High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

The Sexual Counter-revolution Has Reached The Low Countries
© Koch Foundation
© Koch Foundation © Koch Foundation
The Naked Truth

The Sexual Counter-revolution Has Reached The Low Countries

The glorification of reproductive sexuality, the crusade against abortion, the cult of alpha masculinity: a wind of sexual conservatism, with a hint of the extreme right, is blowing through the Anglo-Saxon world. Les Plats Pays is no exception to this trend, with Thierry Baudet and Dries Van Langenhove as its figureheads.

Let’s start with a question. New sexual conservatism can count on wealthy backers and, as will become clear later in this article, counts anti-abortion legislation among its aims, arguing for a return to so-called ‘reproductive sex’ and a one-sided socio-biological definition of gender. Is this movement going to cause an earthquake in Belgium and the Netherlands as well?

The answer is not clear, as the far-right populist parties themselves tend to reject outdated ideas about sex and gender and to defend a nationalist ‘civilisationism’, stating that contemporary Europeans are sexually ‘more civilised’ and thus progressive and superior. That’s the standard way of denouncing the sexual norms of migrant cultures, particularly those of Muslims.

The concept dates back to the 1990s and references populists such as the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002), who was openly homosexual and also claimed that the lifestyles of migrants and Muslims would damage Dutch society. Today populist parties continue to project sexual ‘incivility’ onto migrants, particularly Muslim women who wear headscarves, who they claim are oppressed by their menfolk.

By circuitous logic it is claimed that Western society is sexually liberated and must be protect against the influx of these so-called ‘backward’ cultures. Because countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands have supposedly lost their balance, we need to return to a solid society with nuclear families and a position of power for men. We need to scale back notions of being sexually different and sexual indulgence. This return to a healing patriarchy with features such as more anti-abortion legislation and female sacrifice is always carefully distinguished from the patriarchy of migrant cultures, where dominant masculinity is deemed to lead to aggression and crime.

A self-help guru and a ‘fitfluencer’

This drive for a serene patriarchy is ambiguous, as it is hard conservatism packaged as freedom. The concept is substantially fed by digital cultures and social media, where there is cross-pollination between radical right political opinions and digital influencers. This counter-revolution is therefore blended with the charisma of rising online idols and superstars, who ensure that the change is attractive. After all, what young person in Belgium or the Netherlands is going to get behind a dull vision of sex?

It is largely young men who flock around celebrities such as the Canadian self-help guru Jordan Peterson. In April 2023 Peterson gave a lecture at a sold-out Forest National in Brussels. In his books he preaches about how to remain strong and resilient as a man in what he describes as our overly chaotic and left-wing intellectual woke society in which supporters of diversity, inclusivity and equality hold sway. Peterson’s roadmap invites a conservative cleansing and restructuring in the private sphere, arguing for socio-biologically determined sex differences. Now the crowd at Forest National probably weren’t particularly interested in critical debates or theories on gender. They were probably seeking something to hold onto in Peterson’s magic formula, which states that we need to return to simplified principles in order to save society.

Andrew Tate is a wealthy British-American influencer and former kickboxer with five million followers on Twitter. He represents affluent, loutish masculinity. Tate is a self-declared misogynist who has already been banned from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for his frank hate speech. He writes that he doesn’t shy away from violence towards women and that he likes to have relationships with 18-19-year-old girls, who are more impressionable. He likes posing in front of his race cars with a gun in his hand, or wearing a diamond watch and with a Cuban cigar in his mouth. In spring 2023 he was arrested in Romania, where he lives, and was imprisoned for three months on suspicion of human trafficking and exploiting women for pornographic camming sessions on the internet. Yet he is wildly popular with a certain audience, because he stands for physical self-discipline and extreme fitness. Tate is a fitfluencer, an idol who at face value isn’t interested in any form of politics whatsoever.

During his house arrest, Tate continued to tweet about his alpha male nature: ‘Most of you have never shadow-boxed in a 200-degree sauna while listening to Tyrese as your workout music. Then you have the audacity to wonder why you don’t get any pussy.’ He quickly became famous, because he collaborated with crowds of young men through his private academy, Hustler’s University, on TikTok and tasked them with spreading his controversial messages as far as possible. It’s troubling to see the extent to which online youth participate. Supporting misogynistic opinions becomes a kind of collective game.

A real man doesn’t masturbate

The ‘manosphere’ itself is now a few decades old and consists of a network of websites, forums and digital platforms that aim to form a boosting and supportive community for the contemporary man. Originally people were mainly occupied with self-help or exchanging tips for becoming a better-looking alpha male and seducing women.

In a study I conducted into radical right-wing sex, I saw a YouTube video about the American manosphere, in which five or six rugged studs held forth on stage, declaiming the weakened state of contemporary masculinity. Although I could tell from their body language that they were fitness experts, a few of the men became almost hysterical and cried during their sermon. It looked like these men were on the verge of a breakdown, because they felt lost as contemporary men. They were able to convey this very convincingly, the audience empathised. The men yelled that ‘normal’ masculinity is sick and that contemporary society needs cleansing or healing. These men, too, were in search of a magic formula to strengthen Western society, and masculinity in particular.

In recent years the manosphere has been seriously radicalised. It has fused with open radical-right networks. These networks are politically tinted and strive for a right-wing supremacist masculinity to form the basis of a renewed nationalism. We have also seen this kind of manosphere advancing in the Low Countries for several years. In 2018 intriguing headlines appeared in the Flemish newspapers De Morgen and De Standaard about a ‘right-wing crusade against masturbation’. Who would preach against masturbation in the year 2018, we asked ourselves as readers? It put one in mind of the ultra-Catholic ‘abstinence only’ education in the United States. But no, these were provocative statements by politicians in the Low Countries who wished to reach a younger audience.

Two men were at the forefront of the Low Countries war on masturbation: Thierry Baudet, leader of the Dutch far-right party Forum voor Democratie, and Dries Van Langenhove, leader of the Flemish far-right group Schild en Vrienden. At that point both were perfectly turned-out rugged heroes who were very active on social media.

Sexual fake new has arisen on manosphere fora such as 4chan and 8chan since the turn of the century, specifically claiming that you can become an alpha male if you masturbate less. Because every time you masturbate and ejaculate, you waste testosterone. The idea of saving up testosterone has been put to good use by the far right in the Low Countries – not only from a self-help perspective but also as an important element against what is known in those circles as omvolking, a Dutch neologism for what the far right believe to be the repression of a nation on their own territory. This omvolking is seen as the consequence of the influx of migrant cultures. The white man who saves up his sperm, they claim, can use it to maintain the white race.

International networks

The sexual counter-revolution has been able to make such a good start because its political philosophy also has an economic foundation. It is supported by billionaires, think tanks and NGOs for whom denouncing ‘gender’ and ‘gender identity’ is the key point of contention and who strive among other things for a return to strict anti-abortion legislation (groups such as the Koch Foundation and the DeVos Foundation in the United States).

The financiers rally effortlessly behind the best-known argument of the anti-gender movements, namely that the socio-biological principle of essential sex differences must be respected. They consider the concept of ‘gender’ to be repugnant, as it seeks to override the essential differences between man and woman. Because specific traits of men and women are biologically innate, the religiously inspired bearers of the counter-revolution and their financiers believe that ‘gender’ has become a destructive concept, a concept that attacks and destroys Western society.

Recent studies reveal that religious anti-gender movements are busily under way in Eastern and Western Europe. As shown by the policy statements of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF), there are several transnational ultra-right and anti-gender movements in the European Union wanting to turn the clock back when it comes to feminism and reproductive rights. There are organisations that are active in public, but there is also a matter of clandestine transfer of funds.

In the past ten years the international networks have expanded substantially. Organisations from the United States, Russia and the European Union spent more than 700 million USD on anti-gender campaigns in the period 2009-2018. In the European Union since 2008 the funds spent on such campaigns have more than quadrupled: from 22 million to 96 million USD – the money coming largely from France, Italy, Slovakia, Spain and Poland. There are several economic alliances between anti-gender NGOs and think tanks worldwide and megadonors from the United States and Russia. The Christian or Russian Orthodox megadonors are often directly connected to far-right movements such as the Aryan Brotherhood and the Proud Boys in the United States. These alliances are still expanding, a development that could culminate in movements and marches against gay marriage or abortion and draft legislation in that direction. In fact, that has already started to different extents in countries such as France, Poland and Hungary.

The layered identity under pressure

The counter-revolutionary philosophy as described here is directly opposed to the insights of contemporary psychologists and social scientists on gender and inequality, those who fight for a layering of identity and a way to combat gender discrimination. According to the Flemish psychologist Paul Verhaeghe, this kind of split identity in itself is an advantage, but it also creates discomfort: ‘That inner division enables us to reflect on ourselves. That can sometimes be painful, but it is also illuminating. It allows us to make decisions and choices, to put our lives on a different track. But because we are never completely at one with ourselves, there will always be a form of discomfort within us.’

Gender studies have offered the concept of flexible orientation or gender-in-flux, giving people the opportunity to pursue particular sexual experiences – whether it’s a man who wants to become an alpha-male stud or a transsexual who takes hormones and wants to undergo gender surgery. But nothing is certain. Contemporary conservative movements have declared war on the layered identity and the notion of ‘gender’ itself. The social ingredients are present to drive forward the new desire for a patriarchy, as are the economic support and in some cases the political will.

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