A Breadth of Voices Against the Assaults on Women

Updated November 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


A Question of Basic Stand and Orientation

By Bob Avakian


The phenomenon of sexual harassment and sexual assault—including (but not limited to) the sexual abuse of women by men who hold positions of power over them—is long-standing and widespread throughout this male supremacist society and is reinforced by the putrid culture it has spawned. The outpouring of outrage against this sexual abuse and the all too commonplace institutional cover-ups and complicity with it, and the demand for a radical change in the culture—which has made a major leap in relation to the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and has now spread far beyond that, involving millions of women, in sphere after sphere throughout this country and in other countries as well—is right, righteous, and long overdue, and should be supported, encouraged, spread, and defended against counter-attack.

In the context of such a long-suppressed outpouring of outrage, there are bound to be some negative aspects, including some excesses, where false or exaggerated accusations are made in particular cases; but these have been (and will almost certainly remain) a very secondary aspect of the phenomenon. If and when it may be necessary to point to some of these shortcomings, this must be done very judiciously, in a way that does not undermine the overwhelmingly positive character of this upsurge, and in fact helps to strengthen it.

This long-suppressed and thoroughly just outpouring of outrage is not the same as any particular accusation. Such particular accusations do have to be approached on the basis of scientifically evaluating the evidence, and this is especially important where the accusations not only allege misconduct but actual criminal action, such as rape or other sexual assault. But this distinction, between particular accusations and the overall phenomenon, should not be allowed to obscure or diminish the righteousness and importance of the massive upsurge against this widespread and deeply-rooted abuse and the tremendous injury it does to women and to humanity as a whole.

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad is a world-renowned long-distance swimmer, as well as author and motivational speaker. In 2013, at the age of 64, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida (a distance of 110 miles) without a shark cage. In a November 9 op-ed in the New York Times, titled “My Life After Sexual Assault,” she recounts the horrible true story of being sexually assaulted as a teenager—and the effect of that crime through her whole life.

It was 1964, and she was a 14 year old, a member of her school’s swim team. She looked to her swim coach as “the father I had always yearned for.” During the state championships hosted by her school, she went to her coach’s house to take a nap—as Nyad recalls, “This was normal: Coach’s house, his family, his kids were all part of the swim team’s daily milieu.” As she slept in the bedroom, the coach crept in and forcibly abused her. When he left, Nyad writes, “I gasped for air, as if had just been held underwater for those two minutes. I vomited onto the floor.”

This was not the only time she was assaulted by the coach. As she was molested, her attacker called her his “little bitch.” Nyad writes, “These molestations were the cornerstone of my teenage life. I studied. I had friends. I won awards. On the outside, I was a bold, overly confident, swaggering success. But the veneer was thin. On the inside, I lived the perpetual trauma of being held down, called misogynist names and ordered to be quiet. I wanted to be anywhere but here, anybody but me.

It was not until she was 21 that she first told anybody about this trauma—to her best friend from high school: “My friend cried with me, hugged me, took a long pause and said, ‘Well, Diana, hold on to your hat because the same thing happened to me.’ The same coach. The precise same words. The mattress in the office shower stall. The same covert manipulation. The same special secret. And we soon learned that it wasn’t just the two of us. It never is.”

Nyad and her friend finally confronted the coach, in front of the school principal and lawyer. He denied the accusations. The principal asked the two women if the coach’s firing would be enough—and she agreed that it would be. Little did they know that their abuser would simply go to a nearby town and become head coach at a university, make it into coaching halls of fame and the Olympic Games, and continue to be a celebrated figure in the community until his death in 2014.

Nyad writes: “And so is woven the fabric of the epidemic. These often charming individuals are lauded, presented with trophies for their leadership, from the piggish Weinsteins of Hollywood to the unscrupulous parental figures scattered throughout our suburbs. Statistics bear out the astonishing number of sexual abusers among us.

“And therein lies the call for our speaking up. We need to construct an accurate archive of these abuses. And we need to prepare coming generations to speak up in the moment, rather than be coerced into years of mute helplessness.”

Nyad ends her article with: “Tell your story. Let us never again be silenced.”

Diane Nyad’s op-ed is available online here.

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Sophie Gilbert

Sophie Gilbert, who writes on culture for the Atlantic magazine, spoke in her October 16 piece, “The Movement of #MeToo, How a hashtag got its power,” to what was unleashed by the actress Alyssa Milano when she encouraged women who’d been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo. She described the way most women defined their own sexual harassment and assault as something unspoken, something private, something to be ashamed of acknowledging. “Silence, although understandable, has its cost,” wrote Gilbert.” And then she described the effect of the #MeToo hashtag: “A decade ago, I couldn’t have conceived of the fact that so many women had experienced sexual coercion or intimidation; now, I’d be surprised if I could find a single one who hadn’t.” And Gilbert continues:

But as horrifying as the allegations against Weinstein have been, more appalling still is the sense that his behavior isn’t uncommon. That in industries across the world, from media to music to modeling to academia, women have encountered their own Weinsteins and have deduced, for whatever reason, that nothing could be done about it and nobody cared.

The power of #MeToo, though, is that it takes something that women had long kept quiet about and transforms it into a movement. Unlike many kinds of social-media activism, it isn’t a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It’s simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society. To get women, and men, to raise their hands. Recent revelations about the alleged abuses of Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile and R. Kelly have proven that truth has power. There’s a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting a climate of serial sexual predation—one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right.

Read Gilbert’s entire article here.

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Eve Ensler

Writer and musician Maureen Herman reported in Boing Boing that a letter from Eve Ensler, playwright, performer, and activist, was read to the #MeToo march in Hollywood on November 12. Ensler’s letter said in part:

I am over women still being silent about rape because they're made to believe it's their fault, because they did something to make it happen, like wearing the wrong clothes, because they are terrified they will get fired, or won't get the part, or ever work again.

I am over violence against women not being a #1 international priority, when 1 out of 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. The destruction, and muting, and undermining of women is the destruction of life itself. No women, no future, guys.

I am over the endless resurrection of careers of rapists and sexual exploiters. Film directors, world leaders, corporate executives, shamans, priests, rabbis, imams, gurus, coaches, doctors, movie stars, athletes--you put in the rest. While the lives of women are violated, devastated, often forcing them to live in social and emotional exile.

I am over being polite about rape. It's been too long now. We have been too understanding. We need it to end now. We need people to truly try to imagine, once and for all, what it feels like to have your body invaded, your mind splintered, your soul shattered, and really, deeply, I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, work with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get us, that you're nurtured, you're mothered, you're eternally supported by us. So why aren't you standing with us? Why aren't you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and harassment, degradation, and humiliation of us? Why aren't you rising in droves, going beyond apologies and confessions, realizing this is your issue, not ours.

The whole thing could change overnight. There are approximately one billion women on the planet who have already been violated. One billion women and girls. Can we rise together? Can we change the paradigm? Can we rebirth the culture? Because we know that when women are free, and safe, and equal, and allowed to be alive in all their intensity, the whole story will finally change. Yes? Me too.

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Open Letter from Alianza Nacional de Campesinas to Women of Hollywood

First published November 10

Dear Sisters,

We write on behalf of the approximately 700,000 women who work in the agricultural fields and packing sheds across the United States. For the past several weeks we have watched and listened with sadness as we have learned of the actors, models and other individuals who have come forward to speak out about the gender-based violence they’ve experienced at the hands of bosses, coworkers and other powerful people in the entertainment industry. We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well. Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work...

Read the entire letter

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Katherine Stewart on Roy Moore, the “Tip of the Spear” for the Christian Fascist Theocrats

Katherine Stewart, journalist and author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, has written a powerful exposure that shines a bright light on who Roy Moore is and what he represents in the November 20 issue of the New York Times, which should be read by everyone. Moore, the Republican candidate for Senator from Alabama, has been accused by multiple women of being a sexual predator who targeted young women, one only 14 years old at the time. Stewart’s article reveals, as the title of her piece says, “Every Other Terrible Thing About Roy Moore.”

Roy Moore is a powerful proponent of Christian fascism. Stewart describes him as someone who “shows contempt for the Constitution and proposes to replace our democracy with a theocratic state.” Stewart points out that his brand of theocracy “has come to wield enormous influence within the Republican Party.”

Stewart writes, “He believes that God’s law (as he sees it) trumps the Constitution every time. That is what it means to be a theocrat, and that is why some of the most outspoken theocrats in America love Roy Moore.” And she shows that the religious freedom these fascists uphold is solely for Christians. Moore once said that non-Christians have no right to hold elective office.

Stewart goes on to describe Roy Moore’s staunchest supporters, beginning with a radio personality and anti-abortion activist whose brand of Christian fascism, Dominionism, is working to create a nation governed by Christians based on their version of biblical law. “She wants to impeach Supreme Court justices for legalizing same-sex marriage.”

One of Moore’s biggest donors is a lawyer and former member of the white supremacist “League of the South” and the Constitution Party, “which explicitly advocates imposing biblical law in the United States.” Roy Moore was a star speaker at a rally organized by another supporter and senior fellow of American Vision, who has written that “the law of God, as outlined in Scripture, is to be the standard of justice.” In October Trump spoke to the Values Voters Summit in D.C. As Stewart describes, “These forces believe they were directly responsible for the best thing that happened to American Christianity, namely the election of President Trump. The second is that Roy Moore is the hero who will lead the Republican Party to glory.”

Stewart concludes by saying, “There is a movement to destroy our democracy, and it has invaded one of our two major parties. Roy Moore... was said to be ‘the tip of the spear.’”

Read the article here.

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Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister of New York magazine has written several trenchant articles about the abuse and degradation of women over the last few weeks. Traister’s November 12 article, “Your Reckoning. And Mine,” says,“Then there are the men who are looking at the world with fresh eyes, who are startled by the unseemly parade of sexual molesters and manipulators.....These men have begun to understand my journalistic beat for the first time: They didn’t know it was this bad. They didn’t see how systemic, architectural, it was—how they were part of it even if they didn’t paw anyone, didn’t rape anyone.” She speaks plenty bitterness and she writes about how the abuse is more than sexual and takes place on many levels:

So, no, I was never serially sexually harassed. But the stink got on me anyway. I was implicated. We all are, our professional contributions weighed on scales of fuckability and willingness to go along, to be good sports, to not be humorless scolds or office gorgons; our achievements chalked up to male affiliation—the boyfriend who supposedly supplies you with ideas or the manager who took you under his wing because he wanted to get inside your pants. We can rebuff the harasser; we can choose not to fuck the boss. But in a world where men hold inordinate power, we’re still in bed with the guy.

There is another realm of anger here, arising from our knowledge that even the long-delayed chance to tell these repugnant truths is built on several kinds of privilege. As others have observed, it matters that the most public complaints so far have come from relatively affluent white women in elite professions, women who’ve worked closely enough with powerful white men to be available for harassment. Racism and class discrimination determine whose stories get picked up and which women are readily believed.

That reality fogs some of the satisfaction we feel in watching monstrous men lose their influence; we know that it’s a drop in a bottomless bucket. “Maybe we can get another two horrible people to have to step down or say they’re sorry,” one Democratic lawmaker told me, “but that helps only 20 people, and it’s 20 million who need things to change. Plus, you’re a farmworker? A lady who cleans offices? You’re a prostitute or an immigrant? You’re not going to tell your story.”

Later in the article she says

Letting all this out is undeniably exciting. Its power, to some extent, comes from the fact that it is almost terrifyingly out of control. Anything is possible, good or bad. And yes, there is satisfaction that for a month or so, it’s like we’ve been living in the last ten minutes of an M. Night Shyamalan movie where the big twist is that women have been telling the truth all along.

Yet you can feel the backlash brewing. All it will take is one particularly lame allegation—and given the increasing depravity of the charges, the milder stuff looks lamer and lamer, no matter how awful the experience—to turn the tide from deep umbrage on behalf of women to pity for the poor, bullied men. Or one false accusation could do it. One man unfairly fired over a misinterpreted bump in the elevator could transform all of us women into the marauding aggressors, the men our hapless victims.

Traister has important things to say in all of her essays. Access them on line here.

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Wesley Morris

Wesley Morris, a critic-at-large for the New York Times, wrote a thought-provoking piece that appeared on October 27, exploring some of the causes and forces at work behind the breadth of ugly sexual predation of women in entertainment and politics being exposed today. In “Weinstein, Hefner and the Poor Excuse That Explains a Lot,” Morris begins by inviting the reader to consider the industries built on the exploitation of women—particularly the prostitution and pornography in early 1970s Manhattan depicted in the new HBO series The Deuce. And then Morris draws this parallel: “But the show’s scuzzy tableau could easily stand in for gender dynamics in Hollywood or various areas of the American workplace, where part of securing or keeping a job might require enduring the sort of serial predation we’ve been hearing about in the last year,” including, he writes, Bill O'Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and others.

Morris describes Weinstein's “defense”—that he “came of age in the '60s and '70s when the rules about behavior and workplaces were different”—as “Hugh Hefner's Playboy ethos that Mr. Weinstein used like a get-out-of-jail-free card.” That “Playboy ethos” was and is nothing more than “a popularization of entitlement,” Morris writes. He continues, “The effects of its ideas about women on the American psyche were totalizing. Women were inferior to men because, for Playboy, they were scenery—pretty, passive, usually white, often blonde, there.”

Morris sees the culture now as willing to “at least restage, unpack and reckon with” that culture, pointing to works like The Deuce and the film Battle of the Sexes, which recounts the 1974 staged tennis match between world champion Billie Jean King and the “self-styled chauvinist clown Bobby Riggs.” And yet, says Morris, those works point to how resistant this culture is to real equality: “Systemic inequity is harder to kill. So is the misogyny that fuels it.” While ousting Weinstein, and others like Charlie Rose, address an aspect of the problem, “it doesn't do much to reverse the absence of women from all kinds of craft jobs; nor does it end the drought of best picture winners that feature two or more women in major speaking roles who also speak to each other. In the last 34 years, that’s happened twice, with ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Chicago.’”

Morris concludes by grappling with the importance of resistance, but even more, genuine change. He asks, if the entitlements of the Playboy era have spread so massively, and porn has become so elemental, “how do we prevent their personal encroachments and abuses, along with every other important but less salacious imbalance, like for instance, with salaries? How do we reconcile all the complications? ‘Resist’ is one thing. ‘Change’ is something else. Beyoncé [with her song “Formation”] is sending that solidarity cry out for ladies. But to get anything meaningful done, more than a few good men are going to have to answer it, too.”

The Wesley Morris article is online here.

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