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Coincidentally on the day I started writing this article, a friend posted up a video from 1961, of two women debating the importance of education to women. One of them, Toni, seemed a little uncomfortable to sit beside the former Mayoress of Melbourne, as she insisted “If you have too much education, your mind’s stimulated too much, you’re not happy to stay at home all the time… too much education fogs the brain.” Whilst the grainy footage seemed to belong in a dusty vault, a little further down my feed was a video of Malala Yousafzi, who tearfully returned to Pakistan this year for the first time, six years after being shot for her activism and education. When people are still sacrificing so much in the fight for equality on so many levels, it’s somewhat jarring to contemplate a group who are, from their relative comforts here in Lancaster, arguing for a return to a set of values that so many across the globe are still fighting to overcome.
Of course, nobody in the Lancaster Traditionalist Society is remotely suggesting the use of aggression to achieve their aims. More uncomfortable still is the way they appear painfully oblivious of the culture which surrounds the groups from which they’ve emerged.
At its most basic level, people supporting Traditionalist ideas want a return to what they regard as traditional roles for men and women, favouring the past over modernity. This tends to involve a preference for a society where roles are determined by age and gender, and for some, also by class. Women would be responsible for raising children, performing domestic chores, and holding jobs oriented around such roles, whilst only men would hold traditionally masculine roles such as the Armed Forces and security. This is often peppered with intolerance for homosexuality and anyone else who doesn’t fit their rigid views of gender identity.
On one level, the natural inclination is to shrug it off as the sort of indignance and misguided paternalism that saw race official Jock Semple try – unsuccessfully – to drag Kathryn Switzer from the course of the 1967 Boston Marathon, in case the poor thing collapsed from the effort. Maybe we just need to point to the prowess of men and women everywhere and say, Chaps and Chapesses, ‘It’s fine – we got this.’
On another level, it’s both more complex and concerning. Research shows the re-emergence of such attitudes is closely tied to fears of loss, whether of privilege, masculinity, or safety, alongside a sense of frustration at feeling forgotten or undervalued. Despite these concerns, western Traditionalists tend to stay away from groups which, on varying levels seek to work against injustice. Instead, they often focus their energy on opposing equality of opportunity, with the mantra ‘Equality doesn’t work’ – with a heavy dose of puerile humour and misogyny.
The even more uncomfortable reality is, that the small number of western Traditionalist groups out there, online and off, are routinely and actively targeted by Far Right groups, who hide behind claims of ‘men’s rights’, quickly degenerating into talk of ‘male supremacy’, rape jokes, and ultimately, ‘white rights’, racism and fascism.
Numbers are small, and examples of the forums are often as laughable as they are offensive; one boasts about gifting kitchen appliances to women to try to manipulate and ‘liberate’ them into domesticated servitude. Another states ‘The Only True Feminists are Men’s Rights Activists’. The overriding themes therein aren’t in fact about anyone’s rights at all, but a plethora of comments objectifying women, endless racist slurs, and violent threats. Those who have left such groups speak of realising they were being manipulated, as they were fed links and algorithms to ever more extreme groups. It’s that context which makes it disconcerting that a group could form in Lancaster without being aware of this wider context from which they emerged, no matter how far removed they are from these disturbing elements.
We tried reaching out to a member of the Lancaster group for comment on the themes within this article, but this was declined. Representatives from Lancaster’s group did say that they are open to criticism as long as they are able to also have their views heard. But beyond Lancaster, there’s a wider Traditionalist movement which needs challenging, whose approach has quickly become a wafer thin veneer for hate, and a zero-sum game where their idea of social gains relies upon others’ losing.