Female Empowerment and the Radical Right

Female political participation is often associated with the empowerment of women in the modern age, representing their views, promoting an agenda which advocates women’s rights and encouraging female participation in politics and exercising their voting rights.

In light of the modern political climate, it is perhaps fair to consider why Marine Le Pen, president of the French Front National, who politically follows a radical right ideology, has been so successful? Not only is her success evident through the rise of the Front National, but she has achieved what other far right parties in Western Europe have been unable to emulate; the diminishment of the gender gap in radical right voter demographics. The political leadership of Le Pen is therefore salient for discussion.

From research into the effects of female leadership on the empowerment of women, Angela High-Pippert and John Comer (1998) argue that “women represented by a woman are empowered with positive consequences for political involvement and participation, as well as political efficacy and political competence[1] and that, “it is the act of being represented by a woman itself, rather than any particular benefits that women derive from a female representative[2] that women feel empowered by. Essentially, women feel empowered through female political representation, resulting in increased political participation. Through women representing women, there is increased female presence in the political world, thus women feel more confident in their political ideologies.

Applying High-Pippert and Comer’s research to the study of prominent female political figures, I find, is fascinating in the case of Marine Le Pen, president of the French Front National. Arguably one of France’s most influential and powerful women, Le Pen presents an interesting case concerning women in positions of political leadership and female empowerment. She is the face of the most controversial political party in France, with their far right ideologies far removed from promoting women’s rights and female empowerment in the liberal sense we are familiar with.

Despite this, Marine Le Pen has shown impressive levels of success in her leadership, specifically, in the area that other far right parties in Western Europe have failed to imitate; closing the gender gap in far right party voter demographics. When FN was led by her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, in the 2002 1st round presidential elections, the percentage of men that voted for FN was 21, whilst the percentage of women was 13. In 2007, this stood at 14 percent for men and 7 percent for women[3]. Contrastingly, under Marine Le Pen, in the 2012 1st round presidential elections, FN managed to achieve 17 percent of female voters and 20 percent of male voters, proving to increasingly close the gender gap[4]. As of 2017, according to pollster, ‘Ifop’, Le Pen is attracting 26 percent of both male and female voters[5]. These figures are incredibly impressive considering the gender gap that is prominent amongst far right party voters.

Through Le Pen’s strong leadership and new image that she brings to FN, it is evident that she has the ability to empower women to express their political opinions and utilise their vote in this way, exercising their rights as women and individuals. Though I do not agree on numerous levels with FN and their ideologies, it cannot be denied that Le Pen has managed to motivate women to express their views and enter a realm of politics that is otherwise predominantly associated with men. It may not be the liberal tone of feminism that we correlate with the ‘empowerment of women’, but it can be argued to be defined as a feminism of its own.

To reiterate, it is moreover the notion of being represented by a woman, rather than the benefits derived from a woman in political power, that is attractive to female voters. Though this may raise questions as to whether this represents positives or hindrances to women’s rights and interests, considering the apparent lesser importance attributed to benefits from over representation by a female leader, the case of Le Pen is ripe for consideration. If women are voting to be represented by a strong female leader, instead of receiving benefits from their political presence, they are still able to feel empowered through this and this is particularly evident through the popularity of Le Pen. It is undeniable that Marine Le Pen embodies strong political leadership, which is evident from her success in narrowing the gender gap in votes for the far right Front National, despite the apparently illiberal rhetoric which has traditionally struggled with accruing female voters.

Bibliography:

Fouquet, H. (2017) ‘How the far-right’s Marine Le Pen is winning over female voters who feel left behind in France’ National Post [online]

Available: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/how-the-far-rights-marine-le-pen-is-winning-over-female-voters-who-feel-left-behind-in-france  [22 February 2017]

Goodwin, M. (2011) ‘Right response: understanding and countering populist extremism in Europe’ A Chatham House Report. The Royal Institute of International Affairs 

High-Pippert, A., Comer, J. (1998) ‘Female empowerment: the influence of women representing women’ Women & Politics, vol 19 no 4, pp.53-66.

[1] High-Pippert, A., Comer, J. (1998) ‘Female empowerment: the influence of women representing women’ Women & Politics, vol 19 no 4, p62

[2] Ibid.

[3] Goodwin, M. (2011) ‘Right response: understanding and countering populist extremism in Europe’ A Chatham House Report. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, p.7

[4] Fouquet, H. (2017) ‘How the far-right’s Marine Le Pen is winning over female voters who feel left behind in France’ National Post [online]

Available: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/how-the-far-rights-marine-le-pen-is-winning-over-female-voters-who-feel-left-behind-in-france

[5] Ibid.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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