Sometimes words really do mean what they say
Posted on May 5, 2013
Having read a fair few comment threads and discussions across blog sites and social networks over the past few months, I feel a need to clarify some things in respect of the Safe Space for Women statement that I co-authored with Marsha Jane back in March.
First off, as the title of this post says: sometimes words really do mean what they say.
Or to put it another way: nowhere in the statement do we call for the handful of people that remain in the SWP to be ‘witch-hunted’ out of our trade unions or the wider labour movement. Nowhere do we state that anyone who hasn’t signed the statement must be immediately denounced as a misogynist or a handmaiden of the patriarchy; and nowhere do we say that anyone who disagrees with the way the statement’s worded should feel bullied or coerced into signing it just because hundreds of other comrades have signed, or be in any way ostracised if they don’t.
I’ve refused to put my name to lots of petitions over the years because I’ve not felt entirely comfortable with the wording. That doesn’t make me an enemy of the left, it doesn’t even imply I don’t support the fundamental cause the petition’s about. It just means I can sometimes be a bit of a pedant.
It can also mean though that sometimes I’ll read something into a statement or petition that isn’t even there. And that’s what I think has happened with this. People are cocking their heads, squinting their eyes, and reading between the lines. Except that in this instance there’s nothing to read between the lines so they’re making stuff up instead.
I read one comment somewhere, and my apologies for not remembering where, that suggested MJ and I should have made the statement even longer, to spell out exactly what we were asking people to sign up to and what was behind it all. But to be honest I think it should have been shorter, I think what we’re after could have been summed up in a couple of short sentences:
“We stand opposed to any form of male violence against women, and we’ll do our best to make sure that when it happens in our movement those involved will be dealt with. Appropriately.”
That’s it. That’s all we want people to pledge. It’s hardly rocket science is it?
Instead there’s been a slew of “hmmm, who are these creeping feminists/trade union bureaucrats/tools of the right/CIA stooges/spies/blah blah conspiracy theorist blah, and what’s their real motivation?”
Obviously I can only speak for myself, but my motivation is what it’s always been: opposing all forms of violence against women. I would hope that my record on this issue speaks for itself, that the endless articles I’ve written both here and elsewhere across the web make clear where I stand. Oh yes, and I’m a feminist, and I make absolutely no apology for that, in the same way I make no apology for being a socialist and a trade unionist.
I’ve also read how, in the wrong hands, the statement could be used against hard-working committed left wing comrades in the trade union movement, and to some extent yes, I suppose it could. But I’ve been around long enough to know that if they’re out to get you they’ll use whatever they can, and a statement like this will make little or no difference to that. What I will say though is that if that happens, if my or any other union leadership tries to appropriate this for some nefarious ends, I will play no part in that and I will oppose it just as I opposed the witch-hunt against comrades in the Socialist Party.
Finally, I’ve also read that the statement is ‘silencing’: that it’s too “you’re either with us or you’re against us” and leaves no room for discussion or debate. Well, for some examples of how effective our alleged attempt to silence discussion on this issue has been, see the following… ermmm…discussions:
A Very Public Sociologist – Our Movement Must Be a Safe Space for Women
Labour Party Marxists – Freedom of discussion is the safest place
The Socialist Party of Great Britain Forum
The Socialist Party – Combating violence against women: A socialist perspective on fighting women’s oppression
Shiraz Socialist – Weekly Worker’s ignorant misogyny exposed and denounced
The Communist Party of Great Britain – SWP and feminism: Rape is not the problem
The Communist Party of Great Britain – SWP and no platform: Meanwhile, in the real world …
The Communist Party of Great Britain – Feminism: The world of women, like the world of men, is divided
Harpymarx – Jabberwocky Weekly Worker style…..
Jon’s Union Blog – Never a diversion – we can resist both austerity and oppression
Jon’s Union Blog – Whats wrong with the left?
Jon’s Union Blog – Sexism, statements and “tools”
Workers’ Liberty – Not the way to tackle sexism in the labour movement
Feel free to add more links in the comments.
Well said Cath, and of course I entirely agree. The wilful misrepresentation of the statement from some parts of the left and the attacks on us and our motivation for writing it, have been quite frankly outrageous and very disappointing for the most part and down right ludicrous in other parts. (I guess working in Local Government I do sort of loosely work for the state though I’m not sure that’s what people meant when they said the hand of the state was behind the statement!)
Of course the vast majority of messages I’ve had have been supportive and I will keep on fighting all forms of violence against women, the statement did provide and continues to provide a talking point raising the issue in unions and other labour movement organisations which is a good thing.
I missed your original statement Cath although I was very aware of the controversy surrounding the SWP.
I would like to add my own contribution to your examples of discussions on this subject.
Could it be that only by conflating the three, aggression, risk taking and violence can Ally provide some credibility for a half-baked hypothesis designed to re-define sexism from the systematic oppression of one gender by another to something the ruling class does to boys and men and which they are obliged to accept and behave accordingly.
Where is this cult of violence taught – in a tiny minority of homes maybe? Where is it experienced? – far more in the form of smacking which the UK has yet to ban and in violence against women, particularly by husbands and male partners.
I fully support the statement, and am glad Cath and Marsha-Jane wrote it. Shocked by the reaction to it because it’s basic stuff and not controversial … though obviously to some it is… for reasons I can’t fathom…
Statement named the pandemic issue which is male violence against women and this naming males as the perpetrators of violence against women immediately incensed men.
It is essential the lie is maintained that each act of male violence against women is just another isolated individual incident wherein the female victim is supposedly partially or wholly accountable, because she overstepped her appropriate female role which is to be mens’ subordinate.
The reason why male violence against women is global and pandemic must always be denied because this denial ensures that male created Male Supremacist System remains invisible.
This is why claims were made by men and their female handmaidens that the statement ‘silences debate.’
Debate can only happen when the parties holding differing views have equal power. However, men’s pandemic violence against women is not a ‘debate’ it is real and is happening globally.
‘Silencing?’ A new spin on mens’ claims that ‘male violence against women are merely isolated individual incidents, which have no connection whatsoever to men’s pseudo right to oppress and dominate women.’ Joining up the dots and recognising a pattern of male behaviour/male belief must not be made public.
Silencing does occur as evidenced by males routinely accessing social media sites, in order to threaten male sexual violence against any female who dares to publish her views on political issues such as male sexual harassment against women. Men immediately rush to bombard the woman’s blog/facebook with threats of male violence and/or write sexually degrading insults concerning the woman’s physical appearance.
Result is the woman closes her account and it is another male success – because men once again have silenced another woman! This is how ‘male silencing operates’ and it is being enacted again because two women created a succinct statement naming men as the perpetrators.
This statement is abhorent to men because male accountability must always remain invisible.
So ‘silencing and debate’ are yet more male attempts to ensure focus is not on male accountability but instead issue is just about different points of view!