By Jacqueline S. Homan, author: Classism For Dimwits and Divine Right
This movement struck me as being centered on young middle class white males, and they’re not welcoming or receptive of older people — including older people who have a lifetime’s worth of experience and battle scars from fighting the oppression created by unearned privilege. And according to Reena Walker, a seasoned older black woman and veteran activist, male privilege and how it is used by men in the 99% to beat women down and oppress us is ignored or rationalized by a busload of mansplaining. As a black woman who suffered a lifetime of poverty, sexism, racism and misogyny, Ms. Walker is hardly one of the 1% and yet the way she and other women are being treated at OWS sends the message that women (who make up 51% of the 99%) aren’t viewed as being human enough for harm against us to matter. Funny how freedom and economic justice is only for a few which usually does not include women. Some 99%ers are more equal than others.
It is no accident that women comprise over 70% of those living below poverty worldwide. The status quo of local and global capitalism depends on women’s unpaid/under-paid work. It could not survive without women’s unpaid work as primary caregivers, the childbearers, and the child-raisers. Capitalism is patriarchal to the core. The poorest of the world’s poor are women who also do upwards of two-thirds of the world’s work and own only 1% of the means of production and reproduction. Women hold up half the sky on our unpaid/under-paid backs.
Despite all of the claims by Occupy facilitators that rapes are not occurring at the Occupy Toronto camp at St. James Park, a few men from the Aboriginal community who are staying in the camp full time say otherwise. One of those men, identifying himself only as “Davine”, who is half Blackfoot and half Arab, said that the camp’s marshals have not been able to minimize or prevent sexual assaults on the women there and that “these [white] people are coming to us Natives for help.” What is really tragic in all this is that one of those Natives — Jayson Fleury — is a real opportunistic shmuck and sociopathic grifter who has ripped off poor and marginal women to support his lifestyle of partying across Canada 3-4 times a year. And he is one of a tiny handful of men who is willing to protect the women from rape. How sad is that?
What is supposed to be a movement about unity of the masses against the 1% is really looking more like the same ol’ same ol’: freedom and economic justice and a bigger slice of the pie for men; rape, invalidation, exploitation, abuse, oppression and discrimination against the poorest and most downtrodden victims of capitalism — poor women of ALL races. Somehow, I don’t find that very unifying, uplifting, or liberating as a poor and marginal woman.
And please don’t tell me that women’s human rights — including the right to a job with dignity, the right to an education, the right to food, housing, and healthcare, and the right to reproductive/sexual enfranchisement and bodily autonomy/self-determination, and most important of all, the right to NOT be raped and impregnated against our will at peril to our health, well-being, liberty, and lives — is less important that “the big picture” of those traditionally privileged members of the 99% getting their justice at poor and destitute women’s expense in the name of “social justice.” Sorry, but I’m not down with that.
As a woman from deep poverty who suffered more under capitalism than poor men due to institutionalized sexism, misogyny, and the social acceptance of patriarchy and its culture of rape, I have no interest in “taking one for the team” for the sake of the 99% movement (which is looking more like a Rapists’ Rights bowel movement) just so men can get a bigger slice of the economic pie while nothing changes for the better for women, especially poor and marginal women of all races.
Since colonization of North America, women in the US and Canada have been told to wait until after the men got all the more important issues resolved and then we women would eventually get our turn. But our turn never came — at least not for those of us in extreme poverty that never got to make it to even the lowest rung of the middle class. But then this Occupy movement has never been about us, has it?
A glaring example is the Occupy Vancouver list of demands included a call for the legalization of prostitution. Prostitution is rich white male-centered. It exists because capitalism is patriarchal and there’s a direct link between that and human trafficking and rape. Also at the crux of it is the larger societal view of women as non-persons, as cheap commodities that exist solely for male self-gratification. These issues cannot be bifurcated.
Desperation, poverty, abuse, addiction, job and pay discrimination, lack of opportunities and a need to pay the rent and feed the kids, a history of colonialism, racism, sexism, and a misogynistic culture that devalues women and reduces us to disposable products to be bought and sold — all act in synergy to create a society where prostitution and sex trafficking exists and flourishes with men being the prime beneficiaries of it while women are further victimized.
What kind of social justice movement seeking to rectify the injustices of capitalism and the inclusion of women in the name of solidarity is this, anyway?
Why is the response to the rapes, the abuse, the exploitation, the trauma and the deaths that many poor and marginal women suffer as a result of being prostituted to simply treat this as “just another job”? What other job demands that the worker be raped, impregnated against their will, infected with an STD, violated, abused, and maybe even murdered? What kind of person supports that this sort of treatment should be legitimized? What kind of person seeking solidarity with women — especially poor and marginal women — would agree that women’s bodies should just be another disposable commodity available for purchase by men and that every woman should be OK with that?
Women need to be safe, but how safe are women when we’re not even viewed as full human beings? Yes, prostituted women deserve rights. But they also deserve to have real choices. Why would anyone think that johns will provide equitable treatment and respect for women? No man who thinks he has the right to trade in human flesh or take a woman against her will is a man who believes in real equality. A man who can do this is a man who doesn’t see women as being human enough for harm against us to matter. We should not have to accept and legalize exploitation and oppression from men in order to decriminalize the women being prostituted in the name of “unity.”
Legalized prostitution neatly sweeps under the wraps the insidious human rights catastrophe of the global human/sex trafficking industry. Women ensnared in that are literally forced into brutal sex slavery; bought and sold, beaten and raped over and over and over. Approximately 80% of those trafficked are women and girls. The average age of a trafficking victim is 14. The average life span once trafficked is 4 years. The victims usually die from HIV/AIDS related complications after being forced (often violently) to give unprotected sex to their male purchasers. Legalizing and sugar-coating the exploitation of women does not protect our human rights. It undermines them.
A genuine unity and people’s movement doesn’t consider women’s suffering irrelevant, or as a trivial “special interest”, or as titillating grist. Nor does it function as a microcosm of this capitalist economy with men competing for all the power, wealth, and status at the top while women serve as mere cheerleaders and poster children only to be trotted out for the convenience and benefit of male privilege.
Women deserve safety and decriminalized from doing what they have to do in order to survive, but women also deserve to have real options. As 51% of the population, women should be 51% represented in all mainstream jobs, instead of being herded into pink collar-ghettos, and the sub-poverty glass ceiling of Wal-Mart with the exploitative sex industry as the only other option available for poor women for whom college and grad school is as out of reach as a day trip to Sedna while male high school drop-outs and ex-felons get all the good-paying blue-collar union jobs in the skilled trades and all of the opportunities and hope for a better life that goes with that at the expense of women’s exclusion.
Women make up more than half of the 99%. Where is our liberation from male oppression and domination through rape, “honor killing”, FGM, hiring and pay discrimination, sexual and reproductive slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence which are the all too common realities of women’s lives every day? These are the realities that are disproportionally inflicted on poor and marginal women by men in the 99%. Yet these are all dismissed as “special interest issues” that are accepted as part of “the price of being born female”, which is why anti-oppression is needed. And that is why a movement of unity for real social and economic change must be willing to accept constructive criticism and not get offended when male privilege is challenged.
What is uplifting, unifying, or liberating about Occupy camp facilitators designating untrained peers as “marshals” to serve as the “sexual assault response team” to deal with the rapes — not by offering rape kits that include emergency contraception and STD testing/treatment, and the arrest/removal of the rapist, but by counseling (read: pressuring) the women who’ve been raped against going to the police? (Not that the criminal justice system has ever been any panacea for women, especially rape victims — police, lawyers, and judges are products of the same patriarchal, misogynist, fetid capitalist sepulcher that has always oppressed and abused women through unearned male privilege at women’s expense. )
I have no interest in being ill-used and thrown under the bus for the sake of “solidarity” with fauxgressives just so that men can get justice while nothing changes for the better for poor women of all races.
If destitute and marginal women of all races are at these camps, it is because this shit is real for us. We have been the most oppressed, the most excluded, the most downtrodden, and the most harmed by the inherent injustices of capitalism which is inherently a gender war. Chronically poor and marginal women don’t have the safety nets that young working class and middle class white males have: the freedom from potentially life-threatening unwanted pregnancy, or the privilege of a job and/or families with resources to return to at the end of all this.