Xenophobia and misogyny is a systematic feature of power relations. In her letter to The New Feminist, Helen De Cruz explains more.
Misogyny is often seen as a hatred of women that some men feel. But as philosopher Kate Manne has demonstrated in her powerful book Down Girl, the logic of misogyny (OUP), misogyny isn’t a character trait of individual men. It is, rather, a systematic feature of power relations.
Misogyny rears its head when women don’t ‘know their place’, when they are seen as not nurturing, caring and subservient to men’s needs.
Something similar is going on with the xenophobia in the UK following the Brexit vote. It is not a hatred of foreigners, but a backlash against foreigners who don’t know their place. Rather than a trait of individual people (Daily Mail readers, Theresa May), xenophobia is a systematic facet of power relations between British-born and immigrants.
Immigrants are tolerated as long as they are subject to stringent home office rules, the constant threat of deportation, various hoops they have to jump through such as being fingerprinted, and arbitrary requirements they are subject to. As long as immigrants come to serve the UK citizen, they are welcome. But they should not be expected to be treated as equal.
Xenophobia occurs when that sense of entitlement is violated and when foreigners are perceived as having too many rights, rights that are deemed only for the British. It is also present in more subtle forms, including checks on bank accounts, eligibility of NHS treatment, and many other aspects of the hostile environment.
The hostile environment fits in the discourse of many Brexiters who say they are happy with immigration as long as it’s controlled. Controlled immigration suits them because it puts the immigrant in a position decidedly below that of the UK citizen, a position of dependency and possible rejection.
The EU free movement directives challenged this sense of entitlement. They mean that EU citizens can come to the UK on an equal footing as British people to live and work in the UK. This created the xenophobic backlash in the lead-up to the referendum. The idea of British superiority is not restricted to UKIP or the BNP, but is absolutely mainstream.
Helen De Cruz
Senior lecturer in Philosophy, Oxford Brookes University
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