The Misogyny of Authoritarians in Contemporary Democracies

Nitasha Kaul
  • Citation: Kaul, Nitasha. “The Misogyny of Authoritarians in Contemporary Democracies.” International Studies Review 23, no. 4 (December 2021): 1619–45.
    • Topics:
    • Global Development
    • Keywords:
    • Democracy
    • authoritarians
    • political leaders
    • misogyny

Contemporary democracy in multiple countries has been under assault from what has been variously called right-wing populism, authoritarian populism, cultural majoritarianism, new nativism, new nationalism, quasi-fascism, and neo-fascism. While the authoritarian behaviors of several electorally legitimated leaders in these countries have been in focus, their misogyny is seen as merely an incidental part of their personality. This article highlights the centrality of misogyny in legitimating the political goals and regimes of a set of leaders in contemporary democracies—Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro, Duterte, and Erdogan (all but Trump are still in power)—in countries from across Global North/South, non-West/West, with mixed populations and different majority religions. The argument proceeds as follows. First, I clarify the conceptualization of misogyny and explain why it matters. Second, I demonstrate the substantive misogyny of political leaders who are/have been heads of hegemonic right-wing political projects in five contemporary democracies (Trumpism, Modification, Bolsonarismo, Dutertismo, and Erdoganism). Third, I put forward three systematic ways in which misogyny works as an effective political strategy for these projects, by enabling a certain politics of identity to demonize opponents as feminine/inferior/anti-national, scavenging upon progressive ideas (rather than rejecting them) and distorting them, and sustaining and defending a militarized masculinist approach to policy and delegitimizing challenges to it. This article, thus, contributes to the literature on how masculinity, misogyny, and gender norms more broadly intersect with political legitimacy, by arguing for understanding the analytic centrality of misogyny to the exercise of political power in multiple global projects.