by Katharina Hajek

Germany, like so many countries in Europe, is experiencing the rise of right-wing conservative and populist forces. The central actor here is the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)[1], which was founded in 2013. The party is now achieving results of up to 28 percent at the state level, as well as 12.6 % in federal elections, making it currently the third-strongest political party in the Bundestag. In the shadow of the economic crisis of 2008, the political instrumentalization of the ‘summer of migration’ in 2015 and the lack of progressive alternatives, a party with a far-right program has entered German parliaments and now even manages to play a decisive role in the appointment of prime ministers. What is remarkable – and often neglected – is the central role that gender politics play in the rise of the AfD. These are present in the party’s program, shape the party’s media presence and inform their election campaigns. After having a short look at the party’s gender policies in the following, I’ll turn to right-wing mobilisations against LGBTIQ-inclusive sex education to draw attention to the wider mobilization potential of (anti-)gender politics in civil society.

My argument is that anti-gender politics in Germany cannot be traced back to one right-wing party alone. It goes beyond the AfD and includes conservative and liberal milieus. Anti-gender politics need to be understood as the result of an ongoing process in which right-wing populist actors use the topics of (anti-)genderism and the family to shift the discursive spectrum to the right. However, this is only possible because parts of mainstream media and conservative political forces are open to these right-wing perspectives, or, even actively take up these positions as they tap into discourses around unambiguous gender identities and the protection of the heteronormative family that are already present in German society.

AfD campaign posters, 2017. Photo credit: Wikipedia/creative commons

The first thing that stands out when scrolling through the AfD’s party program is that their gender policy is strongly linked to the protection of the white, heteronormative family and demographic considerations. The ‘traditional family’ – understood as the heterosexual married couple with biological children and a gendered division of labor – is the “guiding principle” (40) of the AfD’s gender policy. This guiding principle, however, is not a simple ‘hearth and home’ policy designed for women by a party that is predominantly elected and led by men. Rather, the role and intention of the party’s focus on family only becomes intelligible in relation to the AfD’s policies on migration, population, and race. The AfD is strongly evoking the threat of a ‘demographic crisis.’ They link the low birth rate in Germany to the demographic fears of a shrinking population and the associated burdens on the social security system and economic competitiveness. The AfD dramatizes the ‘demographic crisis’ and relates it to an alleged “mass immigration” (40), especially from Muslim countries: According to this, a politically forced “population exchange” has been underway since 2015. They argue that ‘the Germans’ will lose out to immigrants with a low level of education and high fertility and paint the apocalyptic image of a nation eroded by “parallel societies” (62), declining public security and educational standards.

This populationist discourse was not initiated by the AfD but can be traced back to broad debates about ‘the shrinking German human capital’ in the 2000s. These were not only pushed by the established parties, but also determined the public discourse. “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany Abolishes Itself, 2010) was the paradigmatic title of the literally bestselling book in post-war Germany on migration and population policy by right-wing writer and former member of the Social Democrats Thilo Sarrazin. The AfD response to this alleged “threat” is “stimulating family policies,” which aim explicitly at a “higher birth rate by the native population” (40), as illustrated on an election poster from the 2017 Bundestag election depicting a pregnant white woman and stating “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves .” What these images suggest is that the traditional family is to be strengthened both ideologically and financially (e.g. through interest-free loans) to increase the birth rate. At the same time, the AfD wants to stop any measures seemingly destroying the traditional family: Gender mainstreaming[2] – which is not defined in more detail – should be brought to an end as well as quota programs, the supposed stigmatization of traditional gender roles and the seeming propagation of homo- and transsexuality in schools and nurseries.

The AfD’s reference to the traditional family and gender enables an affective mobilization beyond a mere party project as they are cornerstones of an emerging conservative and right-wing civil society in Germany. A good example of this are the Demos für Alle (“Demonstrations for All,” DfA) between 2014 and 2017 with up to 5,000 participants. Inspired by the Manif pour tous in France, several marches were organized by the Initiative Familienschutz (Initiative for the Protection of the Family) to protest the reform of school curricula to integrate the topics of sexual diversity and nonnormative relationships in syllabi for school children. Although the DfA represents itself as a grassroots movement of concerned parents, the close links with the AfD are already evident at the fact that both share the same postal address in Berlin. The Initiative Familienschutz is closely tied to Beatrix von Storch, former chairperson and deputy leader of the AfD. Party representatives also often appear as speakers at the demonstrations.

As I’ve argued in length together with a colleague elsewhere[3], three important dimensions of right-wing (anti-)gender politics can be identified when listening to the speeches against inclusive sex education that were held at the marches. Firstly, sexual diversity is linked with the perceived erosion of the traditional family, which in turn is discursively and affectively linked to the erosion of society as such. Hence, the endangerment of the family becomes the endangerment of the whole society. This exceeds by far the conservative fear of the diminishing importance of the family in society. As archconservative and Christian activist Gabriele Kuby proclaims at the marches: “We are here to defend the foundations of our culture, the foundations of the family, the well-being of our children, the future of the whole society”.

If the heteronormative family breaks away, “the rootlessness of humans, […] social anarchy” threatens, says Kuby. Referring to traditional German right-wing discourses, the family here becomes the structuring principle of society. Complementary and unambiguous gender identities are being charged with reproductive or protective responsibilities and put into a hierarchical relationship.

In other words,  the family here is all about reproduction. As Anette Schultner, chairperson of the initiative Christians in the Alternative for Germany, puts it, no less than the “the social and biological sustainability of every society depends on these complementary genders.” In this narrative, the family becomes a “germ cell” in a twofold way. First, the family is supposed to ensure the biological reproduction of society though procreation. This clearly refers to an ethnic concept of population drawing back to Nazi ideology and still propagated by the German Far Right. Secondly, the family also secures to the social and cultural dimension of reproduction. In this worldview only the white, heteronormative family can ensure the transmission of intelligible identities. The child here becomes “a dense site for the transfer and reproduction of culture” as Judith Butler once put it succinctly. Hence the biolgical as well as the cultural reproduction of German society is seemingly in danger when the traditional family is put at risk.

Second, right-wing gender policies are articulated through an ambivalent relationship to the state. Anti-genderism in Germany is closely tied to anti-statism. The Ministries of Education which are in charge of the curricula reform are most notably addressed as consisting of “arrogant,” “impudent and bold” liberal-leftist elites. The demonstrators, by contrast, are being positioned in these speeches as (so far) vulnerable, silenced and powerless actors. These biopolitical state apparatuses are accused of questioning the patriarchal and exclusive rights of heteronormative parenthood to raise one’s children. Hence, in this narrative, the biopolitical state “grabs for the children to sexualize and reeducate them,” to “push back the parental influence on the education of the children and to simultaneously expand the influence of the state.” In order to illustrate this threat, sex education in schools is even compared to the sexual abuse of children, deliberately evoking the image of an external force violating the familial sphere to harm one’s children. However, it is not the state as a whole that is addressed as the enemy. The executive forces, by contrast, are continually put in a good light. Photos and videos on the website documenting the marches do not try to hide the at the marches. Instead, the police are addressed as a protective force, which – as some photos and speeches suggest – march alongside the protesters in shared concern: To protect the family.

Third, addressing the heteronormative family as a central concern also enables the protesters to portray themselves as reasonable actors fighting for the seemingly most natural thing in the world. Several strategic discursive shifts are associated with this. First, sexual diversity is turned into its opposite and reframed as a repressive state ideology: sexual diversity, so the argument, is imposed on the population against its will and violates the privacy of people. This, in turn, enables the marchers to portray themselves as victims of an intolerant political climate and an authoritarian government. The demonstrators are repeatedly addressed as subjects who are intended to be ‘denounced’ and ‘silenced’ (“zum Schweigen bringen”) – whereas latter has a double meaning in German and can also be understood as ‘to be killed’. The speeches also appropriate the concept of tolerance. One the one hand, they portray the DfA as a tolerant movement: People from different faiths are being invited, in contrast to other right-wing mobilizations representatives of Muslim associations also speak at the marches and homosexuals are being welcomed. On the other hand, the speeches actively demand tolerance, comparing themselves to a minority group deprived of their rights and their lifestyles. Hence, the DfA appropriates traditional notions and claims of leftist or progressive movements and discourses. It is no coincidence that they refer to the vocabulary of the broadly supported civil rights movement against the GDR regime which was also strongly influenced by the church and represents one of the most important discursive archives for social movements in Germany. In doing so, they further legitimize their anti-gender politics.

Given the analysis of the AfD’s part program in relation to protest speeches held at the Demo für Alle, I want to suggest that it is not only important to understand the central role of gender politics for the emerging right-wing populism in Germany. Antifeminism and anti-gender politics in Germany must not be reduced to the AfD. Rather, we are dealing with a broader right-wing discourse coalition that reaches far into the Christian Democratic and Liberal spectrum. The right-wing populist project is successful in shifting the political and public discourse in recent years, because it has tapped into already existent and widely shared notions around heteronormativity and the family in German society. It is precisely these public discourses on reproduction that must be given greater attention again if we want to counter this from a progressive position.

This blog post is part of a series of posts on transnational anti-gender politics jointly called by the LSE Department of Gender Studies and Engenderings with the aim of discussing how we can make sense of and resist the current attacks on gender studies, ‘gender ideology’ and individuals working within the field.

Katharina Hajek is a Lecturer and Research Associate at the Department of Cultural Studies, University of Koblenz-Landau. She writes about family policy and social reproduction, political representation, and the gender politics of the New Right in Austria and Germany.




[1] Founded by several public figures from a right-wing conservative background the AfD brings together different liberal, Christian fundamentalist as well as national conservative currents. Initially focusing on criticizing the European Economic and Monetary Union, from 2015 onwards the party increasingly shifted to anti-migration, anti-EU and anti-feminist policies.

[2] Referring to a widely recognized article by conservative journalist Volker Zastrow in 2006 the term ‘Gender Mainstreaming’ became a central reference point for right-wing anti-feminism in Germany. This discourse not only articulates a rejection of any form of post-essentialist gender policies. It also enables to relate anti-feminist positions with other right-wing populist policies such as anti-EU and anti-elite policies

[3] cf. Chmilewski, Katja/Hajek, Katharina, Mobilizing affects about intimate relationships. Emotional pedagogy among the New Right in Germany. In: Juvonen, Tuula/Kolehmainen, Marjo (Hg.): Affective Inequalities in Intimate Relationships. London: Routledge 2018, p. 171-185.