Guest post from Laura McKeon
Are we surprised?
The left creates heroes of men like George Galloway, then feigns shock at their chauvinism. I see his comments as part of a wider network of sexist beliefs that are shared to a lesser or greater extent in different sectors of the left. Anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminists are positioned uneasily in a dual role within the movement. On the one hand, we see the task at hand as challenging sexist attitudes and pushing for greater political representation for women’s rights as a priority on the left. On the other hand, the need for unity in the struggle is so strong, that we are often prepared to, or forced to compromise on those issues close to us.
I agree that we have to root men like Galloway out of the movement, because a movement that is not inclusive of women is not worth being a part of. But we should not wait for them to make obscene comments about rape before we do so. We need to look at the processes by which men who bully, men who defend rapists, and men who do not respect women, assume positions of power over women (and men) in the movement. It is wonderful to see women showing solidarity at a time when the argument becomes too much to bare. I wish that same solidarity was present whenever women are bullied, silenced or manipulated by their male comrades. We need an analysis of such aggressive male behaviours which links them with the discourse around rape. If we allow our sisters to be treated like second class citizens in the movement, if we push all political discussion of the women’s movement to the fringes, and if we fail to recognise sexist attitudes and challenge them continuously, our criticisms of men like Galloway will always be academic. The left has provided us with a steady stream of sexist hate-figures to rally against and, however divisive, these long-awaited discussions reveal a major social antagonism which has been largely ignored in the movement. But while comments like Galloway’s provide damning evidence of these attitudes, I believe the major strength of any movement should be its ability to self-criticise. I mean that it is we, the women, who have the responsibility of rooting out sexist elements.
Amid the clamour around Assange-Galloway-Atkin, my mind having been saturated with opinion pieces about rape in the past week, I am reminded of a story a little closer to home. I mean Occupy Glasgow. A survivor’s right to privacy was the reason why, in the weeks following that tragic event, nobody I spoke to could tell me what had happened to the woman who joined a protest for social justice, for the promotion of a better, more equal alternative, and was treated worse than any person could deserve. Then, like now, my facebook page was full of vitriol as two opposing camps claimed to represent the victim, but her name, like the charges that were eventually dropped, has been forgotten. There were many things that we could have done in the weeks leading up to and following that event. I want to know why women didn’t stand vigil over the space, with hi-vis jackets, torches, whistles. I want to know why councillors and politicos converged at George square shortly after to congratulate the camp for representing all oppressed groups. I want to know why the relevant support groups were not engaged in the discussion.
I think the answer is that we are not a cohesive movement; we are not yet capable of taking care of each other. I do not think this is a defeatist position. I think it should be the starting point for discussions of this kind. We need to look at the ways in which our own behaviour feeds into a movement which promotes these men, and look for practical ways to support each other. Then we can stand together day by day in the fight against sexism, instead of tearing each other apart on facebook and twitter.