In a World of Rape and Violence Against Women
Bringing Out Revolution and the Leadership of Bob Avakian

September 15, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Note from the editors: The following correspondence about experience this past summer is being run both because of the overall lessons in going out broadly into all streams of society and bringing out the need for revolution and the leadership of Bob Avakian, and because it speaks in important ways to the question of violence against women and where it comes from, questions that are—or need to be—debated out and acted upon even more fully in the wake of the video of Ray Rice knocking Janay Palmer unconscious.


Not long ago, I noticed a film festival that was happening in my city. Several films caught my eye, but I did make a priority to go to one, which centered on two women as they struggled for justice. One was a young mother brimming with warmth and enthusiasm, but who also endured almost indescribable horrors. She courageously allowed the film makers to document her story of extreme abuse—kidnapping, sexual abuse, and physical as well as psychological torture of herself and her young daughter that lasted days—in order to let the world see what all too often happens to women behind closed doors. The other woman featured in the film has been a tireless champion for victims of domestic abuse for decades, herself having been abused by her husband when she was younger.

The film was excruciating, not only because it forced us all to confront in a very intimate and real way the gruesome terror and violence that is regularly inflicted on women (every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in this country), but also because it showed how systematically the very institutions these women have been told to turn to for help—the police, the courts, the law—are stacked against them. In one scene, police claim they had "no grounds" to arrest or even question the husband after they finally removed this woman from his custody, despite the fact that every inch of her face and body is swollen with bruises and she is drenched in several days worth of his urine and semen! We follow this woman's advocate across the country as she consults and/or fights with police, district attorneys, medical experts, social workers, judges, FBI and more. After years of this struggle, they finally are able to put the man who carried out this abuse in prison.

At the same time, the strength of the characters and the justness of their struggle carry you so that you are not only outraged, but also inspired. Everyone could learn something by watching this film and there is light shed on how difficult it is for women to get out of abusive relationships and the courage of those who do. However, even with these and other strengths, ultimately the film pushes for a "solution" that is actually harmful. Basically, it puts forth the need to better train law enforcement to respond to domestic abuse and holds out the FBI as a force that is more on the side of women than local law enforcement. I will return to the problems with this later.

After the film, there was a question and answer with a very compelling panel of people who were involved in the film as well as significant feminist leaders. Correctly, almost everyone who asked a question praised the individuals in the film for their courage and willingness to share so intimately. Questions ranged from how they were able to build the trust to make the film, to the difference between domestic abuse in different parts of the world, to the role of law enforcement in responding to this abuse. At one point, a panelist and questioner went back and forth about whether there were any good police officers or whether they were all bad. One theme that had been hit quite a few times was how wrong it is that everyone asks women who are victims of abuse, "Why don't you leave?" The panelists were angry about that question as it puts the onus on the woman, rather than asking why the man hits her. One panelist went to lengths to emphasize that misogyny is not a product of "human nature," even citing how the Iroquois didn't have any notions of patriarchy before Europeans colonized and that Bengali (a very ancient language) didn't have any gendered pronouns because gender didn't matter when that language was first developed.

By the time I got called on, there was a lot that had been pulled out into the discussion, including many very positive insights and stands. At the same time, all this was still somewhat constrained within the existing conditions of the world today—so even the debate that broke out over whether some police are good and can be relied upon to help women or whether they are all no good was being wrestled with on too low a level and overall people's vision did not extend to how we could put an end to all this abuse once and for all, but at best how we could make the law work better for women who are abused.

I pointed out that one of the things that really came through in the film is how many roadblocks they ran into in seeking justice in the courts and from the police, and what this reveals is that the question is not really whether there are individual cops who genuinely care about women, but that there is a state that enforces a certain way of life. The courts, the laws, the law enforcement are all part of that state which enforces a system and society that has male domination woven into it at every level. I agreed with the panelist who argued that this is not human nature, adding that it is the nature of the system, the system of capitalism-imperialism, which cannot do away with patriarchy. All this is why we need to do away with the system. I referenced the horrific description in the film of how the man would grab the woman by her ears and urinate in her face: "As horrific as that is, this is the kind of thing that can be found in mainstream porn these days—along with all the rest of the abuse we just watched." I concluded, "You are absolutely right that we shouldn't be going around asking women why they don't leave their abusers. But we also have to go bigger than why the man did what he did. Instead we should be asking, "Why do we put up with a society where millions and millions of boys are trained from a very young age to see the torture and humiliation of women as exciting and acceptable? Why do we accept a society that trains millions and millions of little girls to see their entire value in being sexy or wanted by a man and to accept that kind of abuse and degradation—or to have no viable means to escape such a situation? And why the FUCK do we put up with a world where 1 in 3 women on this planet will go through some form of sexual or physical abuse?" The real question is: "When are we going to make revolution to put an end to all this!?!"

It was clear that some of the people in the packed theater were shocked by what I said, but also that most people could not dismiss it either. Some, including even the panelist who had been defending the role of "good" law enforcement, broke out into enthusiastic applause. Others avoided eye contact.

The Q&A went on for a bit longer and then there was a reception where people milled about and mingled. I approached lots of folks to talk about the film and shared Revolution newspaper. Several had been extremely moved and provoked by what I had said during the Q&A, giving me contact information to get connected to the movement for revolution.

Towards the end of the night, I approached a group of college age women and they got excited once they realized that I was the same person they had heard talk about revolution (the theater had been dark and it was hard to see who was speaking). I learned that they were all in my city as part of a feminist summer internship program and that they all go to the same elite university. Their activities coordinator was especially enthusiastic about what I had said and about how great it would be to expose her interns to more of these kinds of ideas. I told her about Bob Avakian's film, REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and suggested that we schedule a night for the interns to come in and watch and discuss a segment of it. She loved the idea and we pulled out our calendars and scheduled it on the spot.


A couple weeks later, about a dozen interns and their coordinator gathered at Revolution Books and we watched a segment of REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! where Bob Avakian (BA) goes deeply into "commodity fetishism" (the way that relations of exploitation between people are hidden beneath what appears to be a relationship between things... for example, when someone buys an iPhone, they enter into a relationship with the people whose exploitation produced that phone), as well as going at the way that this society has mainstreamed deep and vicious misogyny (hatred of women). The young women were silent through most of the clip, but when BA called out Beyoncé for championing the interests of U.S. imperialism—doing so with a lot of substance as well as biting style—they burst out in laughter and approving shock.

I had characterized briefly the substance of the entire talk and told them about BA—the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is actively leading the masses to build a movement for real revolution, and the person who has developed a whole new synthesis of revolution and communism. Now, I explained that I would be happy to get into any questions about any of that as the night went on, but first wanted people to discuss and react to the content of what we had just watched.

What came up first and from many angles was BA's discussion of "commodity fetishism." Several women spoke about how they think frequently about all the sweatshop labor and suffering that goes into the phones they carry and the clothes they wear and how most people don't even know this goes on. In part they saw this as a larger problem that should be gone at, but in the main they saw this in individualized terms, wrestling with their own consciences over whether they need all the fashionable clothes they like to buy and how to weigh that against the suffering that goes into them.

A couple young women said they appreciated what BA had to say about the word "bitch" and the phrase "man up" (if anyone reading this hasn't watched the video, you really must watch it), but insisted that, "We talk about this kind of stuff all the time, so we are already familiar with that." This was contradicted only a few minutes later when one of them admitted, "Well, I guess I kind of knew this, but I have to admit, I told somebody to 'suck my dick' just the other day. And I say 'man up' all the time. I never really thought about them the way he talked about them."

Here, too, the students mainly filtered what he was saying through the prism of individual acts, not enough as commentary and exposure of the larger society and the implications of that. For example, one student explained how in their dorms they have a whole list of words that students are asked not to say (these include words like "fag") and asked if they should include the words "bitch" and "man up." I pointed out that while there is definitely a positive element to people not using words like this once they come to understand how much they concentrate hatred for women or other oppressed sections of society, I thought there was something much deeper and bigger that BA was getting at as well. The implications of what he is exposing is not just that individuals should stop using those words (though we certainly should!), but that these words and their misogyny reveal something very deep about the whole way women are treated in this society and that we have go to work on changing a culture and society that can mainstream such hatred.

Another student said it seems that the culture has gotten much more misogynistic and wanted to know if that was true, and also wanted to know why it was true. She likes to listen to her mother's music from the '60s, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and all that music was much more positive than music today. I told her there was misogyny then too, but that it has gotten worse and asked her why she thought that was. She posed that maybe it is because people aren't struggling for positive change today as much as they were in the '60s and this is why the music isn't reflecting it anymore. I agreed and urged that this is a big part of why BA is placing such great emphasis on the need for a radical revolt in the culture against the revolting culture and how this can be a real positive spur to the kind of change we need.

One young Black woman explained why she had reacted so positively to what he said about Beyoncé, saying that she fears that "Beyoncé is taking over feminism" and that there is a danger in a celebrity like her who doesn't necessarily understand the issue fully and having too much power to define it. This is a different critique than BA was making, but was interesting and several students picked up on this theme and they all debated whether it was good or bad that Beyoncé was so publicly identified as a feminist. Most felt negatively towards this, but for varying reasons.

Another Black woman responded to this conversation by raising that she didn't think it was right that BA went so hard after elements of Black culture, insisting that misogyny exists everywhere and that she is uncomfortable with him doing this because he is white. I asked what she thought of what he actually said in those examples and she said she agreed, but that by putting so much emphasis on them, he is making it seem that Black people are worse.

I disagreed, reminding her of the way he critiqued country music and GI Jane and video games and other elements of the culture. But I also made the point that BA does put a special challenge to those this system has cast off and treated as less than human, not because they are worse or they are more to blame, but precisely because they have a huge role to play as emancipators of humanity. BA struggles sharply with oppressed people, including Black people, to get up off the system's ways of thinking precisely because without that they will continue to be enslaved and oppressed and the whole world will continue to stay as it is with all the horrors this means for the billions on the planet.

I emphasized that she really needs to see the whole film to understand more fully where BA is coming from on all this—including that he opens on the question of police murder and the whole way in which the oppression of Black people is foundational to this country and a major reason we need revolution and that it is from this perspective that he is fighting so hard, including by struggling sharply against the backwardness among oppressed people themselves, to lead people to step forward once again on an even more radical and liberating foundation and to go all the way this time.

I went back and forth with the young woman who brought this up several times, but she continued to see things mainly in terms of identity politics and who is this man who is white to be talking about Black culture and people, even as she couldn't bring herself to disagree with anything he actually said. This is all too typical among young people today.

Other students asked questions about the history of communism and were both filled with wrong assumptions and slanders about this history as well as very open to the fact that they might be wrong. This was refreshing and one purchased the special issue of Revolution, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future," and others left with other literature. Almost all the students gave a way to stay in touch with the movement for revolution.

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