The #MeToo Movement: Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

December 4, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


A very righteous mass upsurge has broken out around a key fault-line issue of this, and all prior, class societies. Sexual harassment and sexual assault is a problem going back millennia, and a problem which is totally pervasive, including on a global scale. A problem which negatively affects every single girl and woman on this planet: indirectly, since every instance of degradation, humiliation, and dehumanization of any girl or woman is ultimately projected onto ALL girls and women; and, of course, way more often than not directly, because one would be hard-pressed to find a single adult woman anywhere in the world who does not have quite a few personal #MeToo stories.

In this light, the opening of Bob Avakian’s recent statement on this remains very important: “The outpouring of outrage against this sexual abuse and the all too commonplace institutional cover-ups ... is right, righteous, and long overdue, and should be supported, encouraged, spread, and defended against counter-attack.”

This must continue to go further. At the same time, at this point it is in fact necessary to recognize and overcome some negative trends which could serve to misdirect and derail this struggle.

What Should Be the Aims of This Struggle?

When the #MeToo upsurge first emerged there was, in addition to the initial press exposures and outpourings of righteously speaking bitterness, a very significant focus placed on the whole question of INSTITUTIONAL COMPLICITY AND COVER-UPS (similar to the issue of the Catholic Church in relation to pedophile priests). This was a big part of what was new and historically unprecedented about this upsurge: not just the scale of it, the feeling of a dam breaking like never before, including globally, but also the serious attention being given to the fact that these individual behaviors could not go on if they were not being routinely and systematically protected and defended by leading institutions in every corner and sphere of society. This was new, and a very welcome development.

One of the things very important about this is that when you start to recognize the role and complicity of institutions, you start to ask yourself about the overall prevailing culture. You start to wonder about what kind of society and what kind of system we are living under that produces and maintains such institutions and such a culture.

While the mass upsurge still occasionally points to the issue of institutional complicity, the fact is that what has been INCREASINGLY prevailing is a focus on accusing and destroying INDIVIDUAL men. There is what is in fact a terrible epistemology bound up in this, having to do with the incredibly commonplace practice now of any and all allegations and accusations being automatically treated as proven fact, and accused individuals immediately being treated as “guilty until proven innocent” in effect, while concrete steps are immediately being taken by assorted institutions to fire them from their jobs, hound them out of public life, invalidate and bury their art or other works, deprive them of representation, demolish them on social media and generally turn them into lepers and social pariahs. What is the objective here? To unleash a culture of schadenfreude1 and revenge? Is that the solution to pervasive and universal sexual harassment and assault? And no, this practice is not the institutions “taking responsibility”—this is the institutions washing their hands of their responsibility by throwing someone under the bus and quickly “moving on.”

On a very basic level, the oppression of women is bound up with the emancipation of all humanity, in two profound senses. First, without the full emancipation of over half of humanity from the very specific and pervasive forms of oppression that they face every single day, then to speak of the emancipation of humanity is meaningless. And second, the struggle for the liberation of women can only be achieved as a crucial component of the overall struggle to overcome all class divisions, all the production relations from which those divisions spring, all the institutions that back up and reinforce those relations (including the oppression of women in all spheres of society), and all the ideas that grow out of and reinforce all that. The domination of women throughout the past 10 millennia is not a product of human nature, but comes from how human society developed out of communal, gatherer-hunter societies.

Many people right now have been driven to wrangle more deeply with where this all comes from, and how to get rid of it. Bringing out that point, and more generally sparking the kind of questioning that digs into what is the source of the problem and what is the character of the solution, is one critical task that revolutionary communists have within this struggle.

At the same time, as people are battling this, there is something very real at stake to win right now, even while this capitalist-imperialist, and patriarchal, system, continues to rule. We can and we must demand, and fight for, a real change in the culture, right now. THIS MUST STOP! Changing things in this way, right now, has real import for getting to the emancipatory society that revolution is dedicated to. The means we use in doing that must be consistent with the ends.

An Errant Epistemology, a Question of Morality, and What Kind of Society We Are Fighting For

One very disturbing aspect is the way few distinctions are being drawn between different kinds of instances of sexual harassment and assault. To be clear, ALL such instances are wrong and must STOP. But as demeaning as they are, the instances of stupid Al Franken-like sexist pranks or even drunken groping at a party in front of other people are not on the same level as the behavior of someone who uses his position of power over livelihoods and careers to systematically perpetrate a whole pattern of harassment and serious coercion and intimidation a la Weinstein. So some distinctions of degree should be drawn if the goal is to reshape the whole culture and put a stop to this for real rather than just exact 15 minutes of revenge against individuals.

Then there are all the questions of due process and protecting the rights of individuals who may be falsely accused. (Yes, there are and will be some, even if they are numerically in the minority. This aspect must be correctly addressed as well.) The current situation is such that increasingly, the mere raising of an accusation, even sometimes just in the form of a rumor, is deemed EQUIVALENT to having been found guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt, at least in the court of public opinion—and an individual can essentially be destroyed overnight on just such a basis.

And here there is the whole question that is very important: We cannot have one epistemology for the people we like and a different epistemology for the people we don’t like!!—an approach that is a hallmark of relativist identity politics. So, for instance, while it is righteous to really hate Roy Moore because of all that he represents that is backed up by plenty of evidence (his speeches and actions, etc.) right up to the present time, it does not seem at the present time that there is actually definitive proof about some of the allegations about his behavior 40 years ago, which his political rivals are so anxious to use to destroy him. He may well have done this, but this movement should model higher standards of principle and integrity and not fall into mob mentalities around the notion that mere accusations are good enough, that all women should always be believed, and who cares about the rights of individuals when the problem of sexual harassment and assault is so pervasive anyway!

Even were Moore to be found guilty of the most serious accusations, nonetheless his far greater crime—the crime for which there is plenty of evidence and which he not only commits but admits every single day—would still be his role as standard-bearer for the most reactionary kind of anti-woman (as well as racist, anti-gay and, of course, American chauvinist) theocratic politics and practice.

Calling Out Excesses While Supporting the Main Direction

In any righteous mass upsurge against any form of oppression, there will be excesses and wrong things on the part of the masses. And the fact that there are and will be excesses committed by oppressed rising up against their oppression cannot be used as an excuse to pour cold water on the righteous upsurges themselves—a point which has been strongly emphasized by BA. But that doesn’t mean that “excesses” and wrong persecution or denials of individual rights are somehow OK. It is not OK, and when such things are occurring it is necessary to call it out and to raise standards—to wage the struggle no less militantly but with higher principle and integrity. Otherwise, the strategically favorable focus on institutional complicity is in danger of fading from the discourse or being relegated to secondary importance as an increasingly revanchist “gotcha” culture increasingly turns the daily focus to individual men and seeks less a wholesale change in the culture than a complete destruction of individuals, one at a time.

To be clear: Many, and even most, of the accusations and denunciations of harassers and assaulters are likely true, at least over the full range and totality of such accusations. It is very unlikely that you could find a single adult woman anywhere in the world who doesn’t have a number of her own #MeToo stories! So a mass upsurge and mass revulsion against all this is much needed and should be spread and unleashed, as BA has emphasized as well. But this should be done correctly, with the right standards and the right methods and the right epistemology.

A Complex Contradiction

This profound fault-line contradiction, which negatively affects every girl and woman on the planet (and yes, more than a few boys and men as well), can and should be understood as a profound contradiction “between the people and the enemy” in that sense. But this contradiction—which truly stems from the workings of this system—nevertheless often, or even typically, manifests as a contradiction among the people. This is a very important issue to reflect on and grapple with when figuring out how best to lead in relation to this current battle and more generally: a key contradiction “with the enemy” that often presents as a “contradiction among the people.”

Just as every girl and woman is negatively affected by sexual harassment and assault throughout her lifetime, every boy and man is, to one or another degree, shaped, trained and ensnared from an early age into a prevailing culture which routinely fosters, encourages, defends, and normalizes the practice of male supremacy in countless forms, from sexist “jokes” to porn to endless daily forms of minor harassment, to outright physical assaults, and rape, the ultimate exercise of power to humiliate, degrade, diminish, and dehumanize. We are ALL drowning in this putrid culture. Don’t we have to deal with the manifestations of such problems via boys and men, ALL the boys and men, shaped by the patriarchy since earliest childhood, boys and men that include loved ones—fathers, boyfriends, husbands, sons, best friends? There are works on the website from BA in particular that get into this, and some of last week’s articles began to speak to this, but much more needs to be done.

Sharp Questions

Right now the struggle has come to a crucial juncture. How will and should it be sustained and carried forward? One thing for sure: it won’t be sustained in any kind of good way if bad epistemology and bad methods take precedence. But there are also questions to reflect on about what the bourgeoisie is already doing and will ultimately do in relation to all this. Right now they are using it a lot like a political football for their own rivalries and objectives (while still leaving the molester-in-chief in office!). (Read "The Molester-in-Chief Must Go" here.) But given the pervasiveness of the actual problem, can they really allow heads to roll in leading positions in all the major institutions of their society? This is fast going to become a problem for them. And of course they don’t actually share our desire to see the fury of women fully unleashed! So that’s a problem for them as well. Where and how will they seek to contain or stop this upsurge: a suicide of an accused that then leads to a backlash? New libel laws? Outright repression of the movement? Pence put forward as a Promise Keeper-like guardian of morality? Handmaid’s Tale overnight transformations? Perhaps any of these or something else altogether—no one can say for sure... which is exactly why grappling with such outcomes is one important part of what we all must do.

All this underlines both that the struggle must continue to advance, and the crucial importance of wrangling over HOW to advance it. It would be equally wrong to either pour cold water on the righteous upsurge in the name of preoccupation with excesses, or to passively tail people’s spontaneous impulses (pushed along by the ruling class) and thereby allow the whole thing to degenerate into a culture of revenge, schadenfreude, a blood sport aimed at individuals that leaves institutions and the whole damn system ultimately off the hook. The stakes—for all of humanity and for women—are too high to do anything short of fighting for this to advance in the right direction.

1. Schadenfreude is a German word meaning the taking of delight in the misfortunes of others. [back]


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