Revolution #261, February 26, 2012
Out of Denial and Into the Streets—International Women's Day 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
Women the world over are facing a growing assault on their lives, their rights, and even their recognition as full human beings.
In the U.S., Catholic bishops have turned women's basic right to birth control into a national controversy. At least 20 percent of U.S. female soldiers are sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers. Every moment we are bombarded by images of women's bodies, half naked and half starved. And strip clubs, which serve up the subordination of women to men in the living flesh, have become so mainstream that men annually spend an estimated $16 billion on them (compared to the $4 billion they spend on baseball).
In the Congo, tens of thousands of women have been so brutally raped they can no longer hold their bladders or bowels. From Moldova to Thailand and beyond, millions of girls and women are sold as sex slaves. Throughout the world, fueled by the massive dislocations caused by imperialist development as well as imperialist wars, Islamic fundamentalism is rising with its "honor" killings, forced veiling, and hatred of women. And from China to Honduras to Silicon Valley, the near-slave labor—and sometimes outright slave labor—of women and girls has disproportionately fueled the growth of cheap manufacturing.
These are not "just a bunch of different bad things happening to women." These are but a few of the many fronts in an all-out war on women. While the forms this takes may appear different—or even unrelated—a common rope is tightening around nearly every dimension of the public, social, political, and intimate lives of women.
It is urgent that every one of us who cares about the half of humanity that is born female join together to inaugurate a new era of struggle for the liberation of women. On March 10, in commemoration of International Women's Day, this is what we aim to do—and you must join us.
To be clear, there have been significant changes in the status of women in the last century, particularly those which were hard-fought and won through the women's liberation struggle and the broader revolutionary upsurges of the 1960s and '70s.
But even more significant today is the way that despite the winning of formal equality and the conspicuous advances that have been made by some women in some arenas, this war on women is claiming victories—over the lives, the bodies, and the rights of women—every single day. And it is gaining momentum. This is true not only worldwide, but also in the U.S. where women have supposedly "achieved their equality."
I could have spent pages detailing the violence that stalks women beneath the veneer of U.S. "civility": the woman beaten every 15 seconds, the three to four women killed daily by their partners, the one in four college women who will be sexually assaulted. I could have filled more pages detailing the way that pornography has become increasingly violent, degrading, and humiliating towards women even as it has become more mainstream; with "extreme anal gaping," "ass-to-mouth" penetration, "vicious gang-bang scenes," and titles like "My Stepdad Made Me Do It"—just a fraction of what men now commonly pick from. And I could have spent many pages more detailing the way that abortion has become more difficult to access and more dangerous to provide than at any time since Roe v. Wade in 1973, and in many ways more stigmatized than even when abortion was illegal.
But instead, I will say simply this: open your eyes, look around, and stop denying what you see.
A big part of why this war on women is unrecognized is because there have been conspicuous changes in the role and status of women today from the time of the 1950s. But probably just as big a reason so many fail to see this war (which we are currently losing) is precisely because they have become so acclimated to it. The body count of battered women never makes the front page. It's easier not to consider the crushed spirits and ravaged bodies of the trafficked women who are locked inside the "massage parlors" we walk past. It's too degrading to consider how many of the men we interact with get off on depictions of women being "throat-fucked" till they gag. It's too much energy to respond every time a religious fascist insists women "keep their legs closed" and be forced to bear children against their will.
And frankly, it is painful to confront that most people—including most progressive people as well as probably you yourself reading this—have learned to accept and to live with this escalating hatred of women.
But it is time to be brutally honest. We must look this war in the face without flinching and dare to take it on. Only by doing so, only by speaking the cold truth and acting as radically as that truth demands, can we stir those others out of denial, win them to this fight, and reverse the momentum and direction of this war throughout society and the world.
Contrary to what is constantly preached at us, all this is not the reassertion of "human nature" after the movements of the 1960s and '70s "went too far." There is nothing "hard-wired" about men which mandates that they thuggishly rule over women's lives and ravage their bodies. Nor is there anything innately more nurturing, docile, weak, or emotional about women.
What we are living through is the nature of the system we live under, the system of capitalism-imperialism, reasserting itself precisely because those great liberation struggles didn't go far enough!
While the movements of those times shook this system to its foundation and accomplished tremendous things, while people's thinking and their lives went through dramatic and liberating changes, revolution wasn't made. This system wasn't overthrown. Its state and its military wasn't defeated and dismantled. And a new state power and a revolutionary society—with a socialist economy and radically different culture—wasn't brought into being.
Instead, this system set about reversing every advance that has been made. Among other dimensions of this, this system sought vengeance against—and to wipe out of people's imaginations—the very idea of women as full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men. And particularly as this system has confronted global challenges, economic dislocation, and destabilizing demographic changes internally, it has increasingly relied on the reassertion of the "traditional family" and good-ole-male-supremacy as key pillars of stability and social control.
The forceful reassertion of "traditional family values" was a key part of knitting back together a social fabric which had been significantly frayed through the overall upheaval—the Black liberation struggle, the anti-war movements, etc.—of the '60s and '70s. Patriarchy was a means of bringing many who had been in radical revolt against this system not only back "into the fold" but quite frequently into being enforcers of the system itself.
All this was even more important to the U.S. ruling class as they faced increasing challenges internationally, first through the "Cold War" and now through the so-called "Global War on Terror." The strengthening of the "traditional family" and male supremacy has been a big part of their efforts to reforge a unified national identity. Patriarchy, like patriotism, is essential in winning people to sacrifice "for God and for country."
It is only in this broader context that we can truly understand the ferocity, the magnitude, and the accelerating momentum of the current war on women.
Decades ago, Richard Viguerie, an architect of the anti-abortion movement, captured a great deal of this when he said, "The abortion issue is the door through which many people come into conservative politics, but they don't stop there. Their convictions against abortion are like the first in a series of dominoes. Then we lead them to concern about sexual ethics and standards among young people. This leads to opposition to secular humanism. Then... we point out that secular humanism is identified as both the godfather and the royal road to socialism and communism which points the way to commitments to minimally regulated free enterprise at home and to aggressive foreign and military politics to counter the communist threat from Russia and its many surrogates."
Among some sections of the U.S. ruling class, Christian fascism—with its absolute assertion of patriarchal male authority and its mandate that women bear children and submit—was aggressively fought for. Among others, this was conciliated with and "common ground" with this was sought. But every section of the ruling class has for decades agreed that Christian fascism ought to be allowed to play a much bigger role in politics and law as a key part of combating the many centrifugal forces pulling U.S. society apart. While there have been the frequent skirmishes where a few Democrats lob criticisms and make petty amendments, no one in the halls of power has been willing to risk the upheaval and instability it would cause their system to really do battle against this Dark Ages Christian fascism. So, the dynamic has continued where yesterday's outrage becomes today's compromise position and tomorrow's limit of what can be imagined. How many of you reading this would have imagined a few years ago that we'd be losing ground on birth control?
From another end, the rise of violent pornography and the sexual enslavement of women has been driven both by the spontaneous workings of capitalism (a system which commodifies everything—even misogyny and degradation), as well as by the way this system has unleashed a revenge (often through whipping men up to be the enforcers of this revenge) against women for daring to challenge thousands of years of tradition's chains. There is an almost direct relationship between the advances women have made in public, political and professional life and the dramatic increase in strip clubs as the new bastion of unchallenged male chauvinism. Or, as veteran porn producer Bill Margold put it, "I'd like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women... The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that because they get even with the women they can't have." And, the tremendous growth in the global trade in women's flesh cannot be separated from the quasi-official reliance on brothels as a "perk" to male soldiers in the U.S. military, or—even more profoundly—from the whole oppressive and exploitative world order which the U.S. military is the key enforcer of.
None of this is going to "just go away." It is not even going to stabilize in the intolerable situation it is now. As Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, put it some years ago—and as has only become more acute since, "The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today's extreme circumstances… It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms… The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?"
If any lesson has been learned in the decades since the '60s—and paid for in the blood, the humiliation and the sacrificed dreams of women as well as others worldwide—it is that the world cries out for a real all-the-way revolution.
This time around and for this generation, a revolution must be fought for and won. This must be a revolution that digs up the very division into antagonistic classes which lays the foundation for and requires the continued subjugation and enslavement of women. It must be a revolution that takes the fight for the full liberation of women as a driving force all the way through. It must be a revolution which aims at the emancipation of humanity from all forms of physical as well as mental enslavement. This is the communist revolution that Bob Avakian has re-envisioned and is actively leading. The Revolutionary Communist Party, which he leads, has published a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It outlines how the new revolutionary state power will not only immediately make major changes in the laws and the structures of society, including in regard to ending pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation as well as guaranteeing full reproductive freedom for women—but would actually unleash and back up people's initiative in fighting for liberation against all this.
"But what do we do today?" people often ask when they hear of this revolution. You dig into the work of Avakian and to Revolution newspaper each week. You spread this to others. And you join with others right now to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. This is key to building up the strength and preparing people politically, organizationally, and ideologically to hasten the development of a revolutionary situation and to be able to win a revolution when such an opening emerges.
Right now, and very urgently, this requires reversing the whole direction of this war against women. It means refusing to pick and choose which particular aspect of this war seems most "possible" in the current climate to tinker with. It means refusing to rely on, or be confined within the terms set by, those (including both the Republicans and the Democrats) who represent the system that rules over us. It means connecting up the many fronts of this war and revealing it for the all-out assault on women's lives that it is. It means manifesting public resistance -- in the streets and relying on ourselves -- which punctures the atmosphere of acceptance of the unacceptable and the veneer of "equality has been won." It means going up against—and seeking to change—the reactionary terms in every realm of society, culture, politics, and intimate relations.
If you are unconvinced about—or even strongly opposed to—this kind of revolution, we can wrangle about that—including the tremendous achievements of these revolutions where and when they did hold power, for all too short a time, as well as the ways in which we can and must do better. But I don't want to hear anyone use that as an excuse to stay on the sidelines and refuse to get out there together with me and others as we resist and fight to defeat this war.
This brings me back to International Women's Day. On Saturday, March 10, a new effort I am part of to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women is taking to the streets against many of the institutions which are hurtling women backwards. We begin at St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in Manhattan at noon to protest the Catholic Church's leading role in the assault on birth control and abortion. From there, we march to Times Square to protest the massive billboards which objectify women, as well as to the U.S. military recruiting center for all the ways it concentrates violence against women. Along the way we will protest one of the anti-abortion fake "clinics." And to cap it all off we'll protest in front of some of the area's many strip clubs.
This march and protest will connect up these seemingly unrelated crimes against women. We will not only reveal them as parts of the unified war against women, we will announce to the world that from here on out—and until we win—this war will be two-sided. There is not a single person reading this article who lacks a way, or the responsibility, to make this outpouring as powerful as possible. Spread the word, contribute money, send a statement, and join us in the streets.
End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women!
Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!
Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!
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