First Published: Internal Bulletin #1, July 23, 1973.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The discussion over sexism in the recent C.B.’s [Convention Bulletins – EROL] has been great and may lead into a better developed line on sexism. But we will be held back in that work if we do not understand how much it is sexism within the party that is behind our “failure to develop a line,” our “playing down the issue,” etc. It seems to me it is not even so much that the party doesn’t see the importance of sexism as a bosses’ tool as that the party doesn’t recognize sexism where it exists.
Take for instance the recent column on the Pill in C-D. It made many correct points about the dangers and side effects of the pill, which are generally ignored by ruling class progagandists in their zeal to keep working class women from having a lot of children (among other things). But the conclusion that “the pill is a killer” and should not be used is way off base, or at least highly highly debatable, and could mess up the lives of women who take seriously what they read in C-D (thank god the apples/vinegar bullshit probably had destroyed most people’s faith in that particular column already). Whether or not they will be forced to be baby machines (just as much as the opposite, whether or not they will be forced into sterilization) is a life-and-death matter to many women, especially young women workers who are often forced into full responsibility for another person while they are still kids themselves. And the pill is the only sure contraceptive (therefore the only method acceptable to the many women who would object to getting an abortion If they got pregnant). No birth control method is perfect or even harmless and the ruling class doesn’t care enough about women to develop better ones. Printing this misleading and harmful article for the sake of “controversy,” which I gather was the idea, is playing with women’s lives and is sexist. The editors were not seriously considering the needs of women reading the paper, or the whole question of childbearing, childrearing, etc.
About abortions. They are by no means the most important point at which to fight sexism. In fact the only reason they have become so primary is that the phoney SWP leadership of the women’s movement (through WONAAC, etc,) has tried to submerge all other issues into this one–they don’t even call for free abortions, only for legal ones. But even if free abortions are not primary we clearly must support them, coupled with the demand for no forced sterilization (permanent or temporary), as an important improvement in the lives of working class women. The comparison of having an abortion to smoking marijuana is appalling. Abortions are simply a form of birth control, and few people nowadays will take a principled stand against birth control, or not see it as a valuable technological advance. I think much of the opposition to abortions within the party is opportunist: some honest people oppose abortions so we must not offend them. This is not intended to be a complete discussion of the abortion issue, which must take place elsewhere.)
At the WAM convention a woman made a proposal on how to fight sexism within WAM, It was not put forward in the best way (form a women’s caucus, etc),but was trying to fill an unacknowledged need. The reactions included catcalls and a denial that sexism exists within WAM. When the woman said something like “there is some sexism within all men,” she was answered not by a serious discussion of sexism within WAM but by a woman’s ringing statement that “there is some sexism within all women, too.” This drew applause and a hasty end to discussion by the decision that sexism was to be discussed within every workship (which by the way I am dubious will happen). The comments I heard from men sitting around me were quite sexist and derogatory (“what’s that bitch doing up there?” “Women’s lib bullshit”). Where was the party providing leadership, pointing out that sexism is all-pervasive, that the important thing is to recognize and fight it, and not to quibble over the formation of committees? If the topic had been racism, would anyone have thought it of primary importance to counter a statement that all whites are racist with a statement that all blacks are racist (white chauvinist) too? This reflects a certain tendency to blame the victim, to criticize women, the oppressed, for not being perfect, and not criticizing men for the ways they allow themselves to be used as tools of that oppression (much less showing them how sexism screws them too).
I have been in the Challenge office and heard women described as “chicks” or “broads”–as a joke? I have heard party members laugh when told women are harassed sexually while selling the paper, and refuse to discuss ways to handle this. I have repeatedly heard party members repeat uncritically vicious ruling-class slander against women’s liberation groups, without trying to distinguish friends from enemies. And men in the party are often not criticized for chauvinist relationships with women as long as they are “serious,” i.e. monogamous, rather than promiscuous. In general, my impression is that one’s attitudes toward the oppression of women, except as it is related to the trade union struggle, is seen as a personal, not a political thing. Like rooting for the Mets.
Most party members have by now been won at least in words to fighting their own male chauvinism. Imagine if that sentence had read, “Most party members are won to fighting their racism,” it would immediately be seen as shameful (they should all be, of course). If we do not consider it a serious political task to break down the barriers between men and women within the party we will never really join the fight against women’s oppression, much less lead it.