Tag Archives: left sexism

More sexism on the left

The [Socialist Worker’s Party] isn’t the first prominent leftwing movement to have its reputation destroyed by its own inability to deal properly with allegations of violence against women, and it may not be the last. From WikiLeaks to the Egyptian revolution to individual anarchist networks, the past years have been dispiriting for anyone who believes that feminism should be at the heart of any struggle against oppression. For some men on the left, it seems, feminism is just a petty bourgeois distraction from the real fight.

From Laurie Penny’s “The SWP and rape: why I care about this Marxist-Leninist implosion

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Occupy Patriarchy

With hindsight to put the pieces together, a bigger picture emerges. I remember who in particular these people were – male, predominantly white, alienated and resultantly defensive, and at their absolute worst anytime they were confronted by women.

When I facilitated meetings, they pushed back. When we talked about making space for other voices, they screamed about being silenced. And they are still with us; anyone hearing stories of the May Day General Assembly (GA) or watching Occupy Vancouver facebook  discussions can’t avoid seeing it. What we are really seeing is Occupy’s misogyny problem, and it’s one the movement shares with, oh, the rest of planet Earth.

from  Sasha Wile’s piece,  The importance of dealing with Occupy’s misogyny problem.

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Recreating Oppression in OWS

-From Anarchists and the Occupy Movement:

“[At OWS,] Patriarchy and white supremacy reared its head constantly, as white male organizers were consistently given more credibility than female organizers or organizers of color. As a result, many of our most experienced queer, female-identified and organizers of color dropped out in the first few months of Occupy Wall Street and a trickling loss of talent continues to this day.

In Occupy New Orleans, where I lived and organized for a little over two weeks, a group of experienced anarchist organizers (majority female-identified people of color) who helped start the occupation were pushed out by a group of predominantly white male ‘anarchists’ who would loudly disrupt general assembly and mock the women of color facilitating.

Eventually, this group successfully pushed out the experienced anarchists; they stopped participating in the project. The conflict started because the one group were completely resistant to acknowledging white privilege or patriarchy, were infuriated at the women of color who brought up these concepts, and then used all of their privilege to launch verbal and physical assaults until they had won some kind of twisted power-struggle. When, weeks later, my female partner and I attempted to have a quiet, civil conversation with them about the importance of these concepts, she left in tears after being screamed at by a hulking, shirtless man who loudly proclaimed her to be a ‘cunt’.

…If our movement is to grow, we must learn to create safer spaces for systemically marginalized organizers and activists to work and thrive in.”

While I don’t know exactly who the “anarchist organizers” mentioned above refer to, such oppressive dynamics were not uncommon at Occupy NOLA  and the concluding prescription is spot on.

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You might be a manarchist if…

You might be a manarchist if you tell women that it’s their fault their voices aren’t being heard.

Tip o’ the hat to Allyson Mackay for the link
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Stumbling Blocks for Social Movements

In 1968, during the occupation of Columbia University by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), female protesters were given the lofty task of serving the other protesters tea. During the civil rights movement, the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael, once reputedly said that “The only position for women in SNCC is prone.” During the anti-vietnam war movement, women at rallies were greeted with calls like, “take her off the stage and fuck her.”

Surely we are beyond the days of such odious sexism within our own organizations, affinity groups, and movements, right?

If history is any guide, no matter how well-intentioned or focused previous social movements have been, diverse issues of privilege and oppression have often served to undermine, weaken, and disrupt organizing work.  What these past failures demonstrate is the need to continuously examine and address issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc., within social movements. This should not be surprising. We are all socialized within a specific cultural context and the messages, meanings, and values we have internalized do not simply disappear when we join with others in common struggle. Indeed, unless we intentionally address such issues directly and continuously, we are bound to recreate within our own groups the very oppressive structures we seek to oppose.

Past experiences within Occupy NOLA confirm the necessity of addressing internal dynamics of privilege and oppression. At the encampment, it seemed to be disproportionately men who disrupted assemblies and meetings. To name just a few examples, one female facilitator was nearly brought to tears by a male participant who would not stop interrupting her, another active member took thirty seconds of silence during a General Assembly to acknowledge the fact the she was one of the few, if not the only, women in attendance, and another long-standing working group member, a woman, left after being verbally assaulted by a man at the encampment.

While some of these examples may seem like the fault of a few individuals, a truly robust and just organization would have structures in place to prevent, minimize, and respond to such dynamics and incidents. Sadly, such structures were absent or not fully developed.

But why were such structures absent or underdeveloped?*** To begin with, there was not insignificant resistance within Occupy NOLA to addressing issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in addition to issues of economic justice. Put another way, there was  a lack of appreciation for intersectionality–or the complex and subtle ways in which forms of oppression interact.

For example, in the context of OWS, the issue of race and racism is virtually unavoidable when discussing economic justice. After all, communities of color were disproportionately targeted for sub-prime mortgages during the housing bubble, they lost a greater percentage of their wealth when the bubble burst, and the unemployment rate is (and has been) much higher for communities of color than other communities (not to mention the racial wealth gap (pdf) is fucking 20:1).

However, some claimed that discussing issues of racism or sexism was divisive and diversionary. This is completely backwards. As the examples above show, it has been by ignoring the intersectionality and the internal dynamics of oppression that movements for social justice are disrupted and weakened.

In addition, it seems likely that resistance to addressing oppressive dynamics is partially due to a lack of appreciation for how privilege and oppression play out on an individual and organizational level. For example, in a male-centered (read: patriarchal) society, men are used to being the center of attention (e.g. gender bias in the classroom). This internalized sense of of superiority can lead men to dominate discussions and thereby drive away those who feel their voice is drowned out.  Unfortunately, we cannot just check privilege and oppression at the social movement door. Therefore, unless we take pains to address how our socialization plays out in our everyday lives, our collective actions to build a better world will be frustrated.

Unless we men or male-identified folks examine our own internalized superiority and privilege, deconstruct common conceptions of masculinity, take responsibility for our own intentions and actions, and assist in developing organizational structures to address internal dynamics of privilege and oppression, we will never build the vibrant, capable, and durable movements that we desire.

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***This statement is in no way meant to minimize the amazing work of those in Occupy NOLA’s anti-racist working group and other individuals.

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