Corona Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Feminism – A growing Risk for Democracy?

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 conspiracy theories dealing with the origin, existence, and dissemination of the coronavirus are spreading worldwide. Besides anti-Semitic and racist narratives, anti-feminist narratives are interwoven with these conspiracy theories. There is a growing risk of sustained anti-feminist politicization within the context of corona conspiracy theories that poses a risk to democratic positions. Targeted measures are needed to counter this threat included social policies towards an equal distribution of care work, political education on gender equality and sexual rights as well as a critical institutional monitoring of anti-feminist attacks.


Corona Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are normative narratives that explain phenomena or events by pointing to (alleged) plots of (supposedly) powerful persons or groups. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic conspiracy theorists – people who believe and spread conspiracy theories – claim that there is a secret plan behind the pandemic to change the world order. These kinds of corona conspiracy theories (CCTs) draw on anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and racist stereotypes to produce a malevolent other. Anti-feminist narratives are also an essential part of CCTs.


Of Mothers and Warriors – Gender Perceptions in the Context of Corona Conspiracy Theories

Corona conspiracy theories rely on a cis-heteronormative concept of sex and sexualities. CCTs address their audience as ‘concerned parents’ and women are specifically addressed as (potential) mothers by framing the supposed corona conspiracy as a threat to families and children, e.g., framing mask mandates as child abuse. Through these identity constructions, the concept of family as a cis-heteronormative entity with (many) children is idealized and at the same time, other forms of families are devalued.

Further, men are specifically addressed as soldiers and warriors by CCTs, while women are portrayed as weak and as potential victims of the corona measures. In contrast, men are called upon to fight these measures and the associated conspirators. These identity constructions align with biologistic anti-feminist ideas.


Anti-Feminist Threat Scenarios: Female Infertility and the ‘Abortion Industry’

According to CCTs, the mentioned concept of family and the family-centered identity constructions are threatened by reproductive rights and abortions. For example, a widespread CCT claims that a so-called ‘abortion industry’ is part of a secret corona conspiracy as aborted fetuses are allegedly part of the Covid-19 vaccine production. Thus, this narrative aligns with well-known anti-feminist positions that pose abortions and reproductive rights as a threat to families.

Further, another widespread conspiracy theory claims that the vaccines against the coronavirus cause female infertility. These narratives appeal primarily to a vaccine-skeptical audience and reinforce the reduction of women to their function as mothers.


‘Homo-Lobby’, ‘Gender Madness’ and the Freedom of Speech and Expression

Other CCTs refer to the anti-feminist ideas of an omnipresent feminism and a so-called ‘homo-lobby’. A supposed homosexual elite is portrayed as a group of conspirators in the Covid-19 pandemic as it is claimed that this supposed ‘homo-lobby’ fulfills powerful positions in the health sector and organizations of the EU and the UN.

Further, it is claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic is part of a feminist plan to ‘restructure society’. Measures for gender equality, gender studies, and the use of gender-sensitive language are generalized and devaluated under the term ‘gender madness’. This ‘gender madness’ is perceived as a restriction on the freedom of speech and expression and as corona conspiracy theorists describe themselves as fighters for the freedom of speech and expression an associative link between the two is established. This reference to widespread anti-feminist ideas, which believe feminist positions to be attacks on the freedom of speech and expression, ties the opposition to corona measures into a broader ideological framework.

Anti-Feminist Networks and a growing Risk for Democracy

Anti-feminist positions are contrary to pluralistic and democratic goals, such as those of gender equality. Beyond that, with the idea of a secret feminist conspiracy and a supposed restriction of the freedom of speech and expression, distrust in existing political democratic institutions is expressed while at the same time the identity construction as fighters for the freedom of speech and expression appears in the context of CCTs. With this identity construction a limited understanding of democracy, which excludes political minorities, becomes apparent. One’s own freedom of speech and expression is defended while the freedom of others is denied.

Moreover, by telling anti-feminist stories well-known anti-feminist actors like the Canadian author Jordan Peterson are referenced and installed as trustworthy sources in the context of CCTs. Thus, believers of corona conspiracy theories become familiar with organized and well-known anti-feminist actors.

While the corona-centered narratives are likely to lose their mobilizing power as the pandemic subsides, anti-feminist narratives show a certain timelessness, since topics such as sexuality and gender touch on essential societal issues. Therefore, there is a growing danger of sustained anti-feminist politicization reaching beyond the Covid-19 crisis and thus, a growing risk for democracy. Further, CCTs do not only draw on anti-feminist but also for example on anti-Muslim, anti-Asian, and anti-Semitic narratives.


Recommendations: Interventions against the dangerous Coalition of Corona Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Feminism

As shown, there is a growing danger of an increasing anti-feminist politicization, which is likely to persist even after the pandemic has subsided. This growing danger must be countered at various levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic, with its social, political, and economic consequences, put a hold on gender equality efforts and exacerbated existing gender inequalities at many levels, such as the distribution of wage and care work. This risk of a backlash towards conservative gender perceptions aligns with anti-feminist positions. Therefore, in times of crisis, political measures should be targeted to counteract backlash movements like this one.

For example, measures should focus on the financial as well as the social needs of families and single parents to counteract an unequal distribution of care work.

Further, in political education, the risks and dangers anti-feminism poses not only to gender equality but to democracy in general need to be named to raise awareness. In addition, political education on gender and feminism should be strengthened to debunk anti-feminist narratives and conspiracy theories.

To raise awareness of the dangers and risks posed by anti-feminism institutions like anti-discrimination offices should recognize anti-feminism as a threat and register anti-feminist attacks as well as offer advice and support for victims.



Mareike Bauer is a PhD Candidate at the European New School of Digital Studies at the European University Frankfurt (Oder). Her research focusses on Anti-Feminism in the Digital Public Sphere. She studied Social Science at the Humboldt-University of Berlin.