Metoo Campaign by Matilda
Metoo Campaign by Matilda
Julian Assange has just added his voice to the conversation around sexual assault prompted by the revelations coming out of Hollywood. His target is “self-proclaiming male ‘feminists’” who turn out to be ‘predatory sleaze-bags’ – a different species than Weinstein, clearly, but one with which I am much better acquainted.
Because of the company I keep, every one of my experiences of sexual assault and (excepting the street and the dancefloor) of harrassment, have been by ‘male feminists’ on the left. All of my most deeply bruising experiences of sexism and misogyny have been felt at their hands too. And some of the most sinister exploitations of power. These are men who talk (and write, and publish) confidently on structural sexism and the effect of the patriarchy, on women’s burden under capital, on instances of misogyny in wider culture, etc. etc, while employing breathtakingly little attention to their own behaviour. This fact, even accounting for the fact I am a skeptic and bitch, always comes as a surprise to me when I see it. (A Cambridge Academic whose expertise I called upon once to discuss an essay by Marxist critic Keston Sutherland, actually suggested that the reason I found the essay so exciting, and was so moved by its challenges, was because I might have got myself into a state of ‘erotic attachment’ to the writer. No joke).
Anyway the whole Sam Kriss thing is revolting and risible – but underscores something I have learnt the uneasy way over years of subjection to socialist bro bullshit. When I was sexually assaulted, it was by a ‘left-wing’ culture-maker who continues to extract huge amounts of social capital from his reputation as such, at a difficult time for the British left. Corbyn had not yet been nominated, for instance, so the screws of austerity were tightening (ie people were starving and freezing to death) without momentum behind the counter-movement. It was also in the aftermath of a complex and public intersection of sexual assault and left-wing vanguardism: the rape allegation made against Julian Assange. Looking back, I realise just how naive I was in the years that I developed my political consciousness, and how exposed I was to men at all levels of experience who combined a deeply ingrained sexism with progressive and radical politics. These were the people I let educate me on the relationship between gender and the struggle for left-wing ideals – in conversation and in my reading. As we all remember, the bulk of the left-wing reaction to the Assange case comprised ways to erase or invalidate his accuser’s experiences – it was a conspiracy to extradite Assange, a cynical exploitation of this woman’s complaint to get him done for his more heroic crimes – or otherwise it was focussed on the pernicious ‘grey areas’ of the case itself in order to ameliorate the incriminating effect it had on someone who had done such a necessary thing in holding power to account. The undertone of all of these responses was very clear: it was implied that his victim had betrayed an important cause by speaking out. That she had been selfish enough to consider her experiences important in the light of such a vast and important struggle as Wikileaks versus the world.
I have no doubt that the bureaucracy of the SWP felt the same way about the women who complained about sexual assault in their movement. I see it now in the responses to Jess Phillips and Mhairi Black for their criticisms of Corbyn. In a left still dominated by bros, this is an enormous and pernicious problem. Women have been being told to shut up about gender relations in the light of the class struggle since the ‘60s. Sam Kriss got to parade around playing Marxist while groping women’s breasts, partly because of his sociopathy, but partly because of the environment created by this problem. I based my decision not to report my assaulter on it. It’s ridiculous now, but I remember patting myself on the back for being a good socialist girl by making the calculation that this man and his microphone were doing more for the ‘cause’ than would be worth losing by reporting him for his crime. I yelled at him, at the time, and then worked side-by-side with him at some protest or other, all the while feeling proud that I’d not lost sight of what was really important.
I’m very embarrassed and regretful about this mistake, especially as I see his profile increase, because there are already so many posers out there whose ingrained disregard for women create a left-wing culture that continues to devalue female experience. It is so important for us to read and share female theorists and female critiques of the left! It is so important for us to care about gender equality at every level of our movement; it is so important to care about having female representation in the Labour Party. The relationship between gender and class is a complex and important one, just as the relationship between individual experience and collective action is — I’m not at all suggesting it can be simplified into any kind of hierarchy. But the intersection can only be thought through properly by women. At the level of basic principles, we must be reading women as much as men, all the way through our political education. I wish I’d known this sooner, and I am prompted to reiterate it in this overlong post, after seeing Assange’s twitter feed, remembering sadly that they dropped the case this May, and watching with distaste as the left-wing twittersphere formulates a reaction to Kriss.
Some female-led and not entirely unproblematic sources for thinking through these problems I have found useful: LIES journal, Sisters Uncut meetings, ‘The Cleft’ by Doris Lessing, Silvia Federici, Rivolta Femina, Selma James, Alexandra Kollontai – her novels and pamphlets. Any more suggestions very welcome.