Are We Surprised?

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.

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2 comments
andy
andy

Cheers for this Laura. The desire to not tolerate creeping intolerance is more than a good one. It's important ( rather than defeatist) to ask folk within a movement ( albeit loose ) to maybe fick back to page one for a quick refresher on the feckin elemental basics when it becomes necessary. You know the very, very boring old tale of the wise ol mystic with the mental scratchy cat? ... where folk used to turn up to hear some wise ol words, but the cat always went mental and scratched them, so they tied the cat to a post for a few mins while they visited. Years on the old mystic died, but folk still visited the special place in homage... and tied the cat up. Years later the cat died, so they got a new cat to tie up when they visited. Shit, you gotta remember what you're doing something for. Initially thought you were letting the men folk off the hook a wee bit, but the idea that they should maybe just stop acting like arseholes, or say something about it, is really quite implicit. You're asking for reason and decency to previal. It shouldn't be contentious. Hope it happens. Mizsca, great comment by the way agree that intellectual sounding ferment ( even with citations), without any attempt at praxis, is pretty much just pseudo intellectual flim flam. It's not real. Certainly anyone yakking on about equality and respect without feeling the need to demonstrate they've personally grasped the meaning of either is, by means of their own grandiose exception, just a total bullshit merchant... not chicken shit, just bullshit. ps, It's mos def true that Golden dawn made gains from anti-austerity rhetoric, maybe similar with recent elections in Spain? The main thing is ( in terms of hope ) that with a protest vote it's unlikely everyone ' really believes that shit' when it comes to the more hideous policies. When bog standard big fake socialist parties seem to be among the most evangelical about far right economics and cuts, and far right parties see getting shirty about far right cuts as a short term vote winner, it's gon be a chaotic time in european party politics.

Mizsca
Mizsca

I think this is a fine piece and I hope my comment won't come across as defeatist, but realistic. I 100% agree, men like Galloway need rooted out, and shunned from all progressive movements immediately, especially those who have shown a progression of behaviour in this fashion. But it isn't happening, which is losing so much of the wider left credibility both outside & inside the movement. Sometimes i think we never learned from Sheridan when I look around. Occupy Glasgow was crying out for a strong feminist/ally presence. That place was a shambolic and dangerous combination of bad politics, good intentions, naivety and downright arrogance. It was almost entirely ignored by the wider left, until tragedy happened, and even then, all the left wanted to do was close it down. "If it cannot be controlled we must end it". I think this is representative of the left as a whole- so much lip service, not just to feminism, but to class politics, racism, imperialism, all boiling in a pot of over intellectualisation, and very little action. The oppressed, regardless of who they are, are very often ignored in the push for furthering political aims, despite being used as the catalyst for campaigns. The survivor of the George Square rape wasn't an intellectual, and that is why she has been forgotten by some, not by those who face that sort of oppression every. single. day. This didn't stop her being used by some to wade into battle, whilst casually identifying her in everything but name, in a display of vile politics that was almost as bad as the horrific misogyny and rape apologetics seen by supporters and participants of Occupy itself. If I need to simplify this, those who wanted to stop this from happening again, had no qualms about sharing information regarding the victims identity, when it suited them, which is exactly what the rape apologists were doing at the same time, to an opposite end. (This resulted in another woman being wrongly identified as the victim and her picture splashed all over the far right's Scottish facebook groups who took the victim blaming approach of the misogynists). Neither 'side' had any respect for the victims identity is pursuit of their disparate goals. Whilst the organised left have been concentrating on various campaigns, a humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in Glasgow, over 70 refugees have been made homeless in the past few months, the response from the organised left, outwith a gctwr & cor has been nothing. Nothing. Also - soon Glasgow faces the return of over a hundred ex servicepeople, who will also not be catered for when it comes to accomodation, preparations by the organised left - nothing. Rape crisis centres for both male and female survivors have lost funding and closed, meaning some survivors may have to wait up to 48 hours for the care they require. Response- nothing. Vulnerable women's hostel places dropped by more than half in the city. Response- nothing. I could go on and on, but I don't want to get trapped in the 'A is a worthier cause than B' argument. Scotland is in trouble. We know this. Let's do something about it. Whilst Greece, Palestine & Pussy Riot are to be deemed the uber trendy cause celebres, the organised left continues to ignore what is on it's doorstep, and for that it must look inwards. With regards to the left's approach to misogyny, aside from the reaction to Occupy, it is currently very poor. The misogynists exposed still remain within different groups and movements with no action being taken, from what I can garner, it's because they are popular guys. There is nothing wrong with an internationalist approach, but only when your own backyard is looked after. The one thing that has been commendable this week is ISG's round condemnation by various contributors of George Galloways vile comments. Will this be followed up by the rest of the left... ? I certainly hope so. As a friend said to me last week... "the only reason Golden Dawn have such support in Greece is because the working classes were ignored by the left in the run up to the crisis" Lets not let this happen here. I hope in the run up to independence, the left redefines itself as a force for the oppressed, not just 'inspired by'. Yours, someone in the Scottish left.

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