Last week, survivors of sexual violence and their supporters rose up in solidarity as the moving testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford called the impunity of wealthy white men into question. Touching on issues of male entitlement and the silence of survivors, this cultural moment reveals the growing societal tensions around who has the power to define “truth” when it comes to narratives of sexual assault.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh reflects an archetype of how entitlement and privilege breed violence in all areas of life, from the university to the workplace to the home. Kavanaugh’s consistent appeals to his elite background and Yale education reveal the misogynistic assumptions pervasive among the ruling class, namely that one of the privileges of wealth and power is the ability to use and abuse women with impunity. Like the “founding fathers” of this nation who ruthlessly raped enslaved women without consequence to their fortunes or legacies, Kavanaugh assumes his status entitles him to silence those he’s exploited on the path to power.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford grew up in a world of power and privilege, but despite her background her story resonates with many survivors everywhere. As Kavanaugh and his equally inebriated friend used her body as a prop in a perverted game of male bonding, Ford’s screams were silenced by a hand over her mouth. This silencing did not end with her assault, since trauma and fear of social consequences compelled her to keep her story private for decades to come. During the hearing her teary eyed description of the assault was met with a line of questioning that sought to cast doubt on every aspect of her account: “Are you sure this happened?” Pro-Kavanaugh sources proposed Ford’s legitimate trauma was being exploited by Democrats for political gain, while less generous sources, President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. included, didn’t hesitate to paint her as a vindictive woman set on ruining the predestined professional ascent of one of the country’s chosen sons.
Her deeply personal but equally political testimony made many survivors recall moments when they felt violated or invalidated and encouraged them to share their stories and validate others. This overflowing of feminist solidarity holds the potential to spark a movement like those seen around the world, where survivors challenge their abusers and the systems that protect them, manifesting both their discontent and desire to heal in their schools, workplaces, and communities.
Kavanaugh’s defenders argue that he should not be judged for “youthful indiscretions” or for “one incident.” Such defenses echo debates when people attempt to confront rapists and physical abusers. Rape culture means the deflection from holding those accountable by centering the conversation about preserving the “future” of promising athletes due to their social and economic value. The fact that Kavanaugh has already lived out his “future” means that the hearings must re-establish his potential and youth in order to create a sympathetic public character. Kavanaugh’s youth is frozen in time while Dr. Ford is painted in a different light; delusional, desperate, vindictive, and a joke.
Accomplished lawyer Anita Hill and Dr. Ford fell victim to the same forces of male violence, but the juxtaposition of their hearings also illustrates how antiracist and feminist movements both failed women of color by refusing to grapple with the intersections of race and gender violence. Anita Hill famously challenged Supreme Court nominee Justice Clarence Thomas, and sparked a national discussion about sexual assault. Yet, as a Black woman, she was particularly vulnerable to the intersections of racism and misogyny. Thomas defended himself by accusing Hill of betraying her race and infamously referred to her testimony as a “lynching.” Despite facing racist stereotypes that rationalized violence and disbelief as well as a colorblind feminist movement, her testimony provoked what became known as The Year of the Woman in 1992, in which more new women were elected to Congress than in any previous decade.
Hill’s allegations against Thomas began on a similar note to Ford’s Testimony: “What happened next, and telling the world about it, are the two most difficult things-experiences of my life.” Thomas persisted in asking her out even though she had turned him down multiple times, and would share explicit sexual encounters and pornography with Hill during work even though she repeatedly expressed discomfort. Unlike Ford, Hill’s trauma often went unacknowledged and the public saw her as less “credible” because of cultural myths that once rationalized sexual violence against enslaved women, and continue to make women of color targets for predators of all races.
Although the Kavanaugh hearing was a powerful moment that inspired solidarity, it was also a display of patriarchal state power. Even as Dr. Ford gained political leverage and credibility from her race and class status, male politicians and some media outlets still questioned the authenticity of her intellect. Dr. Ford’s decision to come forward was traumatic and has marked her a class traitor. Dr. Ford, an upper class white woman, must appear near-perfect yet is still torn to shreds. It demonstrates that women really mean nothing to the state as long as patriarchy is upheld.
A Global Feminist Tide is Rising – Where Are the US Feminists?
Feminism has clearly been surging on a global level. From the women’s strike in Poland to Chile’s wave of feminist university occupations to a variety of anti-sexist hashtags calling thousands to the streets, movements are coalescing around putting an end to gendered violence and instituting or expanding access to abortion. Arising in 2015, the #NiUnaMenos (Not One [Woman] Less) campaign in Argentina has waged a public battle against femicide, proclaiming that every victim of patriarchal violence (be it at the hands of an individual or the state) is a life worth remembering. Chile also took up the call for #NiUnaMenos, resulting in massive mobilizations throughout 2016 and 2017. This was followed by a shocking wave of feminist student strikes and university occupations, provoked by general outrage against the sexist culture that pervades the country’s educational institutions and specific complaints related to cases of sexual harassment and assault and how they were (or weren’t) handled by university administrations. Students have carried the demand for an #educacionnosexista (non-sexist education), but do not restrict their activity to the classroom. Mobilizations in favor of expanding abortion access beyond the current three exceptions (#nobastantrescausales – three causes are not enough, a reference to the woman’s life being at risk, when the fetus is unviable, and in cases of rape) have been picking up and feminist activity has been breaking out in surprising places all over society.
On the morning of September 28th, as the US Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to vote in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, feminists around the globe mobilized to defend and expand reproductive and non-reproductive rights. Feminists rallied across Latin America and the Caribbean, calling for the legalization of abortion in conjunction with September 28th: The Day to Legalize Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. Abortion is only legal in Cuba (1965), Puerto Rico (1973), and Uruguay (2012). In Argentina, after years of a growing feminist movement that called for the right to interrupt unwanted and dangerous pregnancies, the Argentine House of Deputies voted to support a bill to legalize abortion in May that was later rejected by the Argentine Senate in August. On Saturday the 29th of September, thousands of women across Brazil said “Ele Não!” or “Not Him!,” opposing the presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, a former military leader and supporter of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, who is currently leading in the polls. In Ireland, women also gathered on Saturday for their annual pro-choice march chanting “The North is Next!,” referring to taking the fight to legalize abortion to Northern Ireland. Abortion was legalized earlier this year on March 25 through the repeal via referendum of the Eighth Amendment. Abortion will now be free and accessible in all public hospitals in Ireland.
While the #MeToo movement has had substantial repercussions in the United States, taking down famous and powerful men in Hollywood and the government, US mainstream feminists have been more politically conservative than Global South feminists by not committing themselves to social movements such as the massive teachers’ strikes, Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights. The most prominent voice for the US feminist movement has been the Women’s March, representing the politics of liberal feminism, tied to the Democratic Party and upholding the political legitimacy of the US government as a beacon for imperialist democracy. In the same vein, the Time’s UP coalition — spearheaded by famous Hollywood women — underscores a particular type of feminism that calls for change within the confines of governmental politics and individual achievements. While we recognize that these liberal feminist coalitions seek to transcend the differences of survivors, they also represent a certain wing of liberal elite feminism that seeks equality with men in their own class and the maintenance of current capitalist social relations. They represent a feminist movement that holds at bay those who are attempting to bring down the economic and political system that sustains patriarchy and white supremacy altogether. While we have points of agreement with the Women’s March and Times UP, we also wish to highlight that their political message and influence are an obstacle to building an anti-capitalist and anti-racist feminist movement that is politically autonomous and working class in character.
Anti-capitalist feminists in the US – which includes socialists, anarchists and other radicals – have been able to discuss the importance of anti-capitalist feminist organizing, but have not been able to properly facilitate or intervene in mass feminist organizing and mobilizations. Without an organizational counter weight the overrepresentation of the Democratic Party and their liberal discourses within the state, media, demonstrations, and in public life generally go unchallenged. Dialogues about abortion rights across the world are forcing public debates about gender and patriarchy. Calls for non-sexist education have opened debates about pedagogy and curriculum. In Ireland, feminists are moving to expand abortion rights to Northern Ireland at a time when Brexit threatens the remilitarization of the border. In the US, we continue to rely on private clinics whose availability is limited and non-existent in many parts of the country. US feminists have shown reserve, willing to only fight for the limited reproductive and non-reproductive rights that we currently have, rather than fighting for bold and expansive demands.
The growing divide between liberal and anti-capitalist feminism within the #MeToo movement exposes ideological differences and diverging positions in how to fight patriarchy and expand reproductive and non-reproductive rights. There is a liberal desire for solidarity across class lines against patriarchy, but there are limits to a cross-class alliance that reveals the movement’s failure in connecting to working class women even when fast food workers, farmworkers, and domestic workers are the ones involved in concrete organizing around these issues. If we want our feminism to address working class and marginalized women’s needs, demands must be made and an anti-capitalist presence must be built. American women have not been able to catch up to the global feminist wave.
Since the Supreme Court Roe v Wade (1973) decision, access to legal and safe abortion has been severely restricted and made non-existent in many parts of the country. Evangelical religious activists have waged a steady assault on abortion from harassing women entering clinics to the murder of abortion doctors. The appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been highly contentious due the real possibility that he might be the swing vote to repeal legal abortion. Abortion should be a social right not dependent on who is in office nor a nine-person panel. In order to transform abortion into a social right and work towards an end to patriarchy, we need to build a mass feminist movement that challenges public perception and transforms social relations in our neighborhoods and workplaces. Feminism cannot be a topic discussed in isolation with our friends; it has to enter the public dialogue of our everyday lives. In many ways, #MeToo has accomplished that to a certain extent. We do not want feminists and feminism to remain on the outside or merely something online, but an active force inside social movements that are fighting for housing rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, and against white supremacy. If our feminism is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial, feminism can be a harbinger that rallies these movements to fight a common enemy.
Abolitionist Feminism vs. Carceral Feminism
At this crucial moment in history, developing an abolitionist feminist framework in our organizing can help us confront the carceral feminism growing out of the #MeToo movement that also seeks the state to put abusers “to justice.” We need to emphasize that state institutions are not a vehicle for addressing patriarchy but one of the main purveyors and enactors of women’s subjugation. Queer groups like No Justice No Pride exemplify this approach by challenging the LGBT establishment and confronting the state’s complicity in the murder of queer and trans people, imperialism with the language of gay rights, and the abuse of gender non-conforming people facing incarceration.
We also wish to express our disagreement that an FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s testimony will settle the matter or bring about justice. The FBI has never been a neutral arbiter of truth and justice but was formed as a reactionary institution to work against the progress forged by people’s movements from below. The FBI developed largely under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, whose attacks on radical women stand as bookends to his career. He began his career enforcing the xenophobic Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, used to deport working class immigrant women like Molly Steimer and Emma Goldman (who he called “the most dangerous anarchist in America”). He led the persecution of communist workers, including the “Rebel Girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the Trinidadian communist Claudia Jones, through the Smith Act in 1948. He ended his career going after radical Black women such as Assata Shakur and Angela Davis. The FBI has always stood on the side of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and can never be an institution that supports feminism. The FBI works for, not against, the Brett Kavanaughs of the world.
Our Feminism is Working Class And Decolonial
Our feminism is not separate from the struggles of working people. It is true that as feminists we share certain experiences across class lines due to patriarchy being part of our economic, political, and social structures. Over the last several years we have seen important social movements erupt, including Black Lives Matter (#BLM), native resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NODAPL), and the teachers’ strikes that swept across the US (#RedForEd). Our feminism transverses these struggles, forcing us to test our theories through solidarity in action and as we fight to improve our material conditions.
Women, trans, queer, and non-binary people, especially Black and indigenous and differently-abled, are most likely to experience gender violence due to cis white heteropatriarchy. There is no example more apparent than the murders of Black transwomen and the continuing disappearance of indigenous women. Femicide is the structural murder of women by patriarchal gender violence. Femicide is a political term that underscores the structural nature of gender violence rather than terms such as domestic violence that presents the issue as a personal and familial dispute. A recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) study demonstrated that in more than 55 percent of homicides committed against women they were murdered by their partners. That statistic does not even consider the inclusion of former partners or male family members as perpetrators in their study. In the majority of cases, men murdered women. The study also noted that Black and indigenous women are murdered at much higher rates and Latinas are more likely to be killed in connection to partner violence.
The ability to leave an abusive relationship is also tied to class and resources. In the article “As Rental Prices Rise, Women Stay in Abusive Relationships to Survive,” it notes that class determines mobility and that the decision to live with a partner and stay in a relationship is determined by a person’s paycheck. Lack of resources ultimately resolves the mobility of victims who remain in abusive relationships. This is why the feminist movement needs to consider the multiple avenues in which women are devalued in a patriarchal society that denies them agency. What resources are there for women who have nowhere to go?
How can we connect the feminist struggle in correlation with the student movement? Many women, people of color, transwomen, and gender nonconforming individuals in high school and college campuses experience a culture of sexism, toxic masculinity, bro culture, and abuse. In fact, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted on college campus, and only 11% of sexual assault cases are reported. Nearly 1 in 4 undergraduate students identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming are sexually assaulted; while 80% of rapes are reported by white women, women of color are more likely to be assaulted than white women. We must hold patriarchal institutions in secondary and higher education accountable for their lack of support, policy inaction, and inability to dismantle patriarchal systems of power on campuses. Student solidarity must be built along with a feminist praxis. Women, WOC, trans-woman and gender nonconforming individuals rarely get the help they need after experiencing trauma due to a lack of mental health services provided in campus and/or insufficient training.
What is to be done?
We are calling for a mass feminist movement that is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and fighting for a socialist society. Where we have common interests at stake it is strategically necessary that we be able to transcend the sectarianism and infighting that is so detrimental to the US left. But what we really need to strive for is a vibrant feminist movement capable of demanding reforms without compromising on our decolonial, anarchist-communist vision. We need to build a feminist movement that is transversal in political action, bridging struggles against state violence enacted by the police, class violence imposed by the neoliberal state, and genocidal violence legitimized by the colonial nation-state.
We cannot take a light-hearted approach to those who call for an “inside-outside” strategy within the Democratic Party. For example, the Democratic Socialists of America presents their position as a strategy that maximizes their reach — however history shows that this course of action weakens the working class and misplaces political energies. As anarchist-communists we call for building popular power, concentrating our social insertion work by fostering autonomous worker, tenant and student movements that are feminist and anti-racist. Popular power means building the confidence in the working class needed to realize our strength as the producers of society’s goods and the class capable of challenging the entire system. We need to recognize that our political power and potential stretches way beyond electoral cycles, despite all attempts by the elite and professional classes to divert and siphon our power into traditional political channels. Indeed, no major changes have ever been won or maintained through mere participation in our country’s bankrupt electoral system – but instead through disruptive protest and actions from outside. By prioritizing effective social insertion, base building work, direct action and mutual aid (rather than relying on professionals, advocates, and elites) we can build the kind of power from below that is actually capable of transforming our social, political and economic relations to suit the needs of everyone.
We joined the Black Rose Anarchist Federation because we realize we are more effective when united in a political organization. We want to move away from reactive politics and toward action-driven and offensive politics: to challenge the political power structure, making not just men but the entire ruling class tremble. To do so we need to leave our collective spaces and friend groups and reach out, create political alliances, and be part of building a mass feminist movement. We need to fight within the movement for our political vision and work hard to win over others to the anti-capitalist and anti-racist cause.
We urge those who share our position to join us in building an anti-capitalist and anti-racist feminist coalition across the US. Such coalitions can become a popular feminist voice powerful enough to eclipse the liberal feminist organizations and their narrow electoral blinders. We initiated these efforts by rallying against the confirmation of Kavanaugh and joining the October 4th Walkout to Cancel Kavanaugh. We need to begin organization-to-organization dialogues, finding points of unity and a common demand to form an anti-capitalist feminist bloc at the next Women’s March, on January 19, 2019.
#ForAWorldWithoutKavanaughs #FreeLegalAbortion #FeministsAgainstCapitalism #TheLastFeministWave
If you enjoyed this article we also recommend by Bree Busk “A Feminist Movement to End Capitalism, Part I,” which this statement draws from. We also recommend “A Conservative Threat Offers New Opportunities for Working Class Feminism” and the critical anarchist feminist piece, “Breaking the Waves: Challenging the Liberal Tendency within Anarchist Feminism,” authored by Busk together with Romina Akemi.