Cushman: We Need to Talk About Alt-Right Radicalization of Young Women


By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


In 2008, white nationalist Richard Spencer coined the term “alt-right,” and in recent years, the discourse of it has become mainstream. It largely centers on the radicalization of young boys and men via misogynistic podcasts, the “incel” (involuntary celibate) community and social media algorithms promoting alt-right ideas. Articles talk about the radicalization of “an aimless young man — usually white, frequently interested in video games,” or “male bonding.”

These terms and articles paint radicalization as a male-only issue. However, men are not the only ones being targeted and radicalized by the alt-right. Women are also subjected to alt-right radicalization — it just receives less attention.

Radicalized young white women might be less visible because they appear less insidious, posting baking or makeup tutorials rather than carrying tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville. Nonetheless, the radicalization of young women spreads violent and racist rhetoric further, making it just as dangerous as male radicalization. It’s important that we recognize and combat this radicalization as much as we do the radicalization of men.

The Radicalization of Young White Women

For young men, radicalization often starts with them looking for like-minded friends online, leading them to incel, pickup artist or gaming communities. These spaces for male friendship lead to radicalization as conversations shift from men worrying about relationships and fulfillment to fear of the changing position of white men in a society where women and minorities are becoming more empowered.

Alt-right pipelines that target young women often look much different and less blatantly misogynistic. Nonetheless, online communities that radicalize young women also articulate fears of the changing position of women, especially white women, in society. For instance, young women looking to connect with more traditional femininity might stumble on the “tradwife” community. Short for “traditional wife,” “tradwife” refers to women who believe in traditional wife and mother roles, usually idealizing the 1950s housewife.

The tradwife lifestyle appeals to young women dissatisfied and frustrated with modern life, the competitive job market, housing crisis and costs of living. That frustration can lead to a rose-tinted perspective of the past, when women could have a family and nice home with just their husband’s income.

As those young women engage with online tradwife communities, they become exposed to white nationalist rhetoric and terms pushed by notable tradwives. Utah’s own Ayla Stewart, or Wife With a Purpose, often talks about preserving white heritage, and once issued a “white baby challenge” encouraging her supporters to have as many white babies as possible.

Susceptibility of Utah Women

Utah is no stranger to alt-right rhetoric. DezNat, a social media tag short for Deseret Nation and used by some Utah Mormons, has been associated with the alt-right. But Utah’s women could be more susceptible to online radicalization due to a much larger cultural phenomenon: Utah’s rampant sexism.

Studies consistently rank Utah as one of the worst states for women’s equality, as well as one of the most sexist states. Cultural and religious norms prioritize women as homemakers, wives and mothers. One study from USU found that sexist comments stereotyping and undervaluing women are commonplace in Utah. Utah women hear sexist commentary at work, school and church. It invades nearly every part of our lives.

When women grow up in sexist environments, it perpetuates internalized misogyny, a phenomenon where women view themselves and other women from a sexist perspective. In Utah, internalized misogyny thrives. In fact, Utah is in a minority of states where women responded to sexist statements in a nationwide questionnaire with more sexism than men.

While alt-right pipelines geared toward women lack the blatant misogyny of the incel or pickup artist communities, they still depend on and perpetuate sexist beliefs about women. When Utah tells women that their value comes from traditional gender roles and promotes sexist ideologies, we internalize those beliefs and are susceptible to alt-right pipelines.

We Must Address the Radicalization of Young Women

Online articles emphasize the importance of talking about the radicalization of young men. They turn radicalization into an issue solely facing today’s male youth, rather than youth as a whole. We must have conversations about the radicalization of young white women to confront racist and misogynistic ideas and identify the dog whistles young women should look out for online. Without addressing the full picture of white nationalist radicalization, we can’t combat it and we can’t teach people to avoid it.


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