#MeToo, Women’s Marches, International Women’s Day: Where do we go from here?

Here is a presentation given by Terry Moon to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees on March 19, 2018.

#MeToo, Women’s Marches, International Women’s Day:
Where do we go from here?

Terry Moon, Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees

PART I. INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2018

Women of action marching in Washington, D.C., at the Women’s March on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo: Victoria Pickering, victoriapickering.com/2018/01/womens-march-d-c/.

In the lead article in the latest issue, we wrote that during this “International Women’s Day (IWD)…women will, no doubt…increase their demands and their movement.” That was an easy prediction to make since every year since the mid-1960s—when women rediscovered their revolutionary past in that time of extraordinary confidence in the possibility of a new, truly human world—women have done exactly that every IWD since.

This year women marched the world over, in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, everywhere. In many of these marches, abortion rights were a demand, for example as in Italy, where “As thousands of students marched in Milan…one group broke off to chant slogans in front of a hospital, protesting the majority of Italian doctors who refuse to preform abortions, even though it is legal” (NYT March 8, 2018). Tonight there is only time to single out a few examples, because, in reality, we could spend the evening discussing what women did just on March 8.

In Spain over 5.3 million women joined a 24-hour strike, with hundreds of thousand joining in protests in the streets in 200 locations across the country, including blocking main roads in Barcelona and bringing traffic to a standstill. The feminist group Huelga Feminista’s manifesto, released for IWD, proclaimed: “Today we claim a society free of oppression, exploitation and sexual violence. We call for rebellion and the struggle against the alliance between patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be docile, submissive and silent.”

Women in Turkey have for several years used the day to rage against the reactionary policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This year was no exception as thousands marched in Istanbul. They were demanding an end to violence and chanted: “We won’t shut up, we are not afraid, we won’t obey” and their signs read, “When women jump it’s a revolution.” Since Erdoğan took power he has attacked women’s freedom and the very idea of feminism, pontificating that equality for women “is against human nature,” and that’s only one of his milder statements.

Philippine women came out for their rights and against President Rodrigo Duterte, making clear they consider him a fascist and a sexist. Thousands marched with signs reading “#NeverAgain to a fascist dictatorship.”

In China women students at Tsinghua University celebrated IWD with banners making fun of President Xi Jinping’s proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits to allow him to stay in power indefinitely. Their banners, which they did manage to get on social media sites, were quickly removed.

Women in Afghanistan rallied in Kabul, where Sima Samar spoke, saying, “Your safety represents the safety of all Afghan women,” while women in Saudi Arabia and Iraq went jogging through the streets making the point that the streets also belong to women.

In Colombia, where at least three cases of sexual abuse happen every hour, and few of the victims report it, Afro-Colombian women decided to make IWD their own. They are demanding to be recognized for their role in making peace. In Tumaco, where Afro-Colombian women marched for justice, Charo Mina-Rojas of Proceso de Comunidades Negras put it this way: “Black women in Colombia have been at the center of the struggle for Black people’s self-determination and they are today significantly leading this process. That is why Black women have been directly targeted in the last decade by violent forces looking to take or maintain control of their territories and bodies, to halt the resistance and the power that comes from that leadership.”

Poland had IWD demonstrations in several cities. The largest, over 2,000, was in Warsaw, where women distinguished themselves from their fascist-leaning government. They erected a temporary monument to Polish women fighters as a symbol of women who fought for “independence, solidarity and sisterhood.” A speaker said: “We dedicate it to Polish women, Ukrainian women, American women, Syrian women, Iranian women, refugee women, migrant women, and all women fighters.” She read from their manifesto, which demanded the right to abortion, sexual education for children, government-subsidized contraception, a ban on doctors and pharmacists denying services due to their personal beliefs, for pay equality, and for measures against domestic violence. (“Demonstrators protest in Poland on Women’s Day,” Radio Poland, March 9, 2018. http://thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/353041,Demonstrators-protest-in-Poland-on-Womens-Day)

Lastly, the UN treats the Catholic Church as a country and Catholic women were basically expelled from it when the IWD conference of Catholic Women was thrown out of Vatican City because former Irish President May McAleese would be speaking. And speak she did: “The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny. Its leadership has never sought a cure for that virus, though the cure is freely available: Its name is equality.”

 

PART II. THE BEST OF TIMES AND THE WORST OF TIMES

Just this brief look at IWD reveals the greatness of what women have done in profoundly changing the world through an incredible and sustained activism based on a humanism that runs like a revolutionary red thread through an amazing array of actions, demonstrations and statements. New this IWD was the explicitness of demonstrations challenging several countries’ leaders’ move to fascism, as in Poland, Turkey, China, Philippines and other countries including calling out the Catholic Church hierarchy. That is also what we have seen in the Women’s Marches, which were not limited to the U.S. but spread across the entire world.

The Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, was the launch of the “resistance” to racist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and xenophobic fascism made so much worse by the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. One year later, the January 20, 2018, Women’s Marches proved that the struggle continues undiminished.

The Women’s Marches, the #MeToo movement as well, and women’s creative demonstrations on IWD show how these are, in some respects, the best of recent times. The best because they show a rising, militant and multi-dimensional movement from practice that is itself a form of theory—a movement that is still growing, gaining strength and confidence. But, as we know, the dialectic can be described as self-development through contradiction, and we are seeing that self-development and we are certainly feeling and comprehending the contradictions.

In trying to figure out how to discuss those contradictions, it is clear that anyone who came to a meeting like this is aware of what is going on in this world that needs to be fought. Rather than go into depth on several of the pressing issues facing us, simply reading a few of the many, many headlines from papers and articles from just the last month, should make clear the kind of world we are facing and what women in particular are fighting against.

I’m starting with abortion, because so many of the IWD demonstrations were explicitly for women’s right to control our own bodies and because the attacks on that right are so fast and furious and completely out of control. These headlines do not take up all the attacks against women, just a selection of a little that has happened over the last month:

“Mississippi Lawmakers pass the nation’s most restrictive abortion law,” which turns out to be prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, no exception for rape or incest. “Arizona GOP ‘Trying to Make It impossible’ to Provide Abortion Care With New Rules” (TRAP rules), “Arizona Law Would Require Women to Disclose Why They Want an Abortion,” “Kentucky lawmakers want to ban a common type of abortion after 11 weeks” (D&C), “HHS Secretary Backs Trump Official Who Tried to Block Immigrant Teens From Abortion Care,” “Man Crashes Truck Into New Jersey Planned Parenthood, Injuring 3, Police Say,” “Anti-Choice Clinics Claim Their Deceptive Business Practices Are Free Speech. Will Justice Kennedy Agree?” From abortion we move to birth control: “The Trump Administration’s Backward Attitude Toward Birth Control,” “Four Big Threats To The Title X Family Planning Program: Examining The Administration’s New Funding Opportunity Announcement,” “Abstinence [only] advocate gets final say on family planning dollars.” And here are some other headlines to give a range of what is happening to women in one month’s time: “The Silence of Abused Women in Colombia,” “In Yemen, women bear the brunt of a merciless war,” “Outspoken Rio councilwoman who fought for the marginalized is shot to death; thousands mourn,” “Thousands of women, men, children raped in Syria’s war: U.N. report,” “Education Department, DeVos says false reports of sexual assault are rare.” This last one needs some explanation. She actually said that she didn’t know which was greater—the number of false accusations of sexual assault on campus or the number of campus rapes. The outrage of such ignorance from the Education Secretary is what caused her to admit the truth—which I’m sure she still does not believe despite numerous studies—that false reports of rape on campuses (and off for that matter) are rare.

 

III. CRITICS OF WOMEN’S RECENT MOVES TOWARDS FREEDOM

Many on the Left join the mainstream media in viewing—and dismissing—the Women’s Marches as merely fodder for the Democratic Party, and that does describe some of the March’s recognized organizers. But even if one stopped with bourgeois elections, what the marches represent to so many is not admiration for the Democratic Party, but a first negation of the horrific vision of the world the Republicans are determined to impose on everyone. The lead went into what those marches and the #MeToo movement actually represented. Here we want to linger at the critiques and what they reveal, not about the women in the resistance, but about those who consider themselves revolutionaries.

I’m starting, however, not with the self-identified revolutionaries, but with the French brouhaha stirred up by Catherine Deneuve. That was hardly a serious critique of either the Women’s Marches or the MeToo movement. Rather it was more of an ignorant swipe at what some French feminists perceived to be “victim feminism,” which they see as rampant in the U.S. They charged that #MeToo “serves the interests of ‘the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,’ and of those who believe that women are ‘separate beings, children with the appearance of adults, demanding to be protected.’” (“Catherine Deneuve and Others Denounce the #MeToo Movement,” by Valeriya Safronova, The New York Times, Jan. 9, 2018.) All anyone really needs to know what nonsense this is, is that anti-feminist-posing-as-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers—who coined the term “victim feminism”—loved the French pseudo-feminist critique. They were taken care of by women in France who are creating their own #MeToo movement there.

The American version was an opinion piece by Daphne Merkin in The New York Times of Jan. 5, who also fell into whining about “victim feminism,” writing: “even more troubling is that we seem to be returning to a victimology paradigm for young women in particular, in which they are perceived to be—and perceive themselves to be—as frail as Victorian housewives.” It seems to have passed her notice that these young women are the ones who created the #MeToo movement—especially young Black women—and who, on college campuses, created a decades-long movement that finally lighted a fire bright enough to reach the Obama presidency. Obama’s few efforts to give some backbone to Title IX are now being destroyed by Trump’s appointees, Betsy DeVos and others. But no movement is waged by women who perceive themselves as frail. Merkin’s real gripe is that some of her favorite liberal men friends turned out to be sexual harassers or worse. It is fair to make sure that those accused have some “due process,” but exactly where was the due process for women who were harassed, abused and raped? Even in court it is the woman who was raped who is put on trial.

But these critics are hardly revolutionary. How about the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who have elevated Bob Avakian to god status? Their contribution, “The #MeToo Movement: Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize,” begins hopefully: “A very righteous mass upsurge has broke out around a key fault-line issue of this, and all prior, class societies. Sexual harassment and sexual assault is a problem going back millennia, and a problem which is totally pervasive, including on a global scale.” Like me, are you waiting for the “but”?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the RCP sounds like the liberals. They are very worried that there are “few distinctions being drawn between different kinds of instances of sexual harassment and assault”; and that it’s not understood that those who engage in “Al Franken-like sexist pranks or even drunken groping at a party in front of other people are not on the same level as the behavior of someone who uses his position of power over livelihoods and careers…” They make the widespread claim that “any and all allegations and accusations (are) being automatically treated as proven fact…” This is, of course, not true. What is being treated as fact—at least by some and except, it seems, when it comes to Trump—is when two, three, four and more women are coming forward with claims of sexual harassment or worse against the same man. That many men are immediately leaving jobs, sometimes even before they are named, is because the truth is finally being articulated and actually heard. But again, one has to ask, where was all this concern for truth, for due process, for women? You know, those who had to sign non-disclosure agreements, etc.? The RCP asks along with the bourgeoisie: “Then there are all the questions of due process and protecting the rights of the individuals who may be falsely accused.” Then here comes the “buts”: after saying that in any “righteous mass upsurge…there will be excesses and wrong things on the part of the masses…But that doesn’t mean that ‘excesses’ and wrong persecutions or denials of individual rights are somehow OK. It’s not OK…” And even though the RCP admits that “a mass upsurge and mass revulsion against all this is much needed…But,” they must say, “this should be done correctly, with the right standards and the right methods and the right epistemology.”

They never quite spell that out except to say in Maoist language: “This contradiction (sexual harassment and sexual assault)—which truly stems from the workings of this system—nevertheless often, or even typically, manifests as a contradiction among the people.” So we’re back to the usual leftist task for women. Don’t fight sexism, don’t fight men. No matter how “righteous” that may appear. The real righteousness is against the “system,” that is capitalism.

Another pontificating leftist is Amir Khafagy, who published his piece in Counterpunch, but also publishes in The Socialist, the official publication of the Socialist Party USA. He “self-describes” himself as an “Arab-Rican… activist… writer…[and] spoken word artist.” He wrote a piece titled, “Marching into the Arms of the Democrats” (Counterpunch.org, Jan. 23, 2018). He too has to start out admitting that the Women’s March “was unprecedented and incredible…that amounted to the largest single day of protest in American history.”

And here we only have to wait until the second paragraph for the “But.” “Yet for all its admirable achievements this year’s women’s march, like last years, will probably end up, at best, selling us a bag full of hollow symbolism and at worst selling us out to the Democratic Party.” Mimicking the bourgeois critique of the Occupy movement and other mass outpourings, Khafagy whines of the 2017 Marches that “there was little in the way of providing concrete demands or even long term coordinated actions.” But he doesn’t like the plans made this year for “initiating a national voter registration drive.” It is too “vague and symbolic. Actually,” he opines, “it’s downright passive and inept.” Why? Because, “Nowhere on their website do they mention any criticism of the role of the two-party system in maintaining a capitalist economic and political system that thrives from oppression and exploitation.” In other words, they don’t take our position. They didn’t let us lead them. He goes on a tear against the leaders of the March for ignoring class and almost ignoring race while he can’t be bothered in his three-page article to mention sex or sexism or any of the issues that the leaders of the March have mentioned—not to mention the fantastic issues raised by the marchers themselves.

His elitism is throughout and his vanguard party politics becomes even more explicit in the middle of page two: “Voting itself is not powerless. It can be an effective revolutionary tool, if radical and progressive minded people were to unite and form a revolutionary peoples party or even just back third parties that already exist like the Green Party, it would radically upend the statues quo” [Sic]. The whole rest of his tirade is an attempt to tar not only the leaders but the entire March by bringing up a few real mistakes—and here I agree it was a mistake—like having anti-Palestinian speakers at two venues, which caused the Palestinian American Women’s Association to pull out of the Los Angeles March; to the ridiculous: critiquing the mammoth marches for coordinating with police, which somehow means—according to a local Philadelphia activist Khafagy approvingly quotes: March organizers “are ignoring local struggles against police terrorism, and choosing to center the bourgeoisie aspirations of white feminism.”

While marchers were majority white, those who blather that the Women’s Marches are a “white women’s march,” erase the strong and vibrant participation by women of color, disabled women, and Gay, Lesbian and Trans women. Those who participated in the marches, who talked to people there, who read the signs and who experienced the solidarity, anger and determination of those there, know firsthand the power of this movement. They are the best answer to those who aim to limit it, who disregard it or belittle it. (By the way, Khafagy lets on that he didn’t even bother to go to the 2017 March, but just watched it with his Bernie Bro while wondering “out loud to a friend that if Clinton would have won would be seeing a Woman’s March?”)

These are only two examples, but there are plenty more. If one wants to make themselves ill, read Trotskyist William Kaufman’s disgusting piece in Counterpunch titled, “The Great American Sex Panic of 2017.”

 

PART IV: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

It’s not that these critiques of the Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement don’t have grains of truth within them—sometimes really tiny grains—but they mostly reveal what is wrong with many in the Left. They learned nothing from their ridiculous idea that voting for Clinton was the same as voting for Trump, or that it makes no difference who is elected. They simply do not comprehend what is great about these marches and the movement. All they see is that the marches are large, the movement is vibrant, and the marchers are not following them. They take no responsibility, have no self-critique, for what is a fact—much of the March, and particularly the leaders of the March, want to channel all that energy into Democratic Party politics. Despite that truth, what should not be missed, but too often is, is the vision of a new society implicit in what marchers express in words, chants and signs. An important task is to make that vision explicit. The same holds true of the #MeToo movement.

I cannot see condemning people who want to get involved in Democratic politics because they see that as an opening to stop the horrifying and deadly direction that Trump et al are moving the most powerful country in the world. What is incumbent on us is to project a different vision of the future, not one that comes out of the heads of Leftists, but begins from what is expressed by the marchers themselves and those involved in the #MeToo movement as well.

The lead ended by saying: “When something so profound as the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement emerge from below, from the movement from practice, it is incumbent on those whose vision is to create a new human world to actually hear—and make explicit—the theory, the Reason implicit in that mass outpouring. What is clear is that the demands women are making are for a very different world than the one we now inhabit. It is one where human beings are valued as human beings and that is a world it will take a revolution in permanence to create.”

Why a revolution in permanence? Partly, at least, because capitalism is not only an economic system, it generates as well a set of ideas and a vision of the world that the richest people on the globe are doing their best to make everyone’s future. Within that capitalist vision of the future is an inhuman view of what it means to be human. Dunayevskaya made explicit that Marx’s deep critique of capitalism was as well an equally deep critique of the human relationships that capitalism has wrought, of people reduced to their labor power, of an incredible alienation from the everyday acts of living and creating our world that has penetrated every aspect of life.

The Left has reduced itself to telling women to vote for the Green Party and Jill Stein, or for their Party if they want a different world; or to make sure that what they do “should be done correctly, with the right standards and the right methods and the right epistemology.” How is that a vision of the future one can get behind? Vanguardism and elitism simply recreate the alienated human relationships that exist now. Dunayevskaya made explicit Marx’s vision of becoming and recreated it for our age:

“This reality is stifling. The transformation of reality has a dialectic all its own. It demands a unity of the struggles for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. Only then does the elemental revolt release new sensibilities, new passions, and new forces—a whole new human dimension.

“Ours is the age that can meet the challenge of the times when we work out so new a relationship of theory to practice that the proof of the unity is in the Subject’s own self-development. Philosophy and revolution will first then liberate the innate talents of men and women who will become whole. Whether or not we recognize that this is the task history has ‘assigned’ to our epoch, it is a task that remains to be done.”

The Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement have shown the world the maturity of the movement from practice. It remains for us to work out that unity of the struggle for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. We do not offer those involved in struggle the option to vote for us, to make someone our leader, or to give them the “right epistemology.” What we offer, what a philosophy of revolution offers, is a continuation of that self-development that they have already begun to experience in the throes of the movement. For what else is freedom than the experience of self-development and the movement of becoming whole human beings?

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