.

So I hope you can check us out and please do leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher or whatever other podcast platform and make sure to subscribe on YouTube as well. Thanks. I’m Matthew Sheffield.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.